Marketing, memes, and mutations in the mind

STORY BY Artem Kaznatcheev

Published: July 2, 2013

Like almost everything on the internet, this blog is funded by advertisement. The chaps that run this site – or more precisely the marketung suits-and-ties that pay them – hope that as you read my science-sullied snippets, your eyes wander onto a sidebar ad and a fleck of an idea imbeds itself in your mind and prompts you to purchase a product later. Better yet, prompts you to click on the ad with you credit card in hand. I would expect the connection between science and advertising to stop at the keywords, not so at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. The seven-day international advertising festival convinced evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins to deliver their highlight Saatchi & Saatchi New Directors's Showcase on June 20th. In the words of the organizers:

"This year’s theme ‘Just for Hits’ is a visual and oral extravaganza featuring the world-renowned British evolutionary biologist, Professor Richard Dawkins.  The show connects the world of science and academia, with the world of film and the Internet."

The rest of the internet described it with lines like "Holy Shit, that was a trip". I will skip the academic intro and let you judge for yourself:

With the publication of The Selfish Gene in 1976, Dawkins intoduced the world to the term meme. This abstract entity is defined by anology: as gene is to the body, meme is to the mind. A meme is anything that speads from brain to brain or in the age of the internet blog to blog. Of course, the analogy is not pefect, for the body – fitness is relatively straightforward: number of offspring, a currency that translates between organisms. For memes, however, each mind can have a different affinity for each idea – making fitness a subjective concept. But this difference has been understood by evolutionary economists for years.

The internet has introduced a further wrinkle into memetics, in Dawkin's words: "internet memes are altered deliberately by human creativity ... [these] mutations are designed – not random – with the full knowledge of the person doing the mutating." I am not sure if I agree with Dawkins completely on this, 4chan still seems random to me, but it is definitely a good message for advertisers that are coming to rely more and more on viral marketing. How do you craft a high fitness meme? More importantly can you take the virally memorable image of a swaw Isaiah Mustafa and hitch to it a parasitic memo to buy a specific brand on body wash? The suits turn to science.

What's in it for Dawkins? On November 3rd, 2011 Dawkins was promoting his latest book The Magic of Reality: an explanation of the scientific truths behind his favorite 'virus of the mind' – religion. In the question and answer session, he was surprised by local Bath resident, author Graham Hancock:

"Dr Dawkins, many traditional hunter-gatherer cultures believe there are other realities ... and concrete techniques, such as the use of psychoactive plants, to access them. ... As a   scientist, have you ever seriously engaged such techniques to have first-hand experience of what they're talking about? ... If not, would you consider doing so, and when would you be ready to begin?"

After the audience laughter subsided, Dawkins responded to everyone's surprise:

"I would be very curious, I must say, to take ... something like LSD or mescaline ... I would be prepared to do that under proper medical supervision, if I were absolutely convinced that it would do me no lasting harm. And I would actually like to do it."

My pet theory is that he decided that the New Directors's Showcare was the right time to begin. Let's just hope this mutation in the mind doesn't do his memecomplex any lasting harm.

Other Stories by Artem Kaznatcheev
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