Sunday, March 3, 2013

Meme Wars (Part 2)

A war for mind share is going on around us.  Ideas struggle for the territory in our brains.  In Part 2 of Meme Wars we examine how printing technology started a war between memes. 

Meme WarsPart 1 - Part 2 - Part 3  - Part 4 - Part 5 – Part 6 – Part 7

German Information Revolution

Hand crafted meme
Prior to Gutenberg’s popularization of printing presses, communication was largely by hand or mouth.  Scratching surface of clay, putting ink on papyrus, and carving in stone where skilled manual labors that few could master. 

Access to communication was limited to those with wealth or power.  This focused writing for future minds and listening to past minds on a small subset of humanity.

The printing press took the power of communication from the hands of a few and democratized it.  Meme’s could spread from central places to many minds.

Before printing presses (about 1450) there were only a few thousand books in all of Europe.  A hundred years after Gutenberg’s invention, there were 20 million.  By 1650 200 million books had come into existence. Literacy, listening to past minds and speaking to future ones, became common.

Before mass printing, Bibles where read almost exclusively by priests and nobles.  These fountains of wisdom were under tight control.  The Church doctrine was that lay people would not understand the Bible’s mysteries and should be sheltered from actually reading its words for themselves. 

It is no accident that a Protestant Reformation occurred when it did.  Among the first mass produced books were Bible translations from Latin into local languages.  Within three generations, Church thought control was challenged by Martin Luther

The meme’s of the Bible spread and flourished into fertile and unfilled minds.  This initial wave of meme growth had profound effects on culture, thought, and how people lived.

As literacy spread, wisdom became democratized.   Access to information promoted independent thinking.  As more people came to read past minds, they changed their futures.

Gutenberg's meme reproducer
Reading Past, Making Future

With the printing press came an immediate and overwhelming demand for new content.  Previously written books were mass produced profitably.  New content was rare, old content readily available. Ancient Roman and Greek books became the stock and trade of these new high tech printing firms. 

Reading the minds of the long ago dead became common and easy.  The ancients spoke to people about philosophy, mathematics, and politics.  Old ideas created revolutionary new memes jumping from mind to mind. 

Challenging Church’s interpretation of the Bible, people began to challenge other ideas.  Copernicus revealed the earth was not the center of the universe.  Columbus sailed beyond the known, finding new lands.  Northern Italy began to discover and translate Roman and Greek knowledge beyond the Bible.

With each new discovery of ideas from past minds, new ideas were explored.  When people read good thoughts from the past, society can benefit.  Good memes entered into to peoples brains and were passed around.

Machiavelli, after reading Plato and Aristotle, described a world of princes acting outside of religious doctrine and control.  Reading Roman thoughts from long ago, the first Republic in a thousand years formed in Florence.  The humanist movement sprung from revived ancient ideas that each person could study poetry, grammar, history, morality and rhetoric to advance their lives and their communities.

When people read bad thoughts from the past, society can be hurt.  Bad memes fight for a share of mind and communication with good memes.

Nostradamus published prophecies that distorted later minds with false ideas about the future.  Reading from the mind of Dante, irrational concepts of hell placed irrational fear into ignorant brains.  Ancient ideas of leech bleeding and laxatives killed thousands as old misconceptions about medicine became popularized. 

In part 3 of Meme Wars looks at power struggles between ideas/memes occurring in renaissance minds.

Meme WarsPart 1 - Part 2 - Part 3  - Part 4 - Part 5 – Part 6 – Part 7

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