Memes and the malign user illusion
Paper presented at Association for the Scientific
Study of Consciousness Conference "Unity and Dissociation",
Abstract also published in Consciousness and Cognition, 9,
Many authors have suggested that the apparent unity of consciousness
is an illusion. Parfit contrasts ego theorists with bundle theorists,
who believe that underlying the apparent continuity of self is only
a series or bundle of experiences. Dennett, having rejected the audience
in the Cartesian Theatre, suggests the self is a benign user illusion.
If we accept this, we must ask (1) How is the illusion constructed?
(2) Why is it constructed, and (3) Is it really benign?
Possible answers include evolutionary, cognitive
and social explanations. I shall argue that none of these is valid,
for the illusion does not benefit either us or our genes, it benefits
I shall explain the basic principles of memetics,
pointing out sources of confusion over definitions and false analogies
with genes, and stressing the importance of understanding memes as
replicators. I shall explain how and why memes group together into
co-adapted meme complexes, one of which is the self. This memeplex
is constructed by the memes for their own propagation, not for our
benefit. Indeed it is arguably the root of all human suffering. I
conclude that both scientifically, and for living our lives, the illusion
Back to Publications