â€œThe definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over, and then expecting different results” – Albert Einstein
But why do we continue to bark up the same old tree while condemning it and our lifestyles?
A meme is a system of belief which perpetuates long after its inherent value. It is a belief so ingrained in society that we continue to act as if it were true even though we are completely detached from its original meaning.
An often cited experiment is the one of the monkeys in a laboratory. The monkeys are put in a cage and there is a ladder in the middle with bananas at the top. When a monkey tries to climb the ladder to get the reward ALL the monkeys in the cage are punished by being hosed down with cold water. Whenever a monkey climbs the ladder, the whole cage is soaked with cold water. Soon the monkeys attribute the punishment to attempts at climbing up the ladder and so whenever a new monkey is placed in the cage and tries to get the bananas, unaware of the system of punishment in place, the other monkeys attack it, preventing it from climbing up the ladder and also from getting another hosing down.
When each new monkey is placed into the cage and tries to reach the bananas it gets a beating for attempting to climb the ladder. Soon all the new monkeys are preventing newer monkeys from climbing the ladder even when they have never seen the punishment or even know the reason for it.
What is interesting is that this system of behavior continues to work even when none of the monkeys in the cage have been subjected to the punishment of the hosing. They just know that ‘this is how things are done around here‘! Climbing the ladder is off limits! This too is how humans interact and much of how we behave in groups is determined by, well.. how others are behaving. This kind of behavior is known as a meme. A cultural system of controlled thinking in which the original reason has long since gone.
So how many of us are walking around with some degree of old and outdated system of belief which prevents us from living our lives to the degree that we are capable? Many of our beliefs and attitudes are those which we picked up and inherited through our parents and closest friends. And they inherited them from their parents, and so on. If we are perpetuating the lives of our ancestors in some way through an old and outdated system of belief, wouldn’t it be nice to know about it? Not only that but we are also culturally inheriting beliefs and attitudes which we accept as truth.
One experiment which shows this is one where an actor was given a Ferrari and parked it outside a busy bar. He then walked in and sat down at the bar. He was told to tell people (should they ask), that he had his own successful paper clip business from which he had become a millionaire. The experiment was carried out in New York and in London. The difference in reaction was quite remarkable. In New York he was quickly surrounded by a several people who immediately were interested in his success and wanted to know how he had come by his fortune. In London it took much longer before anyone approached him and even then their responses were more scathing and belittling of his achievement and some even doubted he had done it himself, suggesting that he had been handed his money ‘from daddy’.
There was a huge difference in attitude towards success. In the States it was much more openly celebrated whereas in the UK the attitude to money was much more cynical.
If this is true and you have spent your entire life in the UK, or the US for that matter, don’t you think that the general consensus of opinion will have an effect on how you perceive the world? There is a saying that your income is that of your 10 closest friends divided by 10. This is because we surround ourselves with people who have the same outlook on life as we do. It is more comfortable to spend time with those people as they don’t directly challenge your larger world view.
So much of what we believe about ourselves and our world is simply our inherited beliefs and attitudes, much of which we are completely unaware of. When we are ‘thinking’, we do so only on a superficial level and it is our deeper thoughts, attitudes and beliefs which are largely ‘driving the bus’ so to speak. Much of what we do must comply with our larger world view in order to keep us ‘safe’. Having a consistent world view is something which we prefer than to challenge some of our larger ‘jigsaw pieces’. To do so would knock our confidence in ourselves and challenge the very basis of our reality.