A memetic entity…it sounds like the fevered dream of a madman, doesn’t it? But think about it for a second. A meme is nothing more than an idea or behavior, after all; it’s cultural DNA. And just like real DNA it spreads, reproduces, and mutates. Kind of like a virus where the symptoms are not nasal discharge and death but cute pictures of cats and catchphrases badly translated from the original Japanese. Everybody knows that viruses aren’t technically alive by most definitions.

But they’re disturbingly close to it.

Richard Dawkins used similar language in The Selfish Gene, of course, but only as an analogy. Imagine if the memes we pass around encoded some of the other aspects of true life, like homeostasis (maintaining a constant state), growth, or response to external stimuli. By some definitions memes already do this.

Imagine a highly evolved meme that takes the form of a very catchy song. Once you hear it, you can’t get it out of your head and find yourself constantly singing it. The melody fits together well enough that changing it is hard (homeostasis), other people hear it and take up the song (reproduction), it changes gradually to avoid becoming stale (adaptation) and annihilates other songs competing for attention (consumption).

Then imagine if the song was somehow self-aware. Perhaps it communicates by varying the words.

Or imagine if the meme that was passed on was the suggestion that, some hours ago, you had seen and spoken to a person who does not exist.

There was a time when I would have thought all this speculation about a memetic entity was strictly academic, and interesting thought exercise in the Dawkins vein about the way our culture changes and shares information.

But that’s before I met one.

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