Excerpt from:

Chance and Necessity

by Jacques Monod.

For a biologist it is tempting to draw a parallel between the evolution of ideas and that of the biosphere. For while the abstract kingdom stands at a yet greater distance above the biosphere than the latter does above the nonliving universe, ideas have retained some of the properties of organisms. Like them, they tend to perpetuate their structure and to breed; they too can fuse, recombine, segregate their content; indeed they too can evolve, and in this evolution selection must surely play an important role. I shall not hazard a theory of the selection of ideas. But one may at least try to define some of the principal factors involved in it. This selection must necessarily operate at two levels: that of the mind itself and that of performance.

The performance value of an idea depends upon the change it brings to the behavior of the person or the group that adopts it. The human group upon which a given idea confers greater cohesiveness, greater ambition, and greater selfconfidence thereby receives from it an added power to expand which will insure the promotion of the idea itself. Its capacity to 'take,' the extent to which it can be 'put over' has little to do with the amount of objective truth the idea may contain. The important thing about the stout armature a religious ideology constitutes for a society is not what goes into its structure, but the fact that this structure is accepted, that it gains sway. So one cannot well separate such an idea's power to spread from its power to perform.

The 'spreading power'--the infectivity, as it were--of ideas is much more difficult to analyze. Let us say that it depends upon preexisting structures in the mind, among them ideas already implanted by culture, but also undoubtedly upon certain innate structures which we are hard put to identify. What is very plain, however, is that the ideas having the highest invading potential are those that explain man by assigning him his place in an immanent destiny, in whose bosom his anxiety dissolves.