Another Take On Reality – Meme, Myself and I
September 3, 2009
This article was writen for the New Scientist by Dr. Susan Blackmore, and was pulished on the 13th March 1999. Personally, out all of the ideas about reality that I’ve come across so far, this one in particular (for me, at least) stands beautifully apart from the rest and addresses very accurately the notions of reality, free-will and how the subsequent illusion of the “Self” arises.
Meme, Myself and I
Hold out your arm in front of you. Whenever you feel like it, of your own free will, flex your wrist. Repeat this a few times, making sure you do it as consciously as you can. You’ll probably experience some kind of decision process, in which you hold back from doing anything and then decide to act. Now ask yourself, what began the process that led to the action? Was it you?
Neuroscientist Benjamin Libet of the University of California in San Francisco asked volunteers to do exactly that. A clock allowed the subjects to note exactly when they decided to act, and by fitting electrodes to their wrists, Libet could time the start of the action. More electrodes on their scalps recorded a particular brain wave pattern called the readiness potential, which occurs just before any complex action and is associated with the brain planning its next move.
Libet’s controversial finding was that the decision to act came after the readiness potential. It looks as though there is no conscious “self” jumping into the synapses and starting things off.
This and other research has led me to believe that the idea of “self” is an illusion. You are nothing more than a creation of genes and memes in a unique environment. Memes are ideas, skills, habits, stories, songs or inventions that are passed from person to person by imitation. They have shaped our minds, leading to the evo-lution of big brains and language because these served to spread the memes. But the memes with the cleverest trick are those that persuade us that our “selves” really exist. We all live our lives as a lie. The memes have made us do it–because giving us the illusion of “self” helps them to survive and spread.
A bit about Sue Blackmore:
Dr. Susan Blackmore is a freelance writer, lecturer and broadcaster, and a Visiting Professor at the University of Plymouth. She has a degree in psychology and physiology from Oxford University (1973) and a PhD in parapsychology from the University of Surrey (1980). Her research interests include memes, evolutionary theory, consciousness, and meditation. She practices Zen and campaigns for drug legalization.
Sue Blackmore no longer works on the paranormal.
She writes for several magazines and newspapers, blogs for the Guardian newspaper and Psychology Today, and is a frequent contributor and presenter on radio and television. She is author of over sixty academic articles, about fifty book contributions, and many book reviews. Her books include Dying to Live (on near-death experiences, 1993), In Search of the Light (autobiography, 1996), and Test Your Psychic Powers (with Adam Hart-Davis, 1997)…