The Ancient Greeks made great strides in knowledge using mind exercises alone. The analysis of the irreducible units of matter brought Democritus to a remarkably modern understanding of atoms and energy. Aristotle sought the atom, so to speak, of thought. He called it class, which he defined as a collection of objects possessing common attributes. Despite concerns that philosophers have raised over the centuries about the many anomalies that this approach creates, his definition still stands. In the estimation of at least one (see Balzer) it stands as the greatest error of philosophy.

We can recognise two levels of class. At the level of perception we recognise objects instantly from what we see, hear, feel, smell and touch. Or it seems instantly. Event related potentials of the brain measure the hundreds of milliseconds that the brain takes to call up the meaning it attaches to each instance it recognises. We do not have conscious awareness of what goes on in the brain during that interval. An automatic process manages an analysis of the complex perception at great speed. Science establishes that at this level the brain does not classify by attributes (see Edelman, 1989 p.245). At the stage that perception commences, certainly well before birth, the brain has no knowledge of common attributes. It has to build its own sets of meanings from what it perceives before and after birth.

We acquire the second level of class, ideas, consciously from our group. Our parents begin the task of introducing us to the words of our group’s language that correspond to the meanings that the infant has acquired such as mother and milk. Our teachers take us on to a wider range of our group’s ideas from theology to trigonometry. Richard Dawkins has coined the term meme for the atoms of thought and shown that they have the capacity to evolve along lines governed by principles similar to the processes that shape genes, selection of the fittest for survival. The selection takes place in the group mind (see “The Selfish Gene“).

Cognitive science terms the perceptual instance of a class the “category”. Sadly, cognitive scientists do not distinguish strictly enough the category of something real, arrived at an unconscious level of brain action, from the group’s consciously conceived ideas, its memes. Although the two have a common core to be expected of their common class purpose, by nature and in operation category and meme have origins poles apart. The individual brain automatically arrives at the conscious meaning of the category through automatic processing at the level of the unconscious. The meme requires the group-developed instrument of language for its meaning and the conscious brain action of its members to secure consensual agreement for its survival.

Ideas shape our actions so much that their memic evolution has directed genetic evolution to alter the shape of our bodies, particularly our heads, and put us apart as self-aware organisms (see “The Meme Machine“). And yet a name for this vital element of human thought did not even appear until Dawkins coined meme-idea in 1976. We still do not have a name for the linkage and common properties of meme and category, the components of thought. I propose to call it the empireme and their operation empiremation. We will not understand human thought adequately until we define the characteristics of empiremation and clearly delineate automatic (hence unconscious) processing from the conscious manipulation of group-inspired ideas. In this blog I hope to show that cognitive science fails to distinguish unconscious from conscious brain action and the Psychology Profession ignores it, even though consciously generated memes in particular are central to its task (see “Meme tyranny“).