Masters of feelings

Temperament is habitually recognized in our daily affairs but overlooked in regard to society and history. How can the natural-born rebel communicate his fervor and dissatisfaction to the timid and meek? How can the good-natured and jovial persuade the militant to moderation? Or as Elsa Morante says in the dedication of her novel La Storia, a message sent from one of these to the other is “por el analfabeto a quien escribo.” We share over 98% of our genes with every other human in the world, yet almost all the means by which we can effectually communicate our emotions lies in the other 2%. One could then, then, expect a single reaction to events from all of humanity even if the feelings they provoked were substantially the same. And what to make of ideas themselves, limitlessly reproducible and communicable, at least in theory? Richard Dawkins even goes so far as to claim that human ideas are self-replicating evolutionary units like genes. He calls them memes. These are the real ghosts in the machine, the real spiritual entities if there are such, much more than the mind as a whole, which is irrevocably physical in nature at least in part, if nothing else because it cannot be liberated from a particular piece of matter. Ideas, on the other hand, can transmit from person to person like beacon signals, even though they cannot exist, seemingly, without some mind to receive or create them. Yet there’s the rub. While Dawkins would have it that the power of genes to replicate themselves arises from the fact that they are in a way information as opposed to matter, and hence universally transmissable, a property they share with ideas, at a further look it seems clear that their drive originates in a different engine, namely from the fact that they design the very organic systems which perpetuate them. This system is also the medium of transmission of ideas, i.e. a living organism, but it is designed by genes. It may well be that ideas can exert an effect on organisms in turn through feedback, but since genes establish the system which exists at the outset of every generation according to their own needs, one might expect that the receptivity to and ability to create certain ideas will ultimately be determined by its amenability to the perpetuation of genes, so that the tendency across time will be for ideas to subordinate themselves to genes (this is of course a trend, not an absolute reality at any given time).

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