I'm trying to figure out whether the manifestation of ideas has been explored before. It's similar to Richard Dawkin's concept of memes, but I'm not quite sure if it is the same.

Suppose an individual has an idea pop into their mind. This can be considered the idea manifesting itself to an individual.

Then the individual writes it down in a book. The idea has manifested itself in the book.

The book convinces hundreds of people of the idea. The idea manifested itself to all of those people.

Suppose that the idea is about how the legal system should be. The idea manifests itself by being instantiated in law and permanently impacting society.

Alternatively, the idea is about going to war with another nation. The idea manifests itself as a war and also manifests itself as a permanent influence on the history of nations.

It seems to me that ideas can perform actions on the world by manifesting themselves. What would this be called? Has it been explored before?

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    An alternate approach may be through Sheldrake's Morphic Resonance and Fields: sheldrake.org/research/morphic-resonance/introduction Aug 22, 2019 at 20:12
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    Yes, and it is very old. Plato called it imitation (mimesis), of ideas by sensible things. Of course, the modern view is that ideas manifesting, popping into minds, etc., are just turns of phrase. Ideas do not really do anything, they do not even exist, they are just a shorthand way to talk about actions that do.
    – Conifold
    Aug 22, 2019 at 20:34
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    Cf. Hyperstition
    – Joseph Weissman
    May 19, 2020 at 2:04
  • @K Pomykala- The phenomenon which you describe demonstrates Spinoza recognition of what he termed, idea, ideas. An idea as it exists in a mind is real and the proof of that, as in your examples is that it can be 'conveyed' to another person. Your term, 'manifests itself', is a perf
    – user37981
    Oct 17, 2020 at 2:07
  • That's just called creativity and/or imagination (your definition is not clear, you talk about ideas as active entities, not passive objects, which must be the case). Yes, there's a lot about it. E.g. plato.stanford.edu/entries/imagination
    – RodolfoAP
    Jul 14, 2021 at 7:55

3 Answers 3


The majority of mathematicians consider math to be a real thing, discovered, not created. Most ethics thinking holds that morality is a real thing, as all objective morality presupposes its existence. These are the two most common examples of the application of abstract object realism to a subject.

Quine agrees that abstract object realism is as fully inferred from the utility of abstract objects, as physical reality is inferred by the same method.

The most extensive thinking I have seen on the nature of abstract objects is by Karl Popper, who proposed that our universe has three types of things in it: matter, experience, and ideas. He proposed that these are three different worlds, world 1 which is physical, world 2 which is consciousness, and world 3 which is ideas. Frege was the first proposer of these three worlds, and Popper elaborated on them.

Popper's model of the interaction of ideas with matter, was that consciousness was the intermediary. The ability of a conscious entity to hypothesize what might happen provides a material entity the ability to experiment in a theory space that is less damaging to its life. Consciousness would then serve a materiel entity, and allow a material entity to benefit from world 3 ideas.

Meme theory takes world 3 even more seriously, and assumes that world 3 memes control the world 2 consciousness, and from there, the world 1 entities that hold consciousness. The idea of Libertie, Fraternitie, Equalitie, for example, spawned a series of revolutions and wars, and lead to the democratization of Europe.

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    "The majority of mathematicians consider math to be a real thing". Not anymore, "More than 60 % of the university teachers clearly view in mathematics the formalism aspect and a high degree of formal strictness (45.7% mostly, 15.5 % completely)... Almost 58 % of the university teachers reject the view of a Platonism aspect in mathematics, 34.6 % on the whole and even 23.3 % completely", Grigutsch-Törner survey.
    – Conifold
    May 20, 2020 at 1:47

This is very close to Dawkins' notion, except that he assumes this layer and theorizes that the manifesting ideas are like reproducing creatures, and that they may therefore have constituent parts corresponding to the genes that determine physical creatures. Those 'elementary sub-ideas' are the memes.

Daniel Dennett buys into the theory of memes, and is trying to build [a philosophically sound approach that includes it][1].

He is a hard-core materialist, so he often prefers to frame this in terms of sub-cultures and cultural evolution, talking about ideas 'being introduced' and 'transferring among groups'. But this is the same mechanism as your manifestation or Platonic 'participation' with the shared mind, but from a behaviorist POV.

  • what even is behaviorism?
    – user38026
    Aug 22, 2019 at 20:41
  • The POV that it is pointless to discuss ideas or other cognitive events unless you can firmly tie the reported internal events to a pattern of external behavior.
    – user9166
    Aug 22, 2019 at 22:55
  • How can a 'hard core materialist' speak about ideas having an effect on the world?
    – user20253
    Aug 23, 2019 at 11:31
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    @PeterJ If you cannot see that connection it is because of your own biases. Just because people look at things differently and describe them in different terms that does not make absolutely everything they have to say on every topic completely useless to one another. For instance, postmodernists notions of 'cultural evolution' and Platonic/psychoanalytic 'participation in the shared mind' cover the same set of objective facts (how expressed ideas travel) and can still shed light on one another. Your dislike of materialists just keeps you from giving a dam what they say.
    – user9166
    Aug 23, 2019 at 16:11
  • makes sense, thanks @jobermark
    – user38026
    Aug 23, 2019 at 21:15

The Vedas contain fragments of an ancient science of consciousness that, once recognized, elucidated and couched in modern language, are very similar to answers given above.

An attempt to describe it must use modern terms that are, at best, rough approximations to the concepts. Simplistically put, Vedic ideas conceive of the Physical Realm in which ideas find material expression, and so can "bang against each other"; the Psychic Realm in which they are energy constructs that can encounter and merge, like aspects mutually strengthening and unlike aspects weakening, so that their interactions determine the strongest by what remains of the encounter; and the Spiritual Realm in which live a multitude of creative ... Logoi shall we say ... that avail themselves of these opportunities, first to use the Psychic Realm to determine the most robust ideas, and then to attempt material realization in a suitable environment, typically the biosphere of an amenable planet.

I doubt that any of this is known to Readers here, but it may be useful as a new path of exploration.

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