Thursday, 6 June 2013

Meme therapy


Meme therapy aims to improve health and well-being with interventions that use or target memes. It's named after gene therapy. "Gene therapy" has historically been a rather narrow term. However, meme therapy is probably best interpreted rather broadly - referring to a wide range of therapies based on memes.

Some common forms of meme therapy resemble vaccinations. For instance, hearing a story about someone who got burned in a pyramid scheme can help protect people about pyramid schemes they might encounter in the future. As with organic immunity, vaccines - in the form of weakened versions of dangerous real-world memes - can subsequently provide protection against the real thing. Another approach is to combat bad memes with good memes. There are also forms of memetic preventative medicine - such as skepticism.


Meme therapy was an important part of memetics from its inception. The book Virus of the Mind had a strong self-help element. More recently there's the book Disinfect Your Mind: Defend Yourself with Memetics Against Mass Media, Politicians, Corporate Management, Your Aunt's Advice, and Other Mind Viruses. The theme of these books has generally been that your brain is under siege by a crowd of memes that seek to manipulate you - for the benefit of advertisers, politicians, religious leaders - and indeed the memes themselves. Only by mastering the self-help side of memetics can you hope to properly defend yourself.

Susan Blackmore is among those who have written about the self-help aspects of memetics - for example in her article, "Meditation as meme weeding". Sue talks about weeding out the bad memes, so that good ones might flourish. This gardening metaphor seems quite appropriate.

Mental illness

More recently, there have been more medical-based approaches. Hoyle Leigh has become one of the pioneers of meme therapy. He has written a fine book on the topic titled "Genes, Memes, Culture, and Mental Illness: Toward an Integrative Model". This notes that the symptoms of obsessions, paranoia, schizophrenia, depression and some kinds of stress appear to include over-growths of memes inside the minds of the patients - with particular memes often dominating their attention. It then goes on to propose treatment regimes - including meme therapy. Such meme therapy is part of Darwinian psychiatry.


Common meme therapy techniques include:
  • Meditation;
  • Skepticism;
  • Affirmation;
  • Mantras;
  • Music;


Meme therapies can be classified in several ways:
  • Broad-spectrum vs narrow spectrum;
  • Self-administered vs other-administered;
  • Anti-biotic vs pro-biotic;
  • Preventative vs restorative;
For example, meditation is an example of broad-spectrum anti-biotic meme therapy. It targets a range of memes, but the therapy doesn't really involve much in the way of memes. Affirmations are a form of pro-biotic meme therapy - they try to replace bad memes with good ones.

It's also possible to classify meme therapies based on the type of problem they treat. Treatable categories of disorder include excesses of negative memes, insufficient positive memes, and various kinds of auto-immune memetic disorders.


Self-administered meme therapy is ubiquitous. People spend a lot of time listening to music and watching movies. These are basic forms of meme therapy.

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