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Meme as Philosophical Heuristic for Romantics

by on February 21, 2019

Do memes have to be real to have value? [utility] [instrumentality]

The concept of a meme can be a thought experiment, an intellectual tool, to evaluate ideas.  Can it provide an easy threshold for approaching ideas, for seeding doubt?

For example, reading Hegel we can explore the proposition: “…we comprehend and express the true not as substance but just as much as subject.” Substance and subject. There is a unity between truth value (is it true?) and the concept of truth (what is truth?). An ongoing dialogue, an inter-relation between how we know and what we know. An underlying ebb and flow in the nature of thinking and that which we think about.

“And when,…,thinking unites with itself the being of the substance and comprehends immediacy or intuition as thinking, it still remains decisive whether this intellectual intuition does not fall back into inter simplicity and present actuality in a non-actual manner.”

“The living substance is, further, that being which is in truth subject or – to say the same thing in other words – which is in truth actual only insofar as it is the movement of positing itself, or the mediation between a self and its development into something different.”

Further, “The true is its own becoming, the circle that presupposes its end as its aim and thus has it for its beginning -that which is actual only through its execution and end.”

It tugs at the soul. It feels like there’s depth. It makes one crave to explore further, dig deeper. It speaks to a yearning. Reading Hegel one can get swept up. One wants to get swept up.

Or, we can ask, is the depth a memetic trick? Is Hegel carrying a message that feels substantial, but when confronted, collapses at the prick of the memetic test? Is it trick for survival, replication of itself?

And that, alone, can break the spell.

And pave the path to well honed tools.

Subjecting Hegel to the scientific method we seem to search cultural processes, historic waves, interpretations of physical processes which exist only when conceived in a world encompassing whole, a totality (structuralized totality, to use Fromm). This seems tainted data.

When the consonance between observed phenomena and a hypothesis must pass through layers of interpretation of further hypotheses, through a totality, we seem on solid footing to reject that consonance and say the hypothesis is unsupported.

Hypotheses requiring data passed through believing is suspect. It calls for conformity of belief and interpretation rather than unfettered exploration of ideas.

Of course, one can get there with logic, with reasoned skepticism.

Russel: “Hegel thought that, if enough was known about a thing to distinguish it from all other things, then all its properties could be inferred by logic. This was a mistake, and from this mistake arose the whole imposing edifice of his system. This illustrates an important truth, namely, that the worse your logic, the more interesting the consequences to which it gives rise.”

But for a romantic, a stronger tonic is sometimes required to awaken reason. The memetic test can be that poison.

That being said, it is still intoxicating and pleasurable to partake of the illusion every now and then, dive into a little relaxation of the spirit.

Hegel: Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, and Walter Kaufmann. 2003. Hegel: texts and commentary : Hegel’s preface to his system in a new translation with commentary on Facing pages, and “Who thinks abstractly?”. Notre Dame, Ind: University of Notre Dame Press. All quotes are from Section II.1, pages 28 – 30.
Russell, Bertrand. 1973. A history of Western philosophy. New York: Simon and Schuster. Page 746


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