Friday, November 1, 2013

A Sanitized World (November)

The Hygiene Hypothesis proposes that the line between parasite & symbiote, pathogen and probiotic is more blurred than we previously assumed.  We evolved in an environment which exposed us to parasites and pathogens, and the interplay between these agents and our immune systems developed a balance. 

Parasites excrete immune suppressants and our immune systems responded by gradually growing stronger.  When parasites were suddenly removed by sewage treatment and  clean drinking water, our immune systems were left unchecked & without their traditional targets.  This may explain why some people's bodies attack inert debris like pollen as if it is a pathogen and why still others develop autoimmune diseases where the body attacks its own healthy cells.

We also have the endosymbiont theory which explains how mitochondria and chloroplasts were once separate organisms which developed symbiotic relationships with other cells and got those cells to take over their reproduction in exchange for energy. 

So there is a precedent of observed symbiotic behaviors of parasites/pathogens and their hosts.  So let's get back to our topic of memes and memeplexes.  Brodie's comparison of the meme/memeplex with a virus works in how it transfers from person to person and how it defends itself from competition and from the host's defenses.  From there Brodie develops a critique similar to Dawkins, that these memetic viruses are the bane of the human species and must be eradicated to improve our quality of life.  But that ignores what we know of the evolutionary process.   We are co-adapted with memeplexes.  We can improve our immune response to them, we can identify which are helpful, benign or destructive and tailor responses accordingly, but we cannot excise them completely from our experience.  They are a part of us.  Let us resist the temptation to despise our own flesh.

It's time to move away from the paradigm of "germs cause disease, prevent illness by universal sterilization"; "memes cause mental illness, prevent mental illness by eradicating memes" to a more progressive stance of promoting symbiotic relationships and addressing specific problems within the studied environment.


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