A Virus in the Mind

‘A meme is a unit of information in a mind whose existence influences events such that more copies of itself get created in other minds.’

I leaned this from author Richard Brodie, in his book Virus of the Mind. It’s an interesting way of looking at how we take on information and beliefs.  Let me explain…

To varying degrees we all know that we are impacted by the information that we receive constantly from our external world.  The science of memetics is a new way of looking at how this information impacts us.

“Memetics gives us the knowledge and power to direct our own revolution more than we’ve done at any time in history.”

Some information spreads faster and easier than other information.  This is the definition of a ‘good’ meme – that is can spread and infiltrate minds faster and easier than bad memes.  It has nothing to do with whether that meme is better for you.

“I believe that people who understand memetics will have an increasing advantage in life, especially in preventing themselves being manipulated or taken advantage of.”

Good memes therefore are like viruses.

“A virus of the mind is something out in the world that infects people with memes. Those memes, in turn, influence the infected people’s behaviour so that they help perpetuate and spread be virus.”

As human beings we are highly influenced by our evolution over thousands of years.  Our natures have also developed and evolved but, particularly in recent decades and centuries, not fast enough to keep up with the rate of change in society.

Unfortunately, human instincts evolved to support our survival a long time ago and didn’t take into account the kind of world we live in today. This is relevant because memes which become ‘good’ memes (spread more readily) are often those which are more “relevant to our innate nature”.

Our innate nature is very primal, relating to things like breathing, eating, sex, and the need for approval of others.  If we allow ourselves to be directed by our instincts then we will often be directed to the shortest path to meet those needs – and the shortest path is not necessarily the most positive and often not sustainable, e.g. some people run to the fridge to eat the first sugary treat they can find when they are feeling threatened or alone because their instincts are driven from an awareness that it will be a quick-fix – but it is not sustainable.

Fortunately we have conscious minds because to override your innate nature (and therefore to override potentially unhelpful memes) takes a minimum level of consciousness.  Warning: Being conscious takes up more energy than just doing what your natural drivers often want you to do – it’s work.

But it’s work that is necessary if you want the reality of your life to resemble the life you imagine for yourself and for the world you live in.

“We can either give up on the hope of having a filling life and a better world or consciously choose which memes to program ourselves with and which we want to spread.”

Perhaps one of the ironies of being conscious to reality is that reality holds no complete truths.  According to Brodie ‘All truth are half-truths’.

You can’t ever know the whole truth of the universe.  And it is often distracting and time consuming to find the truth past a certain point.  In consolation, the more you understand your own memetic programming, the less anything in life looks like the absolute truth.  Therefore, to stop looking at anything as an absolute truth can become a default with practice.

When thinking about being conscious and using the language of memes, Brodie suggests there are two ethical questions to ask:

  • What memes should I program myself with?
  • What memes do you want to spread?

The answer to these questions is an ongoing journey.  Ideally you will program yourself with the truth but, as already stated, all truths are half-truths.  Plus, life and information is constantly changing, so you need to adjust with it.

So what is the right answer?  There is no right answer, but the guidelines to consider are:

  • Clarity… Get clear about what you want in life.  Easier said than done.  Hundreds of hours of coaching has taught me that people are much better at stating what they don’t want in their life than what they do.  When they get clear however about what they want (and give themselves permission to have it) their life takes off.
  • Acceptance… Accepting that what comes naturally may no longer work and that acting from consciousness may not always be what feels best.
  • Select a higher purpose for your life that maximises your fulfilment and enjoyment of life.  Brodie states “People I’ve met who seemed to be getting the most out of life are those who have some kind of life purpose. When people are willing or forced to stop worrying about such issues as the own survival and imminent crisis, they have another set of drives, referred to ultimately as higher purpose, calling, or self-actualisation.”
  • Spend time regularly turning off the inner dialogue.  This takes practice, but if you can learn to turn off your inner dialogue, even for short periods of time, you’ve made the first big step towards freeing yourself from the tyranny of mind viruses.
  • Intentionally look at life from different perspectives.  Take advantage of any disagreement you have with anyone as an opportunity to practice this.

Much love,


“My own parents used to routinely tell me, “Scotty, you think too much.”…What a terrible thing to say to anybody.  The reason we have a brain is to think.  But we live in a culture that places little value on the intellect, the ability to think well, because it is viewed as different–and possibly even dangerous.  For anyone who is in control, like parents or employers or our government, it may feel like a threat when someone else thinks independently.” – M Scott Peck

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