Daniel Dennett on YouTube trots out several examples of parasites that turn their hosts suicidal: lancet flukes that turn ants into zombie ants climbing plant stalks for no reason; toxoplasma that turn mice into Mighty Mouse, fearless of cats; and flukes that make fish jump into bird's beaks. His motivation in citing parasites that modify host behaviour is to cast doubt on religion.

Memes seem like a similar kind of parasite, modifying their hosts' behaviour, such as causing people who normally wouldn't presume to have anything useful to say on an esoteric topic to suddenly behave like experts, forcefully arguing the few talking points learned from last night's CNBC show as if they were the conclusions from a lifetime of investigation.

Abe Dunkelheit writes:

Every year I tend to fall for a new meme. Last year a friend of mine called me from Monte Carlo and sucked me into an oil exploration 'insider' deal which lost me 1% of my overall performance in less than five days. This time it was this article on Feb 28, which quoted Thomas Brown, that made me brainlessly buy lend shares two days before they tanked — a tiny position which lost me another 1% in a couple of days. The monetary loss is not even the worst thing. What makes it so bad is the mental turmoil and emotional disequilibrium such a memetic infection can have upon one's psyche, which substantially increases the likelihood of additional misjudgments. It is hellish!

What sucks me in?

I think it may be the following:

First, there is the appearance or mystique of knowledge: "Tiger Management alumnus and former top bank analyst Thomas Brown."

Second, there is a prediction: "Investors with at least a one year investment horizon will be very happy they bought the stock at current price."

Third, this so-called knowledge is conveyed with an unshakable conviction, which turns the prediction into a prophecy: "This is one of those times in investing, I believe, when it will pay to be very, very aggressive."

And forth, there must be a heightened level of emotion, excitability, vulnerability, and/or distraction so as to inhibit the analytical mind from properly functioning and to increase suggestibility.

[I had experienced an unusual amount of emotionally unbalancing news before my memetic infection: (1) I just had made and immediately lost an unusually large amount of money in the previous five days. (2) Before Feb 27th I had the best month ever and outperformed the market by 12 points. (3) I just gained the mandate for a large private investment account. (4) I had won a lawsuit that had haunted me for more that a year and a half. (5) I got very unexpected news of former bank colleagues who had been doing extremely well financially since I had left banking some five years ago, which made me weak and doubtful in a very subtle way. Basically, from what I had heard I concluded that I had missed out on millions, a thought that sort of traumatized me and introduced a sense of urgency into my life for a day or two. This contributed to the reduction of my mental immune system and made me ready for the memetic infection!]

In religion, we have a similar structure. First, there is the appearance of knowledge [the priest caste]. Second there is a prediction regarding the future. Third is the prediction revealed in a do-or-die urgency ["Believe me or die"]. And forth, emotional excitability, vulnerability, and distraction are strongly triggered by all sorts of techniques like induction of mass hysteria, forced confessions, dehydration, sleep deprivation, induced fear and guilt, peer-pressure, induced imaginations and phantasmagorias [the promises of hurries in Paradise and the vivid depiction of the pains of Hell], predictions, awe, synchronicities, interpretation madness [everything appears to be significant in some higher sense], etc. Often the victim has already suffered from an emotional destabilization in their life like a divorce, job loss, a rejection, etc.

What makes the meme so dangerous is that when the prediction turns out to be wrong [and they tend to be wrong all the time] the meme-infected mind has the tendency to 'explain' the failure away and that has the effect of sucking the person in even more! [See: Leon Festinger, When Prophecy Fails (1956), and also the recent documentary "Waiting for Nesara" ].

In, The Psychology of Human Misjudgment, Warren Buffet's life long friend and partner Charles Munger writes:

"Pure curiosity made me wonder how and why destructive cults were often able, over a single weekend, to turn many tolerably normal people into brainwashed zombies and thereafter keep them in that state indefinitely. I resolved that I would eventually find a good answer to this cult question if I could do so by general reading and much musing."

Abe Dunkelheit continues:

Not only does information help the public very little, but instead it helps predators! (This is a very rough calculus; I know that even between predators Pareto law applies).

Information has no implicit value. The value of any information is relative to the person's experience structure, which in turn depends on the person's relative position inside of the social fabric, and on hereditary factors.

There are no winners because it ends with death. But there are relative winners [predators] and losers [prey] in relation to each other. And that relation is relatively rigid. It doesn't change in one's lifetime. Ninety-five percent are food. Only five percent can be helped, which in turn seals the fate of the other ninety-five percent.

Free dissemination seems not to reduce the paretian effect, but on the contrary seems to help make things still worse. So what to do?

The question is rhetorical, because one cannot be interested in any serious solution. If one really wants to reduce harm simply stop educating stupidity! Don't do anything and don't go anywhere. It is almost certain that this way one would outperform any other solutions. But nobody can be seriously interested in such a solution.

So one will come up with lots of justifications why it is good to do something, anything, and thereby seal one's and everybody else's fate. Here is mine: I have no conflict with reality. (Implicit assumption: I will be saved from the cruel fate of the ninety-five percent. In fact, everybody will be saved.)

Hope and wishful thinking can be wonderful things. They can make things happen!

Alston Mabry adds:

In nature, predators are not "winners," nor are prey "losers." Being preyed upon by lions does not make zebras into losers. The lion, too, will eventually be food for another creature. The zebra does not compete with the lion, but with his fellow zebras and other herbivores. Likewise, the lion competes with the neighboring pride, the leopard, or the pack of hyenas. And when the watering holes dry up, they all die.


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