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You are not who you think you are

Here’s a thought for your (possibly hung over) Monday morning: What if you are not really who you think you are?

Aside from the possibility of you being adopted, or your parents having liberally undertaken in the wife-swapping craze of the 60s or possibly having lived in a hippie commune, most of us would ridicule the very idea. And yet, in a very real sense, you are not really who you think you are.

More close to the truth is that your identity, what you have come to think of as your personality, or indeed yourself, is in fact mostly an accumulation of various memes passed down from your ancestors.

Great-granddad had a thing about keeping your word. This got passed down to granddad, who kept his word in the trenches of WWII and lost a leg because of it; embittered, he raised your dad with a tragic mix of a strong sense of duty coupled with a strong distaste for authority. Your dad changed jobs a lot, which meant you moved a lot as a child and you picked up a general sense of instability in your life and a vague sense of guilt at not seemingly being able to connect or commit to anyone/anything meaningfully (the left over shadow of the strong sense of duty/guilt meme).

Most of us, never even make the simple realisation that our personality is mostly an accumulation of outdated memes that originated with other people in different times and circumstances to our own.

Like chronic infections though, which you may be prone to given our example above and your dashing good looks and success with the opposite sex, memes are not easy to get rid of.

For a start you can really only get rid of one by replacing it with another. Hopefully a better or more suitable one.

Secondly, the intensity with which you identify with any given meme is directly related to both the length of time you have had it and the overall intensity you have lived with this (false) sense of self up to now.

Replacing a baseline (deep-set) meme can take years, even decades, of conscious effort, often with little success. This is why it is so difficult to replace outdated and unhelpful memes, say such as violent racism, in people who have had inculcated into them from a young age. The person fundamentally identifies with that meme as being a part of them. Removing it from their psyche would feel to them akin to you sawing a limb off. They are not going to let you do it or believe you have their best interest at heart, and surely they are not going to do it themselves.

The truth is that most people who do change their baselines memes, have done so throughout human history mostly as a result of blind chance. Occasionally a traumatic event so strong that it can literally re-write code in our nervous system knocks out a meme and replaces it with a new one. Given how this happens, the new meme is not usually much of an improvement on the old one.

What to do then? Are we doomed to be forever preys of these mind-viruses propagating through the river of time?

Not quite.

There are some way we can begin to loosen the death grip memes have over our idea of self. I list them below in no particular order.


Particularly self-hypnosis is useful in this. Despite the aeons of crappy memes, we also have a kind of low-level system-reboot function. Our minds are ultimately designed to try to make us healthy, happy and keep us alive in the best way possible. While the original reptile brain level of this is happy for you to have enough food to let you sit on a couch watching daytime television while you continue to replicate and produce illiterate offspring, with a little help from a higher level of brain activity we can help direct the primitive instincts of self-preservation into more useful directions.

By self-hypnotising, you are essentially gaining access to that lower level operator, let’s call this (for ease of reference if not technical accuracy) the reptile brain. By also seeing to it you are giving a very gentle, command, an almost unthought of sense of “betterment of self”, “increase in happiness” and so on, and then self-hypnotising for even as little as ten minutes at a time twice a day, you begin to shake up at a very deep level, the concrete pylons of “reality about you” that have been placed there by others. Within a few months you will begin to feel more free to express yourself in varied and new ways that you would have thought impossible or at least incongruous with yourself months ago.

Later, more specific goals, such as increased confidence, a more pervasive sense of internal freedom and completeness, and so on can be nurtured through self-hypnosis and gradually ensure permanent and positive changes to your personality.

Hypnosis done at you by a skilled hypnotist can also shake up your memes to varying degrees. Sometimes dramatically in even just a single session.

(Image courtesy of LIFE magazine)

Martial Arts (or physical Mastery)

By forcing your body to adopt certain postures, positions, stresses and movements, you gradually re-write the neurological pathways inside your brain. Doing so has corresponding side-effects in your psyche. Sadly, every martial art or physical endeavour also carries its own memes due to long tradition and these, though generally better than random memes, can also be sometimes disruptive or unhelpful. Rigid arts like Karate will tend to generate rigid (stoic, inflexible, strong-willed) minds, which may be fine if you needed a few of these traits, but could also add in feelings of inadequacy and failure if one is not able to carry the training through to some arbitrary* level of mastery.

Similarly, Yoga may indeed be helpful at creating better memes, but one can also get snagged by the whole guru-mentality and end up gaining an unnecessary “holier than though” meme, so often common to Vegans for example, who really are not as knowledgeable, or healthy as they would have you believe.

In my personal experience, I find Systema to be the best endeavour in this respect, as the focus from a physiological point of view is on relaxation and flexibility as well as acceptance and adaptation, while maintaining strong perseverance even in the face of the unexpected. All useful mental attitudes to have to life, with little negative attachments.


I have no experience with this, and do not intend to get any, primarily because the results are almost impossible to verify today as LSD is illegal, the purity of the drug used would be questionable, and most importantly, the resulting trip needs to be guided by other professionals to ensure it is a healthy/safe one that results in beneficial long-term effects instead of some other, unwanted result. Statistically though, before LSD was banned and de-legalised, tests had been done on tens of thousands of criminals, and recidivism rates (the percentage of ex-cons that went on to commit crime again) for ex-cons treated with a single dose were less than a quarter of the rates for ex-cons that had not been treated. Considering recidivism rates are in the 75-85% range, this is not an inconsiderable effect.

The down side of course is that if a small team of psychiatrists and psychologists has to be there to guide or at least safe-guard the trippy experience, I for one would probably be more worried about their level of ability than of the purity of the drug being used. Have you met your average psychologist? I have yet to meet one that doesn’t seem at least mildly disturbed to me. I am sure some really good ones exist. I just haven’t met any of them personally.

Conscious Evolution

As human beings become more and more intellectual, some may begin to discover ways in which, through the use of raw logic, as well as taking the required actions, they may begin to mould their own psyches into the type of people they wish to be. Soem of these people also may simply begin to “teach” or, more commonly, sell “seminars” of the self-help variety, during which indoctrination and brainwashing techniques are used on the attendees. Of course this is not always good, but some of the “positive” messages being embedded in the test subjects, may be beneficial. Their also becoming conditioned to do the next seminar, and the next, and then the next one, is just an unfortunate, if lucrative, side effect you see…

Nevertheless, some people may benefit from these seminars and then go on to carry on their own conscious evolution in their own, hopefully, more sustainable and more healthy fashion.


So. Just who are you really? Who would you like to be if you could replace your memes at will with nice healthy ones? If you had a Matrix-style implant allowing you to put into your head not just skills, but more importantly, memes of self-identity, who would you make yourself into? You may be a very different person from who you thought you were. So can everyone else around you.

What if your stiff-necked boss was also secretly a swinging sex-fiend? Well yeah, ok, whose stiff-necked boss isn’t? But you get the idea.

Seriously, think about it. Pick say just three personality traits you have currently which you would change, and think of what you would change them into. Write it down on a bit of paper right now if you like. After all, it’s not like anyone gets any work done on Mondays. And ponder the question. If you come up with a radical new way of doing the replacement very quickly and permanently, think about getting a patent for it. And then send me some royalties for giving you the idea.

* It’s arbitrary in the sense that being a good martial artist at a physical level is not necessarily an indication of your internal sense of self being specifically “better” than say that of a non-martial artist who may however have a much healthier internal sense of self. From a practical/physical point of view of course, a more experienced martial artist can indeed be better than another, at that martial art, so in this sense, the level of mastery is not arbitrary, but we are discussing the first sense here.

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