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One of the things we discussed in class was the possibility of looking at this book as an authority in some sphere such as the social, political, psychological, or scientific. I hadn’t even considered this as an option for interpretation until then, but doing so helped me recognize that the first time I was able to distance myself emotionally from what was happening was when, towards the end, Aaron remembers what the Old Man of the Mountain told him: “A virus is a little piece of DNA, a code, yes? This code, these special words, they write on the cells, tell them what to so, just as the Holy Power Words — what you call memes — write on the brain. Why shouldn’t one writing translate itself into the other? Why can’t ideas and actions be transmitted to the brain through literal, physical, viruses?”

Aaron’s response to this question and to the Old Man’s subsequent assertion that he has a drug that will do this is skeptical, but not overly so. As a biologist-in-training, reading these few panels was like running into a brick wall. I could no longer suspend my disbelief. Obviously, this could never happen. DNA codes for proteins, which by themselves cannot possibly influence the neural pathways in the brain enough to create an idea in a person’s mind. This isn’t “Inception”. Even if you could translate power words in any language into a piece of DNA, the protein, if one could even be synthesized, wouldn’t be functional. Attempting this would be like writing a computer program in C++ and then expecting it to run through a Java engine – the code makes sense in the context it was designed for, but outside of that context, it doesn’t.

2 Responses to “Scientific authority?… not so much”

  1. Kaitlin: Thanks so much for this. This was exactly what I meant about applying your own interests and expertise to what we’re doing in this class.

  2. Marta says:

    I do feel like the meme = virus comparison is really silly. In the evolutionary psych class I keep telling you you should take we’re reading The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (the book in which meme theory originated), and Dawkins doesn’t compare memes to pathogens at all. Rather, he considers memes to be ‘units of culture,’ so to speak, in much the same way that he considers genes to be the basic units of natural selection. In other words, I suppose he sees them as being ‘contagious’ only in that they’re responsive to selective pressures and will catch on if they happen to be somehow advantageous in survival or reproduction. Or at least, that’s my understanding at this point.