Reflective consciousness and the emergence of memes: Serial evolutionary pathways?

Publication Type:

Journal Articles


Anindya Sinha


Journal of Biosciences, Volume 27, Number 7, p.637–643 (2002)



Among the most important questions that confront the scientific and philosophical understanding of the human mind, the exact role that consciousness plays in the way we perceive our external and internal worlds is one. We do not yet understand the biological mechanisms that underlie our conscious thoughts, our ability to reflect on our lives and on ourselves. What has also not been adequately understood are some closely related problems. These questions pertain to how consciousness evolved in the first place in the biological world, attained its present state of complexity and the directions in which it continues to evolve today, particularly in humans ?? the only species that everyone agrees is `conscious'. This essay discusses aspects of consciousness in non-human species, considers why reflective consciousness needed to evolve at all, and speculates about a likely evolutionary pathway that this form of consciousness may have generated in relatively recent times. I suggest that memes may have evolved to the fullest extent in humans, a species that is reflectively conscious, and that memetic fitness may be increasingly regulating the further evolution of the human race. I conclude with the example of altruism and point out that its evolution in humans is best explained by a memetic model.


The Copyright belongs to Indian Academy of Sciences.