As a romantic poet, John Keats aspired to accentuate extreme emotion through an emphasis on natural imagery, but his original aspiration was medicine, and he was pretty good at it.
Within a month of starting, he was accepted as a dresser, helping surgeons during operations; the equivalent of a junior house surgeon today.
However, after much philosophical and metaphysical introspection Keats nonetheless chose to abandon medicine to become a poet, and I’d argue that his positive impact was ultimately more beneficial to the memetic fabric, so to speak.
Memes aren’t just images; they are ideas to which we subscribe, and they inform our perception of reality.
And as shamanic tradition and modern cognitive science agree: reality is a dream.
This is because our perception of perceived events happen after the event itself, and are therefore subject to “mind edits,” which is why the accuracy of witness testimony in a trial is notoriously faulty.
“Boys like baseball” and “all girls want to be mommies” are excellent examples of memetic patterns that infect the imagination of others, coming to inform people’s perception of reality.
If memes are ideas that define, frame, and inform perceived reality, then Memetics is the art and science of herding and tending to these “memes.”
I’m going to resist the urge to plunge into the labyrinth of high academia and instead will shift into the realm of mythology, if only so we can explore the art of the possible.
Imagine that you are a mythical creature that lives for thousands of solar cycles that we refer to as years.
Imagine further that you and your peers found it beneficial to introduce certain concepts or ideas which might persist across multiple human lifetimes.
Using magical forms of natural energy, let’s imagine these mythical creatures possess the capacity to launch a persistent and sustained memetic expression that is capable of escaping the confines of a persons mind and lodging itself within the imagination of another, thereby achieving a state of immortality.
“Love one another as we love you,“ for example might serve as a meme that encourages certain common-sense guardrails for proposing decent human interactions.
Taught generation after generation, from mother to child, these memetic forms allow the collection of humanoid mammals to elevate themselves from muck to become a people.
Again, this is purely hypothetical.
These mythical creatures could then sit back on the hypothetical Mount Olympus and observe the rolling and shifting evolution of these transcendent, self-replicating memetic patterns as they roll across the landscape of humanity as each generation is born, evolves from childhood through adulthood towards death, and then rebirth.
Imagine further that language is humanity’s most advanced technology, and in our current era, this technology has achieved its most sophisticated and potent state, at the crossroads of civilizations, at the heart of the largest and most far-reaching empire in the history of mankind.
After all: English isn’t a language as much as a trash bin of borrowed and stolen memetic instruments, rendered as by a rock tumbler across the tapestry of shared experience we call time into their most potent form.
Kind of like a möbius loop made of scotch tape, right?
Mixed metaphors are tricky, but bear with me, and let’s pretend that time is malleable.
Imagine this scotch tape loop rolling rolling across the messy, dirty tapestry of human interactions.
One generation after another, the memetic forms get more and more yucky.
Perhaps inevitably, these scotch tape loops might get kind of dirty, infecting the minds of humans as their imaginations are sullied by memetic forms that are long overdue a cleaning.
But perhaps the original memetic design was more holistic.
Perhaps the original composers of these memetic patterns built in certain maintenance routines designed to ground out the static and shed the metaphoric skin on a regular basis, so to speak.
Maybe somewhere along the way these maintenance routines became disabled, destroyed, or preempted by those with ill-intent.
It’s almost as if these memetic objects could use a doctor, right?
So if language is our most advanced technology, why not use language to treat and heal this construct? I mean, why not?
Some may argue that a practitioner of the art of metaphysics would be a metaphysicist, right?
The application of metaphysics?
If that’s the case, then I’d contend that John Keats was a metaphysician, with an emphasis on physician, as in: one who seeks to heal.
Keats became a memetic physician through the use of poetry, right?
I don’t know how well that hangs together, but I kind of like it.
Bear with me, because I’ll come back to it. Let’s return to John Keats.
Critics panned his works during his lifetime; dismissal was as much political as literary, aimed at young writers deemed uncouth for their lack of education, non-formal rhyming and “low diction.”
Meaning, they had not attended Eton, Harrow or Oxbridge and they were not from the upper classes.
Which is sort of how people today turn their noses at hip hop or non-western medicine out of a generalized assumption that it’s all trash because it didn’t get formally endorsed by an institution.
Keats’ reputation grew after his death, and by the end of the 19th century, he had become one of the most beloved of all English poets.
One work, Hyperion, is an abandoned epic poem based on the Titanomachia, and tells of the despair of the Titans after their fall to the Olympians.
The themes and ideas of Hyperion were picked up again in Keats’ The Fall of Hyperion: A Dream, when he attempted to recast the epic by framing it with a personal quest to find truth and understanding.
He died in Rome of Tuberculosis at 25, and his grave bears the epitaph:
Here lies One / Whose Name was writ in Water
His name…writ in water?
That sort of makes him sound like a member of Anonymous, if you think about it. Right?
So anyway, what if? Let’s return to what if.
What if John Keats chose to pepper the tapestry of shared experience with memetic building blocks at precisely the right moment in history.
His mission complete, he clocks out and bides his time as time itself rolls on.
Then, at precisely the right moment, he comes back, and harvests the memetic seeds he’d planted just a few human generations hence.
Actually, what if?
This is just storytelling, right?
Let’s pretend for a moment that John Keats launched a variety of inert but nonetheless weaponized memetic patterns at the eve of the industrial revolution.
These memetic patterns would be recognized as poems, and his unique composition was such that these poems entranced the deep emotions and divine imagination of countless ordinary people.
In effect, ordinary citizens were able to channel their own shock and spiritual trauma from industrialization’s relentless march towards the sustained evolution of these memetic patterns.
By then, the weaponized (but still inert) memetic patterns would have evolved such that they no longer necessitated the poetic form.
Does that make sense?
It wouldn’t take but one or two generations for the memetic linguistic patterns to evolve such that they no longer needed to resemble poems, because by then they had entered their next stage, similar to how a rocket might cycle through various stages as it drives its payload out of our planets gravity well.
So what if…
What if the memetic patterns launched by Keats at the dawn of the industrial revolution have cycled through a sufficient number of evolutionary phases, and just precisely when they are needed most, they are activated?
If the tapestry is malleable, why could they not be activated through retrocausation?
Of course, this speculation is just at the intersection of fantasy and science-fiction, right?
Anyway, it’s fun to imagine what it might have been like to sit and discuss these topics with Joseph Severn, as I imagine Keats did as he lay and took his final and first ragged breaths.
For we enter this realm clearing our lungs of water, and we depart it as our lungs refill.
Here lies One / Whose Name was writ in Water