Painting by Katarina Countiss
Excerpt from The Meme Machine by Blackmore, Susan J. (Book – 2000) page 239
Tamarisk has written a science book. This suggests that she consciously authored the book, but there is another way of looking at it Tamarisk is a gifted writer because the genes have created a brain that handles language well, and a determined individual who likes solitary work; because she was born into a society that values books and pays for them; because her education gave her the opportunity to discover how good she was at science; and because she has spent years studying and thinking until new ideas came out of the combinations of the old. When the book was completed it formed a new complex of memes; variations on old ones and new combinations created by the complicated processes inside a clever thinking brain. When asked, Tamarisk might say that she consciously and deliberately invented every word herself (though she is quite likely to say that she has no idea how she did it). I would say that the book was a combined product of genes and memes playing out their competition in Tamarisk’s life.
The view of creativity is alien to many people. In discussions of consciousness it is common to raise the issue of creativity, as though it somehow epitomizes the power of human consciousness. How could we create great music, inspiring cathedrals, moving poems, or stunning paintings unless we have consciousness? How could we create great music, inspiring cathedrals, moving poems, or stunning paintings unless we have consciousness? – people ask. This view of creativity betrays a commitment to a false theory of self and consciousness, or to Dennett’s Cartesian Theatre (225). If you believe that you live inside your head and direct operations, then creative acts can seem especially good examples of things that “you” have done. But, as we have seen, this view of self does not hold up. There is no one inside there to do the doing – other than a bunch of memes.
I am not saying that there is no creativity. New books are written, new technologies invented, new gardens laid out, and new films produced. But, the generative power behind this creativity is the competition between replicators, not a magical, out-of-nowhere power such as consciousness is often said to be. The creative achievements of human culture are the products of memetic evolution, just as the creative achievements of the biological world are products of genetic evolution. Replicator power is the only design process we know of that can do the job, and it does it. We do not need conscious human selves messing about in there as well.
Of course selves are not irrelevant. Far from it. By virtue of their organization and persistence, selfplexes are powerful memetic entities that affect the behavior of the people who sustain them, and of all those who come into contact with them. But as far as creativity is concerned selves can often do more harm than good, for creative acts often come about in a state of selflessness, or loss of self0cinciousness, when the self seems to be out of the way. Artists, writers, and runners often say they are at their best when acting spontaneously and without self-consciousness. So selves have effects but not as the originators of conscious creativity.