Memes, identity and consciousness change

Published by Ricky Peterson on


Metaphors are a poetic tool that make a comparison of one thing to another. The sun is a hug against my skin. Their tone is ice cold. We know the feeling of a hug and can imagine how the sun is like a hug against the skin. We know the feeling of ice cold and can also imagine how their tone feels icy. All of this without needing to give a rational or objective explanation. Rather it’s like a short cut to emotional understanding. It taps into an experience, a frame that has already been learned and seeks to create understanding via this proxy link and neural pathway that is already in place.

In our day to day lives there are many metaphors we use mentally, but which we may not be aware of. A common metaphor is an identity metaphor. You might even have multiple identity metaphors (or archetypes) that you are accessing in different contexts. For example, in the family environment you might be the black sheep (the odd one out). In a professional environment you might be the saviour. With your friends you might be the joker. Likewise, teams and organisations also have identity metaphors. A team that is quick thinking and erratic might be like The Hare, whilst a slow and steady team might be The Tortoise (from Aesop’s fable The Hare and the Tortoise). Metaphors don’t need to be a character from a culturally recognised mythology. They just need to capture the “feeling” of the situation.

REFLECT: What might be your personal metaphor and identity for a given situation? What might be the team metaphor and identity? Are there limitations to these metaphors? that prevent you from being successful?

To transform a metaphor, we retain elements of the current metaphor and then change aspects of the “story”. For example if the metaphor for your team is like the “Christians being thrown to the Lions” in ancient Rome, then you might transform the story by changing roles and become lions. Or you might change the story in other ways, from knocking down the walls, to setting the lions on the crowd, to taming the lions. Each of these new metaphors and stories implies a different way of acting and behaving.

The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer by Jean-Léon Gérôme

Story brings a different mindset and this means a change in consciousness to drive personal and collective change. By stepping into the “non-rational” space of narrative transformation, we can find story-based solutions first, and then engage the rational mind to understand what that new story might mean in real life. For example if “taming the lions” is the new story, then in real life this might mean engaging in a certain type of trust building exercise with the people you are having conflict with. It’s not simply a case of trust exercises… lions are dangerous and need to be approached with great care. So here the metaphor gives a feeling for how the situation needs to be resolved too.


Images are incredibly important in the way we communicate information. With the rise of social media, memes have had a significant way to influence ideas – like a virus that takes hold. In the following interview with Prof. Sohail Inayatullah, we discuss the mechanism behind memes and consciousness change and explore a range of examples that have been used for transformation.

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  • Maxi/mini – a system that has both a minimum wage and a maximum wage/wealth.
  • Microvita – entities that exist between conception (mental realities) and perception (physical realities). In their crudest forms, they are viruses. In more subtle forms they are ideas and energy that can be spread.
  • Subjective approach objective adjustment – to take a spiritual perspective (e.g. oneness), but then adjust it to the actual context you find yourself in.

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