An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber

powered by TinyLetter
Today is:
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".

Mike McDermott is an Australian working on land-related issues in the developing world. He is currently working in Vietnam. In the period 1976-85 he worked as an international adventure tour leader, and has now varying degrees of familiarity with some 80 countries in Asia, Europe, North and South America, Africa and the Pacific. During the period 1976-80 he conducted many overland trips between London and Kathmandu. The cultural, religious and historical interests found along the way stimulated his ideas below, which he further developed over subsequent years. In particular, in tracking some of the old Silk Roads and Spice Routes Mike was able to develop his understanding of commonalities between peoples as well as their distinctions, from the Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Sikh etc religions clustering at one end of the Asian Overland through the many varieties of Islam in the centre to the Judaic and Christian religions clustering at the other end. Mike is a member of the Integral Institute a PhD candidate, and is married with three children."

Genes, Memes,
and Megathemes

Mike Mack D and David Jon Peckinpaugh
with acknowledgement to Eagle and MarkDavid

INTRODUCTION: The Subject Is Under Attack

The subject is under attack! Yes, that noble 'self' of yore is now positioned between the deconstructionist tendencies of postmodernism and the bio-technological re-engineerings of the gene pool revolutionaries now decoding the 'self'.

So, who is really this 'self' that we take ourselves to be when an alteration in the genetic makeup can reconfigure that very 'self'? What stable foundation remains when the 'subject' itself---that 'me' or 'I' that is taken to be such a certitude---is now increasingly going to be rendered more and more malleable through alteration and transformation?

These are some of the issues that we will attempt to give voice and reason to in the pages that follow. Like, who is the genetic 'you'? Who or what constitutes the 'mind'? What are those ideas, or memes, that we define ourselves according to, and where do they come from? How do they originate? Propagate? Sow themselves in bio-fertile fields of cognitive wet-ware that then claims to possess them? What combination of genes and memes is this 'you' that you are; that you have become; that is you? And furthermore, is it even a viable explanation to boundary the subject in only genes and memes? Or should we set aside a portion of our Being as transcendent of genes and memes?

We will come to explore these implications; those of the gene pool revolution and how that revolution is now being translated onto the mind. For increasingly, via genes, the body of the subject is to be covered, mapped, and configured, while via memes, the mind of the subject is being covered, mapped, and configured. Genes, memes, and megathemes.

Yes, the noble subject of yore is under attack---and that may not be as bad as it sounds at first. In fact, it may be just what the planetary doctor has ordered. For we may come to find that we are not who we think we are---that the subject that is under attack might not even exist (at least not in the way that it has come to be defined in the West). And finally, this could lead to a megathematic resolution concerning all the hub-bub surrounding the subject under attack: we are coming to find that the dialectic of genes and memes gives rise to a dynamic structure that is relatively fluid, and only somewhat stable, that is a unique synthesis of biology and noo-ology (noospheric logic), where one informs the other, giving rise to what appears to be a 'determined self that is the subject of its own apparent accord/discord'.

So, let's begin with genes---with the biology of being---before crossing over to memes; which is to all be followed up by potential megathematic resolutions that address the tension that exists as. . .

. . .the subject under attack!


Our bodies are built of cells, about a hundred thousand billion of them. Divide a pinhead into two-millionths and you have the size of the nucleus of one cell. Yet "no reputable biologist would ever claim to understand anything as complex" (Stewart, p. 15). Go deeply into that nucleus of that one cell, and you will find - ten atoms wide and a staggering two meters long---a spiral, a double helix. Amazing fact: all of those spirals, in total, in all of our cells, would be over a hundred thousand million miles long! (Narby, p.88)

The deoxyribonucleic acid strand-spirals (DNA) have just four bases - four fundamental pillars. Each of the four fundamental molecular pillars, or bases, is quite complex. Two of them - thymine (T) and cytosine (C) - are hexagonally shaped. The other two - adenine (A) and guanine (G), ‘have a nine atom structure, with a hexagon placed next to a pentagon (Narby, p. 205). The DNA molecule whirls with the protein thread of our chromosomes (Mackean, p. 209), turning a full circle every ten of these base pairs (Narby, p. 188).

Within the regulatory feedback circuits of a cell, and only there (Goodwin, p. 5), the spirals of hexagons and pentagons convey information---forming what are, essentially, inter and intra-cellular biomatrices. With rare exceptions, G can only bind with C, and A can only bind with T, in conveying information. All life on earth depends upon these most primal of restrictions. Again, these are the fundamental bio-informational pillars, which when orchestrated into a sequence form a specific code that is unique for that fertilised cell=s embodiment to be and become.

Orchestrated within the cell ("DNA is no more self-replicating than a document atop a photocopier" [Stewart, p. 52]), the spirals can, firstly, replicate, and, secondly, organize slightly different bases into messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA). In turn, mRNA can organize linear sequences of amino acids into various types of protein (Goodwin, p. 4), with these proteins serving as the foundation, the grounding, of the embodied being. Life appears as a consequence of this chemistry, but is not alone this chemistry – it is "a process, not a substance" (Stewart, p 10)

The utter simplicity of these fundamental informational elements of Life - A, C, G, T - culminate as a complex code that serves to constitute the necessary environmental awareness so that life shall be able to sufficiently replicate what was, and emerge what shall be. The diversity and complexity of life that we are witness to does not originate solely with the pillars themselves, but ever more so relies on how these molecular pillars are sequenced to unfold (thereby orchestrating all of the necessary inter and intra-cellular bio-informational exchanges).

A very simple organism is made up of the very same fundamental molecular components - A, G, C, T - as we are. The differences attributed to all organisms that do appear and have appeared is not and never has been solely due to the stuff, but to the code that is the biological blueprint as to how that "stuff" shall be ordered to unfold, bio-developmentally speaking.

A more complex being, or embodiment of informational coding, often will have a more complex code than a simpler organism. Again, it is not the "stuff" that makes all of the difference in form and function; it is the code that matters. Ken Wilber is another voice of clarity on this issue:

In short, holons (see below) are not defined by the stuff of which they are made, nor by the context in which they live, but by the relatively autonomous and coherent pattern they display...’ (Wilber, 1995, p. 41)

Let us here note that Wilber could have very well have said "code" rather than pattern (as both terms essentially convey the same meaning).

So, in essence, we are all made up of the same stuff. The very same prima materia that provides the base for all of the fundamental informational awareness that any environmental vehicle needs, is not at all contrary to the prima materia of yours or anyone else’s present environmental vehicle for that matter - from snails to slugs, scorpions to senators, all encoded. Our material differences are to be attributed to the particular sequence that, almost always, we alone embody and are the sole representative of - we are each royalty in this regard. Being the sole configuration of a particular coded sequence of bio-intelligence; that is each of us.

Something over 90 percent of the information that flows along a strand, makes, as far as we can currently tell, no sense at all - lots of it apparently meaningless duplications. This bio-superfluity is most often dignified with the title of ‘junk DNA’. Despite the insolence to the complexities of life that this term suggests on the surface, it may well be junk (we do not know). But whatever the validity of that term in reality, it is interpreted by Narby as portraying our predilection to ‘minimize what we don’t understand’ [Narby, pp. 139 & 188-189]. We are now going to lift this comment from out of its context: this general psychic myopia we shall henceforth refer to as ‘Narby’s syndrome’ --- to minimize, or otherwise dismiss and negate, what we do not understand.

We submit the hypothesis that some of this alleged ‘junk DNA’ may, in fact, be necessary. In order to transmit information along communication lines, engineered redundancies are a necessity. Claude Shannon, who is widely considered the father of information theory, found out that certain difficulties were inherent in modern communication systems. Errors in data transmission always occurred, that is, until redundancy began to be built in to informational exchanges. For instance, if we receive only one message and there is noise or communication difficulties in either sending or receiving, then by all means we can expect there to be a loss of vital meaning and information. Yet, if there is redundancy built in---the message is sent several times---then we have something to compare each message to so that we can, through contrast and comparison, eliminate the errors in transmission.

Shannon’s work at Bell Labs in the late 1940’s was a breakthrough as far as communication technologies go. He discovered how bandwidth plays a crucial role in the transmission of information through a medium. Bandwidth had to be greater than content. When content and bandwidth were equal errors would always occur in transmission. As Tor Norretranders writes in The User Illusion, Shannon knew that as long as bandwidth was greater than the information content per unit of time of the message, you could get your message across without losing anything along the way. And it is an increase in bandwidth which allows for the necessarily engineered redundancy, which will prevent errors in data transmission.

If we take Shannon’s discovery---as it relates to telephone communications and information theory---and extrapolate it onto the field of genetics, we hypothesize that bio-informational redundancy may be a built in necessity. It is the ‘junk DNA’ that serves to ensure that the best inter and intra cellular communication is not only possible, but most likely. We may, perhaps, discover at a later date what Mother Nature has been using quite effectively all along. ‘Junk DNA’ may be quite necessary, as bio-electrochemical informational redundancies. After all, when it comes to mRNA, "thousands of photocopies are sent, rather than a lone one, so if any copy gets lost in the mail, there’s another copy on the way" (Stewart, p.56).

The patterns of relationships that make sense to us, which we can discern sufficiently so as to understand them, we call ‘genes’. There could be around 100,000 of these in a spiral, varying in length from a thousand bases to a hundred times that or more! It may be that one of the reasons Narby’s syndrome seems to have afflicted geneticists---causing them dismiss what they see as irrelevant as ‘junk’---is because they currently have a bias to searching out those genes that all of humanity shares in common. Genetic markers for susceptibility to various diseases are foremost in the awareness of the majority of gene mappers. The pressure---within and without---is on the geneticists to turn newfound genetic information into capital. Many of the pharmaceutical conglomerates are racing with each other to map the genes out. Some are even seeking to patent gene maps!

The broader implications of genes are not on the commercial agenda except as potential obstructions to moneymaking - as "he that pays the piper, calls the tune". Herein, we can see, up close and personal, just how the "tyranny of the majority" can make for entrapment in a narrowed field of vision, even for the most brilliant of minds. The pell-mell rush of the mob enfolds the geneticists in a wave of cure me’s. And the medical conglomerates are only too happy to see a quick return on their research dollars - and then some! (All of this is something that we will pick up again later, as it relates quite directly to Narby’s syndrome.)

In our cells, there are 46 chromosomes. We have inherited 23 of these from our mothers’ gametes, and 23 from our fathers’. They were ‘married’ in us at the moment of our conception. The once separate DNA strands zipped together into previously unrealized double helices. Royalty, remember? The single cell that this all happened to, then divided according to the instructions of the genes themselves. Along the new helices of each of us---with most of us being unique products of that process, yet with some cellular division resulting in identical twins, triplets, or more---diversity unfolds. The cell production process continues on throughout our lives, according to amazingly complex growth, monitoring, evaluation and maintenance processes that were established at conception, and unfold even now.

Each of us is still utterly dependent upon these coded sequences. They act and serve as spiralling informational biomatrices---in essence, intelligence-producing dynamic codes. These biomatrices (genes) orchestrate our each and every material function. Yes, each and every! Whether or not we follow these functions consciously or not, or presume we initiate them on some level, is totally irrelevant. Our bio-dependence assuredly rests on the spiralling matrix of coded environmental awareness. To take away, omit, or remove molecular pillars from the coded sequence is to potentially disrupt the meaning of the whole code (and the unfoldedness of that code as matter). An analogy: we know from experience that if a key word is missing from a sentence, we can miss out on the intended meaning. Or, through assuming we know the missing word, completely alter the intended meaning into something other than what was originally meant by the one who was communicating with us. Again, this may be why redundancies appear to be a part of the whole genome.

We can alter an organism by restricting enzymes, ‘cutting and pasting’ genes, and also by cloning; whereby only one genetic inheritance is transferred (which means we could have a twin of a very different age!). The potential ramifications of biotechnology span the spectrum, from beneficent to maleficent, and probably exceed our current capacity to imagine, let alone understand. Do we have the wisdom, at present, to handle the results---imagined or otherwise? This is something yet to be established. It could be that Narby’s syndrome turns out to be the common man’s worst nightmare in relation to the genetic re-engineering of the biosphere (and all of those embodied beings therein) - not only in unintended consequences within the re-engineered entity, but also in that entity’s interactions with the biosphere at large. Minimizing what we do not yet understand has wide consequences. Narby’s syndrome is best dealt with through prevention, rather than crisis management.

Looking back over the twentieth century, there is a great deal of evidence that we are deficient in a certain wisdom and foresight, but there is also some evidence for the contention that many apparently highly potential benefits have only limited risks. Still, until geneticists, by and large, begin to focus more on the interrelatedness of DNA and the environment, as‘holons in a holarchy’ (see below), then the very real and present danger exists that bioengineering will just be a tool used to eliminate and minimise all the idiosyncratic ‘junk DNA’ that makes for a you and me, wolf and oak tree. Such a leveling danger is often implicit in a flatlander’s vision; all depth and idiosyncratic sequence effectively removed, multiplicity dumbed and numbed down into a homogenous state where there is only one market to serve and manipulate. This, of course, being an extreme example of Narby’s syndrome carried out unchecked to a tragic end.

Within responsible risk-taking parameters, how far could such genetic engineering go in the case of we humans? In terms of health care, the field is rich in promise. But how far up does that potential extend? Can genetic engineering intrude upon social engineering? Have we outgrown the old threats of a Third Reichian eugenics? Does mystery frighten us still? Shall we engineer a lifeworld that is more lovable? And what are the consequences of such assumed arrogance? Can we undo the viability of whole strands through a cut and paste mentality? What boundaries do we dare cross, only at great risk to a whole multidimensional web of interrelations?

A few years ago, in the flush of exhilaration about this new technology, there was a fashion to ascribe a gene for all sorts of human behaviour, which eventually suffered a reductio ad absurdum fate - a ‘going to MacDonald’s’ gene, for example (a case of Narby’s syndrome running rampant). Great care will be taken to assure that such reductions and minimizations do not occur. Yet, there is a creeping suspicion that the ‘quick-fix’ mentality will tend to be capitalized on by those who want easy solutions to life’s struggles, as well as those who are only too willing to pitch their gene-splicing snake oil to the weak and weary. Those afflicted with Narby’s syndrome will always take the easy cure. Certain biotech innovators and charlatans will, no doubt, be pitching many such ‘easy cures’ for life’s ills.

Richard Dawkins’ catchy title to his book, ‘The Selfish Gene’ may have triggered such reductionistic nonsense, although Dawkins has made it quite clear that he was not attributing any motivation to genetic activity, whether selfish or otherwise (see, for example, Dawkins 1996). Dawkins was using the term to make the point that our genes have had to survive the feeding frenzies of the vehicles of competing genes through millions of years of genetic evolution, and that those genes carried in vehicles that have strong capacities and motivations to survive will prevail over those genes that do not. The vehicles have the motivations and capacities, not the genes (or so we shall assume at this point). As analogy, let us imagine a factory that produces cars that can go down the road at 600 kph, yet if no-one wants those cars, then the factory will have to close. Just so, genes produce vehicles that can best compete in Darwinian terms, yet if they can’t compete in the so-called ‘open market’, then those particular genes go extinct as well. A particular sequence of informational awareness, as it pertains to environment and the like, ceases to replicate and emerge its own benefactor if the carrier of those genes is uncooperative. In a sense, genes don’t ‘want’ to survive, but if they don’t provide vehicles, like us---vehicles that do want to survive---then the likelihood of their survival is that much less. Genes motivate us with certain biological drives, drives that serve not only the form, but also the information that the form houses. We are not driven to act out those drives---we can override and otherwise negate certain bio-drives. Still, genes do impel a certain biological imperative to us all, the balance of which is not totally understood as of yet.

Back to autos: Just because cars can go at 600 kph, it doesn’t imply that the factory where those cars were built can; and just because we have motivations, it doesn’t mean that our genes do. Yet such speculative howlers still have some currency.


Well, for one, the situation is not as simple as that analogy would suggest - it is an attempt at a ‘balancing oversimplification’, where at the other end of that scale rests that notion of ascribing motives to genes. The latter is useful, but nonetheless loose, terminology. As the geneticist Steve Jones stated when talking about the anthropologist Helen Fisher’s ideas on the genetic programming of relationships: "The link between genes and any form of specific cultural behaviour is obscure. A century ago you could have argued that genes dictated long marriages" (Harlow). Francis Collins, the man in charge of the Human Genome Project, agrees: "it’s almost comical these days to see people. . . talking about the gene for this or the gene for that. . . I mean, come on! Behaviour patterns, while they may be genetically influenced in modest ways, are never going to be understood by fleshing out all the DNA sequence of the human genome"(Kaku, p 140). "Genes are fundamental to earthly life, but their role in determining form and behaviour tend to be overstated, especially in the media. . . The images that have been planted in the public mind – DNA as the Book of Life, genes as the only feature of life that matters – are much too simplistic" (Stewart, pp. x & 234, author’s italics). Genetics is not the secret of life – "it is merely the topmost layer of a series of secrets. . . (for example) it is striking that the really puzzling attribute of life – autonomy – does not seem to be visible in DNA at all" (Stewart, pp.238 & 241). On the other hand, the behavioural parallels between twins that have been raised separately can be astonishing, so although obscure, the link is there. Yet a twin raised speaking a different language from the other does not suddenly speak that of the other twin! The line between is yet to be drawn.

Decisions upon such (as yet) undecidables are often prompted by Narby’s syndrome; which leads us into the field of memetics, where we tie into the more mind-based cultural aspect of replication and novel emergence (as genes and genetics serve to function as the material-based natural aspect of replication and novel emergence). More on that later.

Another reason for the ‘balancing oversimplification’ is due to the limitations of vocabulary; especially the inherent lack of poetics in relation to scientific language (as poetics better serve to convey the connectedness, mystery, and implicit depth of such phenomena). Note that this is no ‘merely’ romantic notion: in 1952, the American logician John Myhill established that "no non-poetic account of reality can be complete" (Barrow, p.215). As a result of the enormous success of reductionism in both understanding and manipulating phenomena, the scientific establishment is infested with flatlanders who steadfastly refuse to consider the multidimensionality of any if not all phenomena (fortunately, this cannot be said to apply to all scientists - not by a long shot). Such perception, from their monological gaze, merely confuses the issue at hand. To these flatlanders, and their commercial brothers-in-arms, can be directly attributed many of the environmental disasters we are now facing on various fronts.

Here, at the headwaters, let us bear in mind that such flatlanders are not ‘other’ than us (a point further articulated in the memes section below). Despite the need for this term, ‘other’, in the English language (which is itself both a product of ways of seeing the world, and a constraint upon them), let’s not assume that the enemy is out there as a cult of ‘flatlanders’. All of us have this tendency to, more or less, codify complexity in monosimplistic terms, and, as such, bidimensionally confine phenomena so as to allow for a deeper scientific penetration into ever more distinct parts (with, unfortunately, a lot of peripheral blindness resulting!).

Flatlanders are simply emphasising a facility of focus that we all contain or potentially contain. Their/our fatal error - already fatal for many species, and perhaps shortly to include our own - is their utter neglect of the need to step back from the monochrome microscope and take in a broader view. So, let us not externalise and demonise these supposed and alleged ‘others’ that manifest this problem. Maybe we can grow beyond it ourselves, and also help others to do so in the process?

We are not going to - a la the neo-Luddites - attempt to undo the enormous power unleashed by the monological gaze. No matter how hard were we to try or how long we were willing to picket and protest, this would merely be like shouting at the wind that blows in our face. Rather, it rests with us, this issue of the wise use of what is on the collective kitchen table. We are called to use our developing tools wisely, and for this we need an embracing approach, not a dissociative one. The sufficiently integrative, multilogical awareness, which is driven by values that are of at least a similar level of development, is and will continue to be the best tool for containing unwelcome repercussions of the now burgeoning biotechnological age of Gaia.

So, where is the vocabulary for this task of wise craftsmanship, as it pertains to the biotech revolution?

First off, we are each asserting that the ‘flatland’ part of ourselves does not possess it, and that Narby’s syndrome is a huge part of that very flat-mindset.

As a start, let’s blow open the 2-D, flatland mindset; just like a child’s 2-D book can open up and unfold 3-D designs - of animals, castles, etc. Let us try on the insights of Ken Wilber in his book Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, and see if we cannot also unfold another additional dimension of comprehension; one that exists and persists beyond the merely bidimensional reductions of monochrome theists.

In Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, Ken Wilber outlines twenty insights, which he calls the ‘twenty tenets’. These tenets state, in varying manners---as patterns of connection---that everything is both a whole and a part - not just a ‘thing’, but some thing in relationship (and this is the key - the relatedness of wholes to parts, parts to wholes). Wilber then goes on to use Arthur Koestler’s term for this approach to clarifying the nature of a ‘thing’ - every ‘thing’ is a ‘holon’ - a whole in and of itself, but also a part of another thing which forms a greater whole in relationships to yet greater wholes etc. Wilber articulates the various characteristics of holons and how, in fact, they emerge as particular manifestations within a holarchy (a hierarchy of holons).

For example, the holon ‘water’ emerges from a combination of the holons ‘two hydrogen atoms’ and ‘one oxygen atom’. The holon ‘water’ transcends and includes both ‘hydrogen’ and ‘oxygen’ - it has qualities that neither hydrogen or oxygen possess alone. However, it is the following tenet that we will consider to be the most useful in clarifying the subject of this monograph:

"The lower sets the possibilities of the higher; the higher sets the probabilities of the lower".

Higher level holons cannot violate the patterns of a lower level. You, nor I, can violate the laws of our genes - the coded sequence of prima materia that we are, biologically speaking - and live to tell about it! The example given by Wilber is that his body follows the laws of gravity; his mind follows laws of linguistic syntax; but if his body falls off a cliff, his mind goes with it. He quotes Polanyi in pointing out that "nothing in the laws of physics can predict the emergence of a wristwatch, but nothing in the wristwatch violates the laws of physics" (Wilber, 1995, p. 55).

The ‘higher setting the probabilities of the lower’ can be exemplified by the Darwinian example above: The environmental vehicle’s performance ensures the survival or the destruction of the genes, and also sets and adjusts the probability as to whether or not those genes do in fact get carried or not.

DNA serves its fundamental function for all emergents: No DNA, no emergent.

As the cumulative environmental awareness that has been built up over, literally, billions of years, DNA serves to extend itself like a cosmic chain letter gone mad. It may be worthwhile to emphasize here, that the word is not the thing - DNA is not a meme, word or concept, although used here as such. It is the environmental informational biomatrix that contains, houses, and stores the necessary codes for procuring a well-developed vehicle - one that may go forth to house, hold, and further emerge intelligence - all as it pertains to the environmental sphere wherein unfoldedness occurs. It is hoped, here at least, that our words rest on as sturdy phenomenological realities as can be. Further, we re-emphasise that:

"There is more to life than genes. That is, life operated within the texture of the physical universe and its deep laws, patterns, forms, structures, processes, and systems. . . genes nudge the physical universe in specific directions, to choose this chemical, this pattern, this process, rather than that one, but the mathematical laws of physics and chemistry control the growing organism’s response to its genetic instructions . . . DNA is not the secret of life . . . it is an essential secret, but not the only one . . . (it) is necessary but not sufficient". . . Genes are not the laws of life; they are what the laws use to operate"
(Stewart, pp. x-xii & p. 25).

By whatever means available, in evolutionary terms, to the organism, each new generation accepts the cumulative environmental awareness of its ancestors... and may add to, pass on, or even lose that environmental awareness; that informational unfolding; that programming towards intelligence.

Stuart Kauffman (1995) notes that there is a certain order that emerges spontaneously once a critical level has been reached in non-living systems, and hypothesized that such auto-catalytic sets - systems which catalyze their own autonomy - played a pivotal role in the origin of life. Therefore, according to Paul Davies, "it may be that life is a consequence . . . of universal mathematical laws that govern the behaviour of all complex systems" (Davies, p. 108). But Davies goes on to argue that when we are talking of going from genes to bodies and minds we are not talking about the same thing as we are with water being produced from hydrogen and oxygen. "Life is specified, i.e. genetically directed, organization", but nevertheless it also has its own properties emergent from its own vastly greater complexities.

So, whatever the source of living holons, the tenets hold for them all. And purposiveness can be taken as an emergent property, an evolutionarily highly desirable one at that, but still reliant on a level of complexity to manifest which is arguably not attained by all products of the genetic process. Wilber submits in another tenet that each successive level of evolution produces greater depth and less span, and adds that the greater the depth of a holon - the more levels of emergence it has experienced - thus, the greater its consciousness; and purposiveness, as meant in this paper, requires consciousness.

Another tenet provides a useful rule to discern what level a holon is at: "destroy any type of holon, and you will destroy all of the holons above it, and none of the holons below it". Destroy every molecule on earth, for example, and all life will be destroyed, but the atoms, quarks (and superstrings?) will remain intact. He thereby makes a useful distinction between what is fundamental and what is significant. Atoms are fundamental to molecules, and molecules are more significant than atoms.

Similarly, our DNA/ protein dance is fundamental to us, but in this sense we are more significant than those molecules. Similarly, our personalities are more significant than our bodies. You can destroy the personality of an individual - by a head injury, for example, or a drug overdose - but the body can continue to function. Someone in a vegetative state in an institution is still a fantastically complex organism - of superstrings (?) nested in quarks nested in atoms nested in molecules nested in cells nested in her body, but something very significant is the matter. What is that?

Wilber uses the example of wolf-children to make the point - children who are genetically completely normal (including their brain capacities), and have received mammalian nurture, but their windows of opportunity for language facility and other human attributes have closed forever. Youngsters deprived of love - in institutions and such - curl up and die inside, sometimes die just from being ignored, and sometimes survive to carry the hurt and rage throughout their lives. Something highly significant has been stolen from them, even though fundamentally - genetically - they are intact.

Could the fundamental possibilities of genes be counterbalanced by the significant probabilities of memes; as memes are the necessary, nurturing cultural counterpart to our more natural genes? Where genes provide us with the nature of possibility, do memes provide us with the nurture of probability? And, if we are omitting one side or other of this fundamentally significant coin - nature & nurture; genes & memes (and ruining the holonomic quality of existence in the process) are we just taking a backwards ride down the one-way runway of bidimensional monochrome theisms.... the flatlanders dream that we allegedly left behind when we popped open this children’s book?

Further - are genes and memes the whole story? Let's look at memes first.


One of the serious teething problems of the emergent science of memetics is that different people mean different things by the word ‘meme’. Worse: the same people mean different things at different times. The problem of "packing too many possible meanings into the one word ‘meme’ is so serious that the life of this infant science may be in danger" (Lynch, 1998). Its death would be a pity, as in the fog, waiting for potent articulation, is an enormously powerful concept - potentially of an order of magnitude in ‘intellectual to spiritual’ terms, as genetic engineering is in ‘biological to environmental’ terms: that we are to memes as genes are to us. So, let us endeavour, here, to pierce this fog. We hope to simplify this burgeoning field of inquiry rather than furthering the complexification of that which is indeed in its infancy. In doing this, will attempt to bear in mind Ockham's Razor - "entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily" (i.e. you should not make things more complicated than they need to be), but within the context of Einstein’s retort that "everything should be made simple, but not simpler than it is." That is, Ockham’s Razor is often bluntly used as an excuse for falling into Narby’s syndrome, and we shall attempt to avoid that by using Einstein’s Razor Sharpener.

Csikszentmihalyi (1993) describes the more general understanding of the term ‘meme’. He states that memes are "patterns of behaviour, values, languages, and technologies (p. 87). . . any permanent pattern of matter or information produced by an act of human intentionality. . .Memes come into being when the human nervous system reacts to an experience, and codes it in a form that can be communicated to others. In other words, memes are born to be shared. Memes have a tendency to spread. The good ones do - or, rather, the perceived to be good and beneficial memes spread by being adopted by others who take on the meme as their ‘property’ - as if it were their very own memetic offspring.

"At the moment of its creation, the meme is part of a conscious process directed by human intentionality. But immediately after a meme has come into existence, it begins to react with and transform the consciousness of its creator and that of other human beings who come into contact with it" (p.120). "The information we generate has a life of its own, and its existence is sometimes symbiotic, sometimes parasitic, relative to ours" (p. 121). I am sure we all can recollect pertinent examples from our own lives - or the lives of others that we are familiar with---when a certain idea or belief (a meme) - was adopted as one’s own. This meme became akin to Lizzy Borden; who with her axe hacked up her parents in the middle of the night. Memes can be qualitatively destructive or constructive.

Aaron Lynch, author of Thought Contagion (Lynch, 1996), attempts a narrower, sharper focus in his paper Units, Events and Dynamics in Memetic Evolution (Lynch, 1998). In this article, he provides Dawkins’ definition in his abovementioned book The Selfish Gene (Dawkins, 1976) for lay audiences like us. The meme is "a unit of cultural transmission or a unit of imitation". In The Extended Phenotype (Dawkins, 1982), he hardened that to "a unit of information residing in the brain". Lynch builds upon that to submit a technical definition to provide a solid foundation for scientific purposes:

"Meme - a memory item, or portion of an organism's neurally-stored information, identified using the abstraction system of the observer, whose instantiation depended critically on causation by prior instantiation of the same memory item in one or more other organisms' nervous systems. ("Sameness" of memory items is determined with respect to the above-mentioned abstraction system of the observer.)" (Lynch 1998, part 10).

Distinctions are also made between memes so defined and, firstly, their material products such as a chain letter, and secondly, ‘mnemons’, which are, quite simply, memory abstractions (the principle abstractions manipulated with memetic theory).

We submit that Ken Wilber can once again assist - this time, in Lynch’s endeavour to clear this fog in flatland. Wilber submits than any holon can be addressed through four ways of examining it -

  • Upper Left (ULQ) " Individual Interior Quadrant
  • Upper Right (URQ) " Individual Exterior Quadrant
  • Lower Left (LLQ) " Collective Interior Quadrant
  • Lower Right (LRQ) " Collective Exterior Quadrant

and that these are four ways of looking at the same holon - that is, four partial views of an integrated whole, preparatory to (but insufficient for - see vMEMES below) an integrated view. Lynch’s definition can then be clarified in this context, as follows:

  • Upper Left (UL) " Individual Interior " mnemons; a memory item
  • Upper Right (UR) " Individual Exterior " memes; neurally-stored information
  • Lower Left (LL) " Collective Interior " other organisms' nervous systems
  • Lower Right (LR) " Collective Exterior " material products such as a chain letter

So Lynch defines a meme as being in an individual carrier’s UR quadrant - some neuronal pattern in the brain (see Calvin, 1998), and a mnemons as its ULQ manifestation. A chain letter is one of its very many possible LRQ expressions, and it transmits to the LLQ. We submit that any meme, as a holon, has a 4Q manifestation. One could go down Lynch’s path, and call it a mnemon in the ULQ, with other different names for each quadrant, or refer to it as seen from each quadrant - ULQ meme, etc).

On the other hand, flatland thinking often prefers to collapse the four quadrants into one. For example, that a concert performance of a Beethoven piano sonata is ‘nothing but’ vibrations in the air caused by striking strings (a collapse to the LRQ), but usually all but the most fatuous flatlanders consider that to be a somewhat inadequate explanation for music. A more complete description (as without this these aerial vibrations may never have happened at all) is as follows. There is a transmission going on from the ULQ - the pianist’s interior - to the LLQ - contained in the concertgoers’ interiors. This is accomplished via the pianist’s URQ - his brain’s neurons controlling his fingers and bodily gestures - communicating via the LRQ piano to those in the LRQ environment - the concert hall. The most complete descriptions are the most complete articulation of the four quadrant effects and their interrelationships. However, the main point of the concert is to transmit UL to LL, and a critic would therefore focus on assessing the performance on the basis of her (interior) UL response to the performer’s UL and UR (technical) manifestations. The absurd unwillingness of scientism to admit and acknowledge interiors in their own right can be described as one of the West’s many - to use Lynch’s term – ‘thought contagions’ (a contagion which is itself memetic as it is passed on from carrier to carrier like a virus would be).

As Blackmore put it (with our insertions - of the relevant quadrants of a person etc - into her text in parentheses):

"Crick was wrong. We are not ‘nothing but a pack of neurons’ (a classic Narby’s syndrome statement; collapse to the URQ); we are a pack of memes too (not a collapse to URQ, as Blackmore is using a 4Q definition of memes, not Lynch’s). And without understanding the pack of memes we can never understand ourselves.

"The sociobiologists have missed a crucial point. Their achievement is to explain much of human behaviour in terms of the past selection of genes (URQ); to apply Darwin's great theory to psychology (ULQ). But in concentrating on genes alone they miss out on the importance and power of the social world (LR & LL quadrants). To stick to their Darwinian framework they have to treat all of culture as part of the environment of genetic selection (collapse to URQ), and so they fail to see that it has its own evolutionary processes and its own power to effect change. Without the concept of the second replicator sociobiology must always remain impoverished.

"By contrast, sociologists have long realised the power of social forces. As Karl Marx (1904, p. 11) argued ‘It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence determines their consciousness’ (collapse to LLQ, and a first tier false dichotomy). Social scientists study the way that people's lives and selves are constructed by their roles, and by the texts in which they are embedded. But they have no evolutionary theory within which to understand the processes going on. For them the biological world and the social world are explained in entirely different ways and must remain divorced. Only when we see a human being as a product of both natural and memetic selection can we bring all aspects of our lives together within one theoretical framework" (but is even that sufficient?).(Blackmore, p.236)

We would add to Blackmore’s comments that this refusal to see the multidimensionality of others (humans in particular, but not just humans) is often used as a mental preparation for killing them. It is far easier to dehumanise other humans by such techniques than to deal with the reality.

Lynch has stepped beyond such collapsing of quadrants in his attempt - which we hope will prove successful - to better articulate the term ‘meme’ for scientific purposes. With that more clearly articulated base, he is then able to address memetics mathematically. His approach has also resulted in his observing something which many practitioners do not see because they are looking from it in their ULQ, not at it - the fundamental role of abstraction in science. "Science as we know it is largely a project to develop and test ever stronger systems of abstractions with which to describe and comprehend reality". He goes on to point out that "molecular biologists focus on patterns of patterns of patterns, layers of abstraction removed from what physicists call ‘fundamental’" (Lynch, 1998, part 15).

Stewart points out that nonlinear mathematics shows – even with the crude oversimplifications currently accessible compared to real life – that evolution’s "gradualist/punctuationist controversy is pointless. Probably, the two schools of thought are both right, some of the time, and both wrong, some of the time" (Stewart, p. 115) – both those "patterns exploited by biology arise from mathematics spontaneously" (Stewart, p. 117). His book itself is a demonstration that a modern creative mathematician’s mindset is much less vulnerable to Narby’s syndrome than those of ‘thing-centred’ biologists. (Unfortunately, he occasionally conflates the language of mathematics with the patterns it interprets: maths both contains and reads patterns, but we submit that patterns and maths are not the same thing. However, we all do this kind of thing: in this paper, for example, we occasionally use ‘genes’ as a shorthand to include the corporeal products of cell/gene activity, but we trust that we have made the distinctions between the term’s extended and precise uses clear enough to the reader).

Nonlinear mathematics should be just as applicable to memes as to biology. Moreover, the principles of mathematics are no longer confined to a Euclidian or any other flatland – or any number of dimensions, for that matter! As Goodwin points out below, relational order results in values entering ‘fundamentally into the appreciation of the nature of life’. Nonlinear mathematics, with its emergents from the patterns it creates, can be applied along a vertical plane as readily as a horizontal – in two, three, or n dimensions, with qualitative results. One example of this appreciation is Peter Collins’ attempts towards a way of enfolding qualitative appreciation into mathematics, with a system he terms ‘Holistic Mathematics’ (Collins). The vertical (qualitative) dimension can be accounted for by raising by a power (as ‘squaring’ takes you from one dimension to two), and he has also noted that numbers themselves can be arranged in a hierarchy of increasing integrative capacity, as follows: binary, prime, natural, rational, irrational (algebraic), transcendental, and transfinite, which "brings us directly to Euler’s formula" – one of the glories of linear mathematics - "which involves a transcendental number (e) raised to an imaginary transcendental dimension i.e. ip , which equals –1" , closing the circle (Collins, personal correspondence).

With nonlinear mathematics in mind (and the staggering amount of creative mathematics being produced every year), here is where we begin to seriously part company with the fools of flatland. But not, we hope, with those like Lynch who work in the fields of flatland, but can raise their eyes and see its limitations. Nor do we - yet - part company with Dennett who, in Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, came up with a ‘Tower of Generate and Test’, as follows:

  • Ground Floor: Darwinian Creatures - critters whose entire behaviour is built by the genes;
  • Second Floor: Skinnerian Creatures - critters who can learn through operant conditioning;
  • Third Floor: Popperian Creatures - critters, such as us, and many mammals and birds, who can imagine outcomes and solve problems through thought;
  • Fourth (final) Floor: Gregorian Creatures - humans only, as far as we know. Those who use memes as intelligence enhancers. At this floor, Blackmore points out, for the first time we access a second replicator besides genes - memes..

Our argument has taken us to the point where we assert that evolution, by means not yet comprehensively articulated, being inclusive of but not necessarily exclusive to Darwinian evolution, has been the driving force for all holons becoming as they are - not just the biological ones. At the little end, the subatomic scale, we can set up concepts of superstrings, and at the big end, the cosmic scale, we can do so for inflationary universes; all consonant with that megatheme. Dawkins asserts, confidently and powerfully, that neo-Darwinism will provide all the answers that are possible for describing why things are as they are. Others, such as Goodwin, strongly disagree - he points out that while physics has developed explanations of different levels of reality, modern biology "has come to an extreme position in the spectrum of the sciences. . . it is the absence of any theory of organisms as distinctive entities in their own right, with a characteristic type of dynamic order and organization, that has resulted in their disappearance from the basic conceptual structure of modern biology" - that is, they are prey to Narby’s syndrome of flatland minimalizing. "Despite the power of molecular genetics to reveal the hereditary essence of organisms, the large-scale aspects of evolution remain unexplained, including the origin of species (italics ours) . . . So Darwin’s assumption that the tree of life is a consequence of the gradual accumulation of small hereditary differences appears to be without significant support. Some other process is responsible for the emergent properties of life, those distinctive features that separate one group of organisms from another. . . Clearly something is missing from biology" (Goodwin, p. x). Goodwin asserts that "it is relational order between components that matters more than material composition quantities in living processes. . . as a result, values enter fundamentally into the appreciation of the nature of life and biology takes on the properties of a science of qualities (italics ours). . . this is not in conflict with the predominant science - of quantities - but it does have a different focus and emphasis" (Goodwin, p. xiv). Goodwin’s assertion reminds us of Ken Wilber’s statement in the above section on genes; "In short, holons are not defined by the stuff of which they are made or of the context in which they exist, but by the relatively autonomous and coherent pattern that they display..."

Again, we could very well say ‘code’ here, or use Goodwin’s terminology that "it is the relational order between components that matters more....." than mere quantities of stuff. Stewart points out that cells possess "both a map (positional information) and a book (their DNA code) and that "cells that fire together, grow together" (Stewart, pp. 150 & 163). Here we begin to bridge the science of the quantitative with the more often dismissed arts and sciences of the qualitative.

It is hoped that we made it quite clear in the section on genes, that the in-formational ‘stuff’ of which we are all made up of varies very little. It is the patterns of lines in these words, the patterns of words in these sentences etc you are reading that convey meaning. Similarly, it is the order of relations, the ‘code’, the intelligent sequences between those material components that makes up and constitutes all of the differences that appear so blatantly obvious to all of us. Be it stars or snails, the ‘stuff’ we are the nature of is not in question; how that stuff orders itself from its genes into unique sequences of relations within and without is still very much in question, though.

Goodwin’s vision attempts to also build a bridge, one that will cross the biological gap between genes and memes, filling in the biological ‘us’ part of ‘genes:us as us:memes’. So by the time we get to memes, there is a suspicion afoot in many circles - not just Goodwin’s - that other evolutionary processes - such as the Lamarckian - may have entered the scene (see Rose, 1998, for examples). That is, although Lamarckian evolution can be dismissed in the sense that our building up our muscles will not affect our children’s musculature, and a giraffe’s stretching for a leaf will not affect its progeny’s neck, Lamarckian evolution can apply to memes.

So, howsoever many evolutionary mechanisms apply to memes, even if only Darwinistic despite the doubters, we submit that they have resulted in us being, as Blackmore (1999) asserts in the title of her book, meme machines - we catch onto memes almost as readily as gametes do to one another. Our very genetic survival has become dependent upon evolutionarily viable memes, as the higher sets the probabilities of the lower!

This synergy between genes and memes, according to Blackmore, results in groups of memes which are replicated together, just as genes clump together in chromosomes. The term such a memetic grouping is a memeplex (Blackmore, p. 19). Although she credits this term to Speel, she coins a new term, ‘selfplex’:

"A vast memeplex - perhaps the most insidious and pervasive memeplex of all. . . The selfplex permeates all our experience and all our thinking, so we are unable to see it clearly for what it is - a bunch of memes. It comes about because our brains provide the ideal machinery on which to construct it, and our society provides the selective environment in which it thrives" (Blackmore, p. 231).

Up to this point, we mainly agree with Blackmore. In the megathemes part, we will question whether we we are nothing more than meme machines, but for now we note that memetics has a framework for a science of qualities, as Goodwin attempts for biology - one in which "relational order between components matters more than material composition quantities in living processes. . . as a result, values enter fundamentally into the appreciation of the nature of life". Furthermore, in a contrarian sense, depreciative memes result in the depreciation of the nature of life. The toxic memes that serve to pollute our biology set probabilities that our biology shall be depreciated. Memes are not qualitatively neutral, then. Like any holon, they can undermine the very foundation upon which they themselves rest - biology. This framework is vMEMES.


vMEMES (short for values-attracting meta-memes – see Goodwin above) are seen by Beck and Cowan (1996) - developers of the psychological system of Clare Graves into what Beck and Cowan term "Spiral Dynamics"- as being qualitatively discernible memes manifest in all four quadrants, but for current purposes we shall concentrate on the psychological UL quadrant.

The qualitative criteria are in the direction of greater complexity and integrative capacity, as follows:

"Expansion of psychological space - toward more multifaceted personalities, diverse organisational forms, and a much more complicated planet Expansion of conceptual space - toward bigger picture views, wider span of influence, and extended time frames A progressive increase of alternatives - toward more choices to make from a broader menu of ways to do a thing A progressive increase in degrees of behavioural freedom - toward more possibilities in terms of how to be, ways to display emotions, acceptable kinds of human relationships" (Beck & Cowan, p.62).

In other words, amongst other benefits, expansion towards a decrease in the likelihood of being yet another victim of Narby’s syndrome. Such qualities as those listed above can be discerned in the hierarchies of many developmental psychologies - such as the well-known ones of Graves’ friend Maslow, and the line of moral development charted by Kohlberg.

Evolution appears to have hard-wired us towards receptivity to memes helping us to survive these challenges of increasing complexity. vMEMES therefore appear to be the central part of "a complex combination of a neuro-chemical predisposition and memes that are compatible with it" (O’Gorman) - part of Lynch’s "abstraction system of the observer" that filters mnemons for their acceptance or rejection as memes. That is, their (URQ) surface structure is a culturally conditioned set of memes which can be expressed as mnemons, as defined by Lynch, but their deep structure comprises an evolved ‘neuro-chemical predisposition’ to react to life conditions. It could be these that lead to the sometimes astonishing behavioural similarities of twins raised apart. If it happens at all, it takes decades for the upper vMEMES to be activated in an individual. Without the challenges being present for their activation, they may never be activated.

vMEMES are often severely challenged in these post-modern times when our cultural spaces seem to collapse one into another, making some of us feel a bit too culturally claustrophobic and others as though worlds of possibility are opening up by being exposed to these ‘other’ cultures. Our reactions to these multiple vMEMES and cultural spaces are, in Spiral Dynamic terms, dependent upon the vMEMES we are operating through - at one level we may feel ‘culturally claustrophobic’, and at another that ‘worlds of possibility are opening up.’ As our spaces continue to impinge on one another through the networking of information, we are seeing an exponential increase in the complexity. This complexity is not only of our unique cultural spaces, but of how we are being forced to respond in novel ways to the often overwhelming nature of the times we are in.

Note, however, that the memetic nature of these vMEMES is such that to ascribe superiority or inferiority to a holder of such a vMEME is a category error, or conflation, of major proportions. It’s rather like the winner of a race presuming overall superiority to himself over the other competitors, although the others may have far greater capacities in many endeavours of far greater value to humanity. Further, a lower set of vMEMES can be of far greater relevance to an external challenge than a higher one, as we shall see. A possibly useful metaphor is that of the gears of a car – which one is the better gear depends on the road conditions faced, which is the better vMEME depends upon the life conditions faced, and good driving often requires them all.

The temptation is there, however. It is in the very nature of a ‘self’ to identify with the vMEMES it currently interprets the world through. One defends one’s world view as oneself, often banding with like-memed others as to defend it. This banding capacity is one reason for the enormous potency of memes in human evolution. We can create a meme from thin air, as it were, and feel inclined to defend it to the death. Mere football teams, for example, can engender in many a zealotry as intense as the oxymoronic ‘holy wars’ of religions! If this zealous banding happened in your case, with football, religion, or with anything else - how? We submit that the answer lies in vMEMES.

These vMEMES arrange themselves in the order described above, as traced in developmental psychology. To use an overworked analogy (with apologies), they provide the software atop the bodymind’s hardware to select, store and be activated to react to external stimuli. These stimuli are usually only admitted to the degree they can be contended with in this fashion, expulsion through anxiety being the result of too many stimuli, expulsion through boredom being the result of too few (Csikszentmihalyi).

For ease of discussion, Spiral Dynamics has given colour indicators to these vMEMES, and arranged them in order from the simplest information processors to the most complex, the former attending more to the fundamentals, the latter to the significants - progressively greater psychological and conceptual spaces, greater alternate behaviours and freedoms. In doing so, on the basis of decades of research on tens of thousands of cases in the field of developmental psychology, they noted that the vMEMES (‘mindsets’) seemed to be spiralling upwards, not in the narrow form of the DNA spiral, but more like an ever-widening vortex, or whirlpool. Similarly, Stewart notes that "science tends to move in circles – except that it does so on a higher level, more like wandering up a spiral staircase" (Stewart, p.239). Skolimowski, too, refers to "the spiral of understanding" – "the outer walls of the cosmos are the inner walls of the mind" (Skolimowski, pp. 80-81). So this is Goodwin’s organising pattern they discerned for meme absorption. The higher up the mindset spiral one went, the broader and the deeper the mindset. Moreover, the vMEMES kept the spiral in balance by dynamic inclination to quadrants at different levels - called ‘sacrifice self systems’ and ‘express self systems’ - sometimes interior focussing, sometimes exterior focussing.

The core, most fundamental, vMEME has its focus on basic survival needs. When under real or perceived threat, the spiral may retreat to the core. For example, when at the point of dying of thirst, if given the chance one may well choose a bucket of water instead of the Mona Lisa. This is termed the Beige vMEME.

The first tier vMEMES are as follows:

  • BEIGE Instinctive: Archaic-instinctual. Basic survival needs focus. Seen amongst derelicts, newborns, shell-shocked, senile, etc.
  • PURPLE Magical/animistic: Good and bad swarms of magical spirits. Ethnic tribes. Seen amongst Voodoo, vendettas, athletic teams, gangs, superstitions, etc.
  • RED Power Gods: First emergence of a self distinct from the tribe. Feudal lords protecting underlings. Dragons, beasts, powerful people. Cunning, shrewd, sly. No regrets. Seen amongst rebellious teens, 2 year-olds, wild rock stars, feudal kingdoms and frontier mentalities, heroes and James Bond villains, etc.
  • BLUE Absolutist-religious: Righteous Order in conformity. Law and order. Fundamentalist. Seen amongst Puritan America, moral majority, patriotism, chivalry/honour codes etc.
  • ORANGE Individualistic-achiever: The world’s a rational well-oiled machine. Winners and losers. Basis of corporate states. Seen amongst Ayn Rand, the Enlightenment, trophy-hunting, colonialism, fashion industry, materialism, etc.
  • GREEN Relativistic: The Sensitive Self. Pluralistic Relativism. Snags. Strongly egalitarian & anti-hierarchy. Warm, sensitive, caring. Seen amongst deep ecology, postmodernism, humanistic psychology, cooperative inquiry, politically correct, etc.

Source: Wilber, 1999 (1)

The advantage of colour-coding is its ease of access; a complementary verbal shorthand could be the ‘battlers’ of Beige; the ‘pixies and goblins’ of Purple; the ‘machos and machas’ of Red; the ‘by-the-book’ Blues; the ‘hard-nosers’ of Orange; and the ‘huggies’ of Green (often confused with the diapers of the same name by exploitative elements of the lower vMEMES!).

So to return to our football team example: the enormous hold such football team ‘memes’ can have over us is because they key into two of the most fundamental levels of vMEMES - Purple and Red. The referees/umpires etc provide the Blue element (without which the game would rapidly descend into anarchy). A closely contended game can almost seem to be a Beige challenge - a matter of life and death (with the Mayas, apparently, it was)! This can provide enormous fun as a game, triggering ULQ excitement not available to those whose lower vMEMES - with their ready access to all sorts of URQ chemical squirtings from our brains - are not activated by the particular contest (if your team is not involved). People are prepared to pay for such fun, and Orange enters into the sport: professionalism.

Because football games are recreational, the example may appear trivial. It does not seem so at the time, as anyone who has spent time in thrall to such games can tell you. They are war games - not the high tech wars of today, but the hand-to-hand wars of our evolutionary history. Such vMEMES also work in and towards the real thing, and racism and other such evils, along with much that is admirable and good. Huge swathes of the entertainment industry attempt, with varying degrees of success, to trigger such vMEMES for rewards, and so do politicians. In fact, after due consideration of the enormity of the claim, we submit that all that we usually call civilisation is based upon the activation of these vMEMES.

That is, in addressing this area we consider that we are addressing something from extremely fundamental to extremely significant in the conducting of our lives.

All of civilisation is based upon these vMEMES, but not confined to them. For in addition to the four-quadrant manifestations of these vMEMES, there are levels we have not yet referred to. These first-tier vMEMES are the bases we must go through if we are to arrive at a second tier of vMEMES, which are of a different order - no longer confining themselves to an exclusivity of rightness - one identifying trait of first tier vMEMES. Their point is not to dissociate from the memes, but to contextualise them; put them in proportion. For their users, for every vMEME there is a season, and a time for every vMEME under heaven. The first two of these vMEMES are:

  • YELLOW Systematic-integrative: Life seen as a kaleidoscope of holarchies - flexibility, spontaneity, and functionality have the highest priority. Knowledge and competency. Good governance seen as facilitating emergence of increasing complexity.
  • TURQUOISE Global-holistic: Holons/waves of integrative energies. Feelings united with knowledge. Uses the entire spiral in a grand unification.

An essential point about Gravesian psychology, of which Spiral Dynamics is a development, is that it does not define a top end for the vMEMES. More still may be available to us than those clearly currently manifested above. Although only a small proportion of the population have found life conditions catalysing the second-tier vMEMES expressed above (about one percent of the population - but that’s still millions of people), there could be many more ‘up there’. As Kohlberg pointed out, though, when referring to moral development, such stage development is invariant - you can’t skip stages successfully. Moreover, you cannot comprehend the reasoning of stages more than one stage beyond your own, but you are cognitively attracted to reasoning one level above their own present predominant level (Kohlberg). For those at Turquoise, Spiral Dynamics has seen, emerging through the haze, another vMEME, called Coral. Putting these emergents into a historical context, they speculate that ‘cutting-edge thinkers’ may have responded to new life conditions at their time as follows:

  • Years Ago ~ Type of Homo Sapiens ~ Goal ~ Colour

  • 100,000 ~ HS survivalis ~ To be human beings, not just animals ~ BEIGE
  • 50,000 ~ HS mysticus ~ Forming tribes, magic, art, spirits ~ PURPLE
  • 10,000 ~ HS exploiticus ~ Warlords, conquest, discovery ~ RED
  • 5,000 ~ HS absoluticus ~ Literature, monotheism, purpose ~ BLUE
  • 1,000 ~ HS materialensis ~ Mobility, individualism, economics ~ ORANGE
  • 150 ~ HS humanisticus ~ Human rights, liberty, collectivism ~ GREEN
  • 50 ~ HS integratus ~ Complexity, chaos, interconnections ~ YELLOW
  • 30 ~ HS holisticus ~ Globalism, ecoconsciousness, patterns ~ TURQUOISE
  • Today? ~ HS ? ~ ? ~ CORAL

This timeline seems to be a more speculative area, perhaps not to be taken as seriously as we consider the central vMEME theme warrants, but let’s explore it a little. One could argue that there could have been exceptional individuals in many ages and times that have adopted quite high vMEMES, and they have proven to be of evolutionary benefit (some thinkers of the ancient world appear to have been speaking through very high vMEMES, for example). So, the genetic capacity to absorb high vMEMES has been carried through to us, even if most of us never find need to harness these higher vMEMES. If that were not the case, our above evolution-based explanation may be in question. However, there could be at least one alternative explanation - that extreme environmental demands such as war, hunting when game was scarce, fast and dangerous, and sudden, extreme climate changes (Calvin, 1998) resulted in the evolution of our brains’ astonishing capacities just to meet survival requirements. The capacity to absorb higher vMEMES then came almost as a by-product. We have to watch out for Narby’s syndrome here, and admit that there are important things that we both do not and can never know. That is not to say that the enormous complexities in current life conditions are not unprecedented - every second is different from the previous one - but that our hazy, fuzzy understanding of historical life conditions may lead us to hazy, fuzzy, or even just plain wrong conclusions. But whichever way it happened, we should assume that the latent vMEMETIC absorption capacity could be open-ended, as we won’t know until we get to the top (and maybe not even then). Our brains, though the most complex things known, are finite, and our lives are too. It usually takes 40-50 years to grow to the higher known vMEMES as the core operating vMEMES, which for most of us doesn’t leave much time for the emergence of many more vMEMES.

So let’s speculate about Coral. To an extent, the second tier can be seen as harmonics of the base notes on the first tier. So Yellow resonates with Beige, and Turquoise with Purple – "but an order of magnitude more complex". Coral should therefore emerge as a harmonic of Red, the next vMEME with Blue, the next with Orange, and so on. Beck and Cowan point out that Coral being a version of the Red level "has awesome implications for geopolitics, the marketplace, and us individual human beings. Rush Dozier calls this a leap into the ‘Thought Era’ in that we may soon alter biological evolution through bioengineering" from within this vMEME (Beck & Cowan, p. 67). With the abovementioned unimaginable potentials for genetic engineering and a high level of wisdom required for its implementation, familiarity with this vMEME may be of more than just speculative interest, after all. A powermonger that is "an order of magnitude more complex" than Red powermongers may not be the most suitable applier of the results of genetic engineering!

Red gets a ‘bad press’ in the very superficial summary above, but that is only to give a stark impression in a short space. In fact, Red’s energies are absolutely essential for growth; it’s a question of how the rocket’s power is harnessed as to where it goes. Not every teenager becomes a juvenile delinquent, but every teenager has to deal with Red’s energies.

We suggest that when the Tao Te Ching says "the sage makes the self of the people his self", Lao Tzu was referring to the Coral vMEME. Further, that when Ken Wilber refers to "Monumentally, Gloriously, Divinely Big Egos" in an extract from One Taste, he was speaking through the Coral vMEME. He went on to point out:

The great yogis, saints and sages accomplished so much precisely because they were not timid little toadies but great big egos, plugged into the dynamic Ground and Goal of the Kosmos itself. Precisely because the ego, the soul and the Self can all be present simultaneously, we can better understand the real meaning of "egolessness," a notion that has caused an inordinate amount of confusion. But egolessness does not mean the absence of a functional self (that's a psychotic, not a sage); it means that one is no longer exclusively identified with that self. . .

"Egoless" does not mean "less than personal," it means "more than personal." Not personal minus, but personal plus - all the normal personal qualities, plus some transpersonal ones. Think of the great yogis, saints and sages-from Moses to Christ to Padmasambhava. They were not feeble-mannered milquetoasts, but fierce movers and shakers-from bullwhips in the Temple to subduing entire countries. They rattled the world on its own terms, not in some pie-in-the-sky piety; many of them instigated massive social revolutions that have continued for thousands of years.

And they did so not because they avoided the physical, emotional and mental dimensions of humanness, and the ego that is their vehicle, but because they engaged them with a drive and intensity that shook the world to its very foundations. No doubt, they were also plugged into the soul (deeper psychic) and spirit (formless Self)-the ultimate source of their power-but they expressed that power, and gave it concrete results, precisely because they dramatically engaged the lower dimensions through which that power could speak in terms that could be heard by all. . .

The small ego does not evaporate; it remains as the functional center of activity in the conventional realm. . . Narcissists are simply people whose egos are not yet big enough to embrace the entire Kosmos, and so they try to be central to the Kosmos instead.

These words, in our view, supply a good introduction to the Coral vMEME. Perhaps Homo Sapiens Solaris may be an appropriate term for this vMEME of spirit with its sleeves rolled up.

And when the movers and shakers of the Coral vMEME look around, where will they focus their attention?


When we ask such a question, or other big questions like ‘is there a God?’- who’s asking?

Perhaps all six billion of us---including the starving children with their distended bellies, still hopeful smiles and haunting eyes; the ransacked rainforests and their communal members; the sweeping technospheres and their participants that are increasingly rendering old ways and modes of being as outdated---yes, all of us. We carry in our heads the most complex instrument in the known universe; that one that allows us the ability to reflect on self and other, with equal amounts awe or disdain. And all of those other creatures---what of them---are they not all that far behind in the scheme of things, including many of those whom we devour with a nice Chianti? Do our bodyminds not metabolise other body-minds, providing us with the energy for doing and thinking? Can we not say that last nights dinner is today’s fuel for thought; that thought that is performed through language; that language which comes to us through each/all/every bodymind - ‘Us’ - call of us the askers, the askers of such big questions?

Even if I am specifically an American, and my bodymind is an English-speaking Christian, or I am born Afghani, and my bodymind is most likely a Pushtu-speaking Muslim; does it matter ‘who’s asking’, whether it is considered to be an Afghani or an American? Isn’t it the question, and the resulting answer, that ‘matters’ most?

Perhaps it is the Kosmos asking, or the arising self-reflective Earth with her new technological appendages, in the context of Kosmos? The main point is that the question is asked; and it simply cannot, despite the claptrap of positivists and other victims of Narby’s syndrome, be ignored. "If science abandons the deep questions, it will lose its direction, its heart, and its soul" (Stewart, p. 12 – and the same goes for any of us). What answers shall we embody and express? How shall we respond? Shall we just leave it up to genetics and our genes only, to this fateful clay and dust? Shall we be driven by the already existing memes, those psychic artifacts that have birthed and midwifed the present order? Or are there alternatives, other ‘soul-utions'? Can both genes and memes be transcended by Us, yet embraced - not denied by Us in some fanciful flight, but neither enslaved by or imprisoned at the hand of? What of transmemetic protocols that are embracing of both the biosphere and noosphere?

A new reductionism would say that genes produce bodyminds, vMEMES select memes, and, essentially speaking, that is all that we are.

Susan Blackmore asserts as much from a memetic perspective:

"This is the power of the idea of memes. To start to think memetically we have to make a giant flip in our minds just as biologists had to do when taking on the idea of the selfish gene. Instead of thinking of our ideas as our own creations, we have to think of them as autonomous selfish memes, working only to get themselves copied. We humans, because of our powers of imitation, have become just the physical hosts needed for the memes to get around. This is how the world looks from a ‘memes eye view’ " (Blackmore, pp 7-8).

In her book The Meme Machine, she asserts the memetic theory is firstly "able to address its subjects better than rival theories; more economically or more comprehensively". And secondly, that it can "lead to testable predictions that turn out to be correct. Ideally, those predictions should be unexpected ones - things that no-one would have looked for if they were not starting from a theory of memetics" (Ibid, p.9). In her view:

All human actions, whether conscious or not, come from complex interactions between memes, genes, and all their products, in complicated environments. The self is not the initiator of actions, it does not ‘have’ consciousness, and it does not ‘do’ the deliberating. There is no truth in the idea of an inner self inside my body that controls the body and is conscious. Since this is false, so is the idea of my conscious self having free will" (ibid, p.238).

"What, then, of God?" you may ask. "What do you mean by God?" we may reply. Which of the following conceptions do you mean?

"vMEME God Concept

  • PURPLE (Safety Driven) A Patriarch, a Father, a Supreme Being to be obeyed and not questioned.
  • RED (Power Driven) Supreme Commander of Heaven
  • BLUE (Order Driven) The Lawgiver and Judge; Exclusive, Transcendent, the Lord of the Vineyard
  • ORANGE (Success Driven) The Chief Executive, the Wonderful Counsellor, Personal Friend, Imminent.
  • GREEN (People Driven) The Compassionate One, God of the Oppressed, the Just One, inclusive."

Rosada, 1998

Or - none or all of the above memes? The point is, conceptions about God are memes, and when we fight to the death over them, or burn others at the stake over them, does God win, or the meme? If we threaten a meme you hold, are we really and truly threatening ‘you’? Are ‘you’ just the body plus the selfplex?

This is not meant to belittle one’s sense of Divinity, or that deep sense of reverential meaning that is a bit more multi-dimensional than what Blackmore presents. For there is little talk so far, in regards to memetics, which has anything to do with Heart, or even Goodwin’s qualitative science. Or can our deep feelings of awe and wonder be reduced to some genetic or memetic correlate as well? For Blackmore---and others like her---can very well be swept up in the tide of dismissive memes; memes that dismiss any sort of mystical or religious sensibility. Is that Narby’s syndrome we can smell lurking about Ms. Blackmore?

Let us re-stress the importance of looking out for Narby’s syndrome, and its context. "A world that was simple enough to be fully known would be too simple to contain observers who might know it" (Barrow, p.3). However, any "understanding is simplifying" (Skolimowski, p. xvii), and as Barrow puts it our greatest triumphs are simplifications, our greatest blunders oversimplifications (Barrow, p.5). Differentiation within the Holarchy is a necessary but insufficient precondition for out understanding of its integration. Otherwise, to again use Wilber’s terms, you get ‘heapism’, not ‘holonism’ – like not seeing the difference between a hill of clay and a clay brick building. Reductionism might term a clay brick building ‘nothing but’ a hill of clay, which in one sense is true, but in any non-trivial sense is quite awesomely myopic.

So, just as a clay brick building needs bricks, and Blackmore’s ‘memes eye-view’ may be likened to ‘a brick’s eye-view’, perhaps these vMEMES are leading us somewhere - somewhere more spiritual than the First tier vMEMES allow us to conceptualise:

"If our scientific understanding of human nature leads us to doubt the inner self, the soul, the divine creator, or life after death, that doubt can provide the motivation to look directly into experience; to try living without a false sense of self or false hope. Science and spirituality are often opposed but they should not be" (Blackmore, p. 244).

We go further, and submit that true science and true spirituality are, as seen from even the lowest of the second tier vMEMES, not ‘opposed’ at all: that science is an expression of spirit, and that a rejection of spirit has nothing to do with science as such, but everything to do with the myopia of the first tier vMEMES. What can be seen depends upon the lens, the selves, donned. The first tier is necessary to get to the second tier, but insufficient. Especially from that second tier, it becomes apparent that "the structures of the subject are often crucial to the structures of the objects perceived . . . the ontological levels of reality are not other than the levels of consciousness perceiving them" (Wilber, 2000, p. 207, italics ours). That’s ‘who’s asking’: in Skolimowski’s ‘true but partial’ phrase – "The Participatory Mind" (Skolimowski, 1994).

We hope Professor Blackmore will accept this gentle chiding from us: at times, she seems to be staking out territory already ‘staked out’. She’s right to do that, though, in terms of the operations of ‘the academe machine’, of which she is a part. After all, there’s no-one here but us indians; so, it’s a bit like Hiram Bingham of Yale discovering Machu Picchu by asking Senor Augustio Lizarraga where it was. Just like Columbus’s ‘discovery’, Bingham’s had consequences that the knowledge of others did not, and therefore deserves accreditation within his societal mileu.

With this perspective now fresh, it appears to us that one of those way outside of the academe meme machine, Jiddu Krishnamurti, was investigating selfplexes from 1922 to his death in 1986 - that is, from well before the current vocabulary existed. To be charitable to the academe machine, perhaps he has been virtually ignored by it because up to now it didn’t have the vocabulary to address him (a bit ahead of his times?). One uncharitable alternative is because of his association, prior to 1922, with theosophists. Yet Krishnamurti disavowed theosophism utterly, so we doubt that’s the reason. After all, Ramanujan has been recognised as a genius in mathematics, despite the fact that in Ramanujan’s own mind his solutions were delivered to him by a local, Sarasvati-like, goddess. Selecting a few quotes from one of Krishnamurti’s many books, Truth and Actuality (typical quotes, as this subject was his central thrust, stressed countless times) we shall, once again, insert our comments in parenthesis, this time using memetic jargon:


So we are going to observe together what is reality, what are the limitations of thought (memes), and whether thought can ever perceive truth. Or is it beyond the realm of thought?
I think we all agree, at least most of us do, even the scientists, that thought is a material process, is a chemical process (reduction of memes to UR quadrant). Thought is the response of accumulated knowledge as experience and memory. So thought is essentially a thing (a meme, in Lynch’s sense). There is no sacred thought, no noble thought, it is a thing. And its function is in the world of things, which is technology, learning, learning the art of learning, the art of seeing and listening. And reality is in that area. Unless we understand this rather complex problem we shall not be able to go beyond it. We may pretend, or imagine, but imagination (?) and pretension have no place in a human being who is really serious and is desirous to find out what is truth.
As long as there is the movement of thought (memes), which is time and measure, in that area truth has no place. Reality (memeplexes) is that which we think and the action of thought as an idea, as a principle, as an ideal, projected from the previous knowledge (LL quadrant) into the future modified and so on. All that is in the world of reality. We live in that world of reality (the world of memeplexes selected through vMEMES), if you have observed yourself you will see how memory plays an immense part. Memory is mechanical, thought is mechanical, it is a form of computer, a machine, as the brain is (a meme machine). And thought has its place. I cannot speak if I have no language; if I spoke in Greek you wouldn't understand. And learning a language, learning to drive a car, to work in a factory and so on, there thought is necessary. Psychologically, thought has created the reality of the "me". "Me", "my", my house, my property, my wife, my husband, my children, my country, my God - all that is the product of thought (p.146).
One can see that thought has built the "me"(the selfplex), the "me" that has become independent, the "me" that has acquired knowledge, the "me" that is the observer, the "me" that is the past and which passes through the present and modifies itself as the future. It is still the "me" put together by thought, and that "me" has become independent of thought. That "me" has a name, a form. It has a label called X or Y or John. It identifies with the body, with the face; there is the identification of the "me" with the name and with the form, which is the structure, and with the ideal which it wants to pursue. Also with the desire to change the "me" into another form of "me", with another name. This "me" is the product of time and of thought. The "me" is the word: remove the word and what is the "me"? (p. 166)

So what Krishnamurti refers to as ‘Actuality/reality’ is the genetic to memetic world and interface, with the focus being in each of our genetic/corporeal vehicles as my memes, my ‘me’, this selfplex. And his injunction, so amazingly simple to say, and so amazingly difficult to do, was – ‘drop it’.

But what if we can’t just ‘drop it’? In other words, can we really expect a meme to turn off the meme machine just by itself? No, but he passes on to us that by watching the meme machine---just watching what we might now term, within the above qualifications, the meme-gene interface, this will have its own effects (the subduing of anger, for example). Not to believe ‘in’ memes, but to believe ‘that’ memes. Mere presence is called for, effortless witnessing, beyond judgment and the measured movement to memetic overhauls and/or transfusions. This, according to Krishanmurti has nothing to do with better memes or new memes or a reversion to old memes. In fact that sort of efforting may be a large part of the problems that we all face (interface).

Blackmore respectfully disagrees with Dennett, who asserts that "Human consciousness is itself a huge complex of memes (or more exactly, meme effects in brains)" (Dennett 1991, p. 210). Like us, Blackmore asserts: "by contrast, I suggest that the user illusion obscures and distorts consciousness. Ordinary human consciousness is indeed constrained by the selfplex, but it does not have to be. There are other ways of being conscious" (Blackmore, p. 238) - an assertion presumably noted from her own personal experience, but verified by research (Austin, 1998). Some of these different levels are (at last!) being noted by URQ researchers such as neurologists:

"The nonconscious neural signaling of an individual organism begets the proto-self which permits core self and core consciousness, which allow for an autobiographical self, which permits extended consciousness. At the end of the chain extended consciousness permits conscience." (Damasio, p.230)

As Calvin points out, however:

"Damasio generally chooses not to complicate his extended consciousness story with all that language adds. Thus, in this book, there is little elaboration about how consciousness is further expanded by structured thought processes, the sort of thing we see best in language with syntax, alternative agendas, games with arbitrary rules, chains of logic -- and our fascination with discovering hidden patterns, whether in listening to music or doing puzzles or laughing at the punch line. Most of what Damasio treats would apply equally well, in my opinion, to the less structured consciousness of chimpanzees and bonobos " (Calvin, 1999).

So Wilber’s ‘true, but partial’ warning – that is, watch out for Narby’s syndrome – should be raised here.

What options does that leave? In final chapter, entitled "Out of the Meme Race", Blackmore recommends an identical approach to Krishnamurti:

What then am I to do? I feel as though I have to make a choice - to decide how to live my life in the light of my scientific understanding. But how do I do that if I am nothing but a temporary conglomeration of genes, phenotype, memes, and memeplexes. If there is no choice, how am I to choose?. . .

I cannot divorce my science from the way I live my life. If my understanding of human nature is that there is no conscious self inside then I must live that way - otherwise this is a vain and lifeless theory of human nature. But how can 'I' live as though I do not exist, and who would be choosing to do so?

One trick is to concentrate on the present moment - all the time letting go of any thoughts that come up. This kind of 'meme-weeding' requires a great concentration but is most interesting in its effect. If you can concentrate for a few minutes at a time, you will begin to see that in any moment there is no observing self. Suppose you sit and look out of the window. Ideas will come up but these are all past- and future- oriented; so let them go, come back to the present. Just notice what is happening. The mind leaps to label objects with words, but these words take time and are not really in the present. So let them go too. With a lot of practice the world looks different; the idea of a series of events gives way to nothing but change, and the idea of a self who is viewing the scene seems to fall away. . .

Memetics thus brings us to a new vision of how we might live our lives. We can carry on our lives as most people do, under the illusion that there is a persistent conscious self inside who is in charge, who is responsible for my actions and who makes me me. Or we can live as human beings, body, brain, and memes, living out our lives as a complex interplay of replicators and environment, in the knowledge that that is all there is. Then we are no longer victims of the selfish selfplex. In this sense we can be truly free - not because we can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators but because we know that there is no one to rebel. (Blackmore, pp.243-46)

Blackmore’s ‘trick’ is more comprehensively articulated by Wilber in "Always Already", the final chapter of "Eye of the Spirit" (Wilber, 1997, pp. 281-301). Blackmore’s "there is no-one to rebel" is in the spirit of one of Krishnamurti’s more famous phrases; "the observer is the observed".

But - while Blackmore and Krishnamurti both stress these ‘things’ that we now know as memes, like Dawkins with genes, Panikkar, like Goodwin and Stewart, stresses the relationships between ‘things’ (again, with our insertion in parentheses):

"What the Buddha sees is not so much the celebrated Buddhistic impermanence, as the radical, constitutive relativity of everything. . . the permanence of impermanence. . . he intuits the entire cosmos in its becoming and in the interrelationship of all its parts, he sees the dependence of one thing (holon) on another, he discovers the absence of any independence whatsoever . . . (in Wilber’s terms, the universe as a holarchy that all lesser holons are included in the scope, breadth and depth of) ( Panikkar, p. 54)

"The discovery of pure contingency is a devastating experience, for it leaves no escape in the form of some ‘projected’ transcendence. It is the acceptance of ontological death. It is the affirmation of the negative . . . But the very fact of having discovered the irremediable contingency, finitude, mortality and final nothingness of human beings and the world around them, and to have accepted the inexorability of it all, is salvation - the discovery that leads to the most complete emptiness (innocence). And the name for this is Nirvana" (Panikkar, p. 56).

In his 1970 work El Silencio del Dios, Panikkar, many years before the insights of autopoetic theory (see Whittaker), and decades before the abovementioned observations of Stewart and Goodwin were published, elaborates this concept of Radical Relativity:

Relationship is commonly regarded as founded in substance. Relationship is thought of as a relationship between things. . . we discover that things are relationships. . . this can be asserted of everything: there are not substances first, which thereupon enter into relationships with one another; rather, what we call things are only simple relationships" (Panikkar, p. 136).

This can be established at the most fundamental level, long thought to be the fortress of materialism. The fundamentals of the universe are not matter at all, but light, energy, and information - that is, light and energy pattern into matter: "Light and the way it plays with electrons is as fundamental as anything can be; it is the very reason atoms stick together to form matter . . . with every step we take, it is electrons exchanging photons that generate the repulsive force that stops our feet from going through the sidewalk, that creates the illusion of solidity" (Johnson, p. 133; italic ours).

So that’s what’s Nirvana is traditionally supposed to mean (at least, in the eminent tradition Panikkar refers to). Panikkar then calls that Radical Relativity, ‘God’. Similarly, in Sanskrit ‘Brahma’ meant "the principle of all things", which was personified in the Upanishads (again: to understand is to simplify, but our greatest blunders are oversimplifications – the justification for the personifications of Panikkar and the Upanishads is a function of the vMEMETIC stage being addressed). The central vision of the Upanishads is ‘Brahman’, the universal spirit, and although Brahman is beyond thoughts and words each one of us as Atman, the real self, can feel him.

To quote from the Katha Upanishad:

Beyond the senses is the mind, the beyond mind is reason, its essence. Beyond reason is the Spirit in man, and beyond this is the Spirit of the universe, the evolver of all. . . beyond definitions. . .

When the five senses and the mind are still, and reason itself rests in silence, then begins the Path supreme. This calm steadiness of the senses is called Yoga. Then one should become watchful, because Yoga comes and goes. Words and thoughts cannot reach him and he cannot be seen by the eye. . . Always dwelling within all beings is the Atman, the Purusha, the Self, a little flame in the heart.

(Extract from the Upanishads quoted in the India Magazine, New Delhi, August 1985).

So it is because we have a self that we feel we need to tend to all of the time that prevents us from liberation and, as Buddha noted, causes suffering. "The separate self-sense is, at bottom, simply a sensation of seeking" (Wilber, 1997, p. 281). We most need to be liberated from our ‘little’ self to find truth, and beyond that is neither atheism nor theism nor agnosticism, for all of those are intra-self. And we are increasingly seeing that this self is not what we have believed it to be. Where are its irremedial borders and boundaries? Find that point in the loop of causality where you as‘self’ begin, and other as ‘other self’ ends? Is it an impossibility? The borders of flesh and thought, ideology and persona are illusions? Subtract yourself from the realm of interdependence and you as ‘self’ ceases to exist! Now, why is that so fearful? Why should that not be the greatest of all news!?! You are not just your memeplex ‘self’. You are always more than your thought can think you are!

Now, accepting that is what is meant within this intra-memetic format, life doesn’t stop there; according to Blackmore and Krishnamurti, nor do memes end with the ‘death’ of the selfplex - quite the contrary, in fact. Disillusion is not the same as dissolution. A life lived by following the injunctions of Krishnamurti and now Blackmore becomes, in Wilber’s phrase, One Taste (the title of a book by Wilber), a greater life and consciousness, not a lesser:

Spiritual awareness isn’t feelings; it is the awareness of feelings. And that awareness itself is free of feelings and free of thoughts, and allows both feelings and thoughts to float by, just as clouds float by in the emptiness of the sky’ (Wilber, Shambhala interview, 1998).

It is an awareness of things – knots of relationships – in relationships. As Wilber stresses – not ‘just’ things a la Krishnamurti; not ‘just’ relationships a la Panikkar; but articulated holons in a holarchy.

And, also like Wilber in our quote on the Coral vMEME, Zen reports that:

The inner journey is but a prelude to going out. What does the herdsman do in the old Zen story after he finally becomes enlightened? He does not retreat from the world to become a hermit. Instead, he goes forth with joy and compassion to mingle in the world ‘with helping hands’. (Austin, p.14, italics ours)

So, it is here, as expressed by works such as Austin’s Zen and the Brain, that science and spirituality are not opposed - unless there is a ‘meme’ that we have taken as our own, that states an opposition of science and spirituality. Nor are life and true spirituality opposed: quite the contrary. Can you see how this all works? Dichotomies can be transcended. Witnessing can take place without duality or identification. Identification creates a magnetic allegiance whereby we become tied to the outcome and consequences of a meme or memes. The memes we choose not to witness, and choose instead to align with as our own that we live out in action become our karmic tie-ins. We become tied up in those memes and their relations and their associations and their family. When we marry a meme we marry that memes whole family.

Wilber stresses that compassion does not disdain, but embraces (including ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’ - forgive ‘me’, for ‘I’ know not what ‘I’ do). That living in Nirvana can be an active life, one of full-blooded engagement, not smug disassociation, not a pathological ‘tyranny of the present’ - the result of a dissolution, a depersonalisation, not an enfoldment of a personality into a larger whole. Killing the selfplex is no more heading towards compassion than killing the body (‘the small ego does not evaporate; it remains as the functional center of activity in the conventional realm’). Why are such selfless people amongst the best of us, not the worst? As Blackmore points out, and quotes Claxton as confirming, one becomes, "however contrary to expectation, a better neighbour". Krishnamurti again: > Is there an energy which will bring about this unity, this unification of mankind? We are saying, in meditation this energy comes about, because in meditation there is no centre. The centre is created by thought, but something else, totally different, takes place, which is compassion. That is the unifying factor of mankind. To be - not to become compassionate, that is again another deception - but to be compassionate. . . That is why we talked a great deal about suffering, the suffering not only of a human being, but the collective suffering of mankind. Don't understand it verbally or intellectually but somewhere else, in your heart, feel the thing. And as you are the world and the world is you, if there is this birth of compassion you will inevitably bring about unity, you can't help it. (Krishnamurti, pp. 170-171)

How so? It appears to be true from our experiences, and if it is generally true that is of tremendous significance. Many a materialist collapser to the UR quadrant still makes an exception in that case. Compassion is still somehow 'better' than rape, murder, mayhem, etc. to them, even when values cannot be articulated within the vocabulary they allow themselves. How come so many of those who totally collapse meaning and values still lay claim to compassion? On such a basis, why not evil? If, as we believe it to be from our experience, it is true that some of the finest materialists are some of the finest people - why?

There are two main kinds of answer possible - the Darwinian evolutionary and the spiritual evolutionary kinds, and as far as we can see, that's only either/or from within one of those perspectives, and not even all of that Darwinian perspective. But in both scenarios those 'intellectual' answers are sideshows to the main event - to be a vehicle reifying wisdom and compassion. So the best game plan seems - be that vehicle first, and ask questions later, because then, from living the experience of wisdom and compassion, you'll be better able to answer.

However, we do not agree, as Krishnamurti at times seems to imply, that any such re-entry necessarily involves disdain for, and consequent non-articulation of, the structures of thought. He was violently repelled from such structures, and from others considering him to be any kind of ‘authority’ or ‘guru’, presumably from having witnessed the abuse of power from theosophists in his youth. Nor do we agree with the following translation of what the Buddha said:

So seeing, brethren, the well-taught Aryan disciple feels disgust for body, feels disgust for feeling, for perception, for the activities, feels disgust for consciousness. So feeling disgust he is repelled; being repelled, he is freed; knowledge arises that in the freed is the freed thing. (Panikkar, p. 30).

It may be an appropriate choice of words, because he was violently repelled from old age, sickness, and death, presumably from never having witnessed them in his youth. If you meet THAT Buddha along the road - ‘kill’ him? No, grow. No-one, not even a Buddha, knows everything, ever could, or ever can. However, we submit that compassion is not disgusted in our language’s meaning (disgust for feelings – shouldn’t that that include disgust for disgust, and so on ad infinitum?); nor is it disdainful. Compassion and wisdom together embrace that relativity with a qualitative discernment. Sure, "when you think very clearly, you see the limitations of thinking" (Krishnamurti, p.96), but seeing limitation does not impose or even imply dissociation, merely differentiation – not ‘neti, neti’ - not this, not this, but instead ‘not only this, not only this’ - ‘a holon there; a holon there’. Wisdom and compassion embrace involution and evolution, transcendence and immanence, genes, memes, and megathemes – and everything else, again, with a qualitative discernment. So compassion embraces suffering, too, but acts to bring it within relativity, within Csikszentmihalyi’s proportionality for growth within a holonic ‘little self’, within Buddha’s eightfold path of illusion management - not Narby’s syndrome, flatland dis-soulutions of ‘nothing-buts’, that can "deny us larger horizons, suffocate our souls" (Skolimowski, p. 51).

Perhaps Barrow is right – "what cannot be known is more revealing than what can" (Barrow, p. 252). And perhaps, also, passion is ‘a necessary but insufficient precondition’ for compassion: compassion for not just life’s most complex known expression (the six billion of us humans), but – with values entering fundamentally into the appreciation of the nature of life - for life in every cell on earth. Let us serve towards "the greatest depth for the greatest span" (Wilber). Here is the process of life: live it, and let’s all help one other to do so as best we can, for goodness’ sake.

We submit that this is where the spiral staircase leads – to a trans-memetic jumping off / jumping back, involution / evolution state, like breathing in and breathing out our universe. Just as vMEMES outgrow exclusive identification with any one level by moving beyond the first tier, so exclusive genetic-through-to-memetic identification can be outgrown altogether. Further: the path to that can be traced along that spiral - built from light, energy, and information that ‘we’ are not ‘just’ or ‘nothing but’, but not other than. One can emerge from memetic domination as one emerges from a musty cellar to the clear light of day by a staircase. You are not in the open when you are on that spiral staircase, but the light gets clearer the higher you climb.

And then you can see, by going up and down that staircase in ‘your’ life, that the light is there, and everywhere, and has been all along.



Comment Form is loading comments...