Sunday, March 29, 2009

TED, Memes, Metaphors, but no Economics?

TED: IDEAS WORTH SPREADING is the welcome line at - an intellectual platform blending Technology, Entertainment, and Design, and almost attaining a cult status. Who's who of the world have marked their presence at its annual conferences starting 1984. This is the stage where Prof. Stephen Hawking urged mankind to colonise neighbouring planets; where the UN peace ambassador Jane Goodall spoke about her 45 years old chimpanzee studies; where Bono won the price of expressing three wishes in a bid to change the world; and where Bill Gates opened a jar of mosquitoes to the audience to spread (with them) awareness about malaria (later, when the panic subsided it was declared that the mosquitoes were harmless for they were cured of the germs. I am not entirely sure though which anti-virus was used by Mr. Gates.)

A meme is an information packet with an attitude. For the current young generation world over, and those leaning towards entrepreneurship, TED is the "in thing". So also for the Darwin look-alike scientist-philosophers such as Daniel (Dan) Dennet, who is deliberately mistaken by his followers for a living personification of the old Greek philosopher statues of Delphi museum. In the video clip that follows Canadian professor Dan Dennet, during his presentation on the stage at TED, spoke about the subject he is famous as well as controversial for: Memes and Atheism.

In a interesting spin to the subject, Dan places Creationists, Terrorists, Memes, and Viruses in the same basket. What comes out is a curious argument surrounding memes (pronounced meem, as in theme), presented in a rather entertaining and gently forceful manner. You are free to disagree with it, that may prove to be the harder part though.

[Above: Prof. Dan Dennet on stage of TED talking about Memes and their power.]

A few points that shall immediately stick an observer:
  • Where is Economics? There is no apparent stab against commerce and economics, but there is no explicit mention of it as being one of the driving forces for T / E / D either. (Do have a look at the list of sponsors. After all, running TED is not without large commercial help.)
  • If memes are all about spreading ideas, would you call TED's slogan a good meme? (Apparently, Dan seem to have taken a frown at all kind of memes.)
  • Spending a good amount of time on Google wasn't that helpful in trying to ascertain the definitive difference between what Richard Dawkings coined as Meme in 1976, and what historians, philosophers and priests over the millennia have traditionally called a Metaphor.
  • The viral social media seem to provide the perfect medium for meme concept; it remains unclear, however, how far and deep it take the impact of meme theory into the social fabric already. And what, where and who are the checks and balances?
  • Dan and Dawkings may take offence on the use of the word coincidental on their part, but coincidental it might be that Meme and the social media moto of "Me, me, me..." sounds so alike. (If it was intentional on Dawkings' part, he is surely a visionary. And should belong to the Social Sciences rather than Biology.)

Daniel Dennet's book, Kinds of Minds, is as entertaining as it is serious and thought provoking.
  • See also:
  • Go here for the above video of Dan Dennet on YouTube, and here for more on memes.
  • Go here for and its various links, and here for subscribing to TEDtalk videos.


  1. TED is a great place to visit, but too slow at my place, hate those huge downloads of TED.

  2. True.. But Ideas take time to foster, I suppose.. And sadly, the TEDtalk download assumes a first-world country.. But things would change for better.. in some case (like deflation), and at times slowdown makes change faster :-)