Swine flu virus may contain Shakespearean memes

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Richard Dawkins (file photo)
Richard Dawkins (file photo)

The Swine Flu virus is known to contain genes from three different types of virus: avian influenza, swine influenza and human influenza. However, the May edition of Virology Today reports that some scientists now believe that the strain behind the current outbreak may contain a fourth type of virus: the meme.

A gene is a unit of information encoded in the biological molecule, DNA. Genes contain the total amount of information needed by an organism to grow and to reproduce.

The meme, first identified by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene, is a unit of information encoded in the written or spoken word. A simple internet hoax, the non-biological equivalent of a virus, may contain as few as a dozen memes. Just as a biological virus hijacks a host cell and turns it into a virus factory, an internet hoax hijacks the mind of the user and forces him or her to distribute copies of the hoax. Internet hoaxes can usually be identified by a replicator meme of the variety: “Send this to all your friends,” along with a guilt-meme of the variety: “Please don’t delete this.”

However, most memes encode information which is essential to the structure of any cultural organism. The memes identified with the current Swine Flu outbreak are Shakespearean memes.

“Scientists believe they have isolated many of the features of certain Shakespearean sonnets in the current A(H1N1) strain,” the article explains. “These features are characteristic of such sonnets as Sonnet 130, My Mistress’ Eyes are Nothing Like the Sun. This class of sonnet is known to scientists as the you’re-ugly-but-I-love-you-anyway sonnet. This feature of A(H1N1) may explain why many flu sufferers have developed an affinity for pigs — particularly pot-bellied pigs.”

Fifteen-month old Eric Jones engages in viral recombinant DNA with a colleague at a quarantine in Mexico. Could little Eric's attraction be due to a Shakespearean meme?
Fifteen-month old Eric Jones engages in viral recombinant DNA with a colleague at a quarantine in Mexico. Could little Eric's attraction be due to a Shakespearean meme?

The article goes on to explain that the resulting cyclic exchange of viral material between humans and pigs could result in the destruction of all humanity in one supra-dimensional feedback loop. “But there is no reason to panic,” the article cautions. “It’s best to continue on as normal and leave the panicking to the professionals.” The article then goes on to list several Ponzi schemes that readers can engage in as a diversion.

How did Shakespearean memes get introduced into the current strain to begin with? According to the article, researchers believe that the well-known million monkeys typing for the past million years may have lead to a crossover of Shakespearean memes from monkeys to swine. “However, for this theory to be feasible, we would need to show some mechanism of transfer,” the article states. “Researchers believe they may have found such a mechanism. It turns out computer simulations of pigs typing for millenia have produced results that are counter to what we might have otherwise expected. Those hooves bashing away at the keyboards introduce the right kind of noise into the system and the results are surprising.”

The article continues to describe research which shows that under the right conditions, a million pigs typing for a million years can out-produce the proverbial monkeys. “While monkeys are the species of choice for pieces of literature like Shakespeare, researchers have found some impressive results with pigs producing other genres. Most of The Selfish Gene was impossible to reproduce. However, we found that a few highly-motivated pigs, were able to produce the pages 14 and 15 within a few hours. When injected with LSD, those same pigs bashed out all of The God Delusion within a few minutes, along with several book proposals and a screenplay.”

The recent success with pigs and Dawkins has lead scientists to identify another type of meme, which they believe originated in the works of Sir Isaac Newton: the I’m-a-brilliant-scientist-so-I-guess-that-makes-me-a-theologian meme.

The article concludes with a warning about the limitations of studying memes. While results have been encouraging in the field of virology and culture, “meme theory is still at a loss to explain Tom Hanks’ hairstyle in The da Vinci Code.

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