Modern Evolutionary Biologists are increasingly realizing that “thought” evolved its own survival tricks. Thoughts get replicated and passed on by ‘memes’ just like biological traits are propagated by ‘genes.’ A Meme is “an information pattern, held in an individual’s memory and gets copied to another individual’s memory” with variation and selection. Slogans, catchy tunes, many beliefs, culture are examples for memes.
Our mind has a tendency to forget certain things. Strangely it may also show things that were never seen previously by us. This is because somebody else’s experience infects our mind as a “meme” and we begin to believe that it was our own experience. Dr. Grant says, “An idea can parasitically infect your mind and alter your behavior.” It then causes you to tell your friends, “thus exposing them to the idea-virus.”
Thus Memes spread like viruses using human beings as carriers. In a way all our thoughts are infections. There is nothing like an original thought. The word ‘meme’ was coined by Prof. Dawkins in the late seventies. But our sages recognized the havoc memes could play thousands of years ago. Maharshi Vasishta tells in Yogavasishta the delightful story of how Sage Gadhi was confused and befuddled when his mind was infected by other’s experiences.
Gadhi was an orthodox Brahmin who renounced the world at a young age. He prayed to Lord Vishnu to grant him a boon so that he could witness mAyA. The Lord granted him the wish. Days went by but nothing happened.
One day as Gadhi entered a pond and commenced his daily ablutions, he suddenly went blank; his body became frigid. His mind began to have strange experiences. He felt he was dead. He saw his relatives, his wife and children crying over his dead body. He was cremated. He was reborn in a hunter tribe and was named Katanja. He grew up killing animals and devouring their raw flesh. For some reason, Katanja deserted his family and went around roaming. During his wanderings he happened to visit Keeradesha. The King of Keeradesha was recently dead.
The Nobility of the land was looking for a successor. Katanja was selected to be their king. He ruled well for eight years when his true nature of being a mere uneducated hunter tribesman got exposed. The citizens of Keera felt terribly ashamed for having served such an unworthy king. Some of the Nobility committed suicide. Learning about it, Katanja decided to end his life. He jumped into a burning pyre.
Just as the King katanja jumped with a thud, Gadhi was jerked out of his stupor in the pond. Gadhi witnessed a span of over 80 years of his life within the few minutes he lost senses while bathing in the pond. He was surprised how a wife and kids could attend his funeral when he had not ever married. He deduced that it was merely a hallucination and forgot all about it.
One day an ascetic visited him. The visitor narrated in detail about how an unworthy hunter by name Katanja was crowned King of Keeradesha, what happened during his eight years of reign and how hundreds of humiliated citizens committed suicide when they learnt about the actually low status of the king. Gadhi was shocked. What he had surmised was an imagination turned out to be real! Was he himself Katanja then? He probed the visitor with searching questions. The visitor’s replies matched exactly with his experience. Gadhi visited Keeradesa to check things personally. He could easily recognize the places and people. He questioned the villagers and looked at the evidence. He was left with no doubt that it was his own life and story! He couldn’t comprehend how physical evidence could exist if what he experienced in the pond was a mere phantasm. He was unable to decipher whether his hallucination was real or imaginary.
Gadhi prayed to Lord Vishnu to bestow clarity. A long, interesting and very illuminating conversation took place between them.
Lord Vishnu explained to Gadhi: “You happened to notice a hut put up by a hunter in a hamlet. It made a lasting impression on you. The impression was so strong that that hut of long lost time appeared right before you now. Staring at the hut, you claimed ownership to it. Thoughts and experiences of Katanja invaded your mind. They became your own experiences. You became Katanja.
“You thought that your experience in the pond was a fantasy and personal to you. You believed your later experiences to be real. In fact your hallucination, the visit of a sage, your investigations in Keeradesha and the whole gamut of your experiences were one continuous illusion, also witnessed by many others. That’s why the villagers you interrogated appeared to substantiate your experience.
You distinguish reality from dream experience based on two criteria. You think that space-time configuration in a dream does not correspond to actual space-time in reality. You also feel that what you experience in your dream is unique to yourself and others that appear in your dream cannot have the same experience. Both criteria are not infallible.
“Great Sage! Know the entire world to be no more than a panorama of illusory magic. Purify your mind first to understand this.”
Large groups of memes that are copied and passed on together are called co-adapted meme complexes or Memeplex. Vedanta considers world as mAyA, a vast Memeplex.
(To continue …. Part – 11).