Photo by Austrian National Library on Unsplash

I’d sacrifice you than believe you — The Semmelweiss-Reflex.

Why this evolutionary mechanism was a good thing for a very long time.

B.M.R. Heijligers
3 min readMar 13, 2021


A story of synchronicity

Both Jamie Wheal in his program "Recapture The Rapture" and my friend Apollo in his Memetic Desire reading group, describe the same phenomenon to me on the same evening, in 2 different ways.

Jamie Wheal — Sense making 3.0

In 1847, Ignaz Semmelweis, a doctor at Vienna’s General Hospital noticed something important about the women and children he treated. They died. Distressingly often. Semmelweis wondered if all of the autopsies he and his colleagues were performing were somehow contaminating the children and the mothers they attended. So he developed a hand washing solution of chlorine and lime for physicians to rinse with in between patients. It worked. Infections dropped below 1% for his patients. But, among his colleagues, where it counted, the reception was less kind. Doctors mocked him, refusing to believe on principle that a gentleman’s hands could spread disease. Semmelweis himself could only offer up the vague concept of “cadaverous contamination” to justify his protocol (this was several decades before the formal articulation of germ theory). The stress drove Semmelweis to a nervous breakdown. A bitter colleague had him committed to a lunatic asylum where he was beaten by guards, and died of an infection that his very own hand washing technique would have prevented.

But Semmelweis’ legacy lives on, and not just in the grudging acceptance of surgical hygiene. He also shaped the cognitive sciences, where the Semmelweis Reflex — the idea that we habitually and often violently, reject new evidence or new knowledge because it runs so counter to our pre-existing articles of faith — has become a standby on the list of most common cognitive biases.

Jamie Wheal — Recapture the Rapture

Somone's favourite beverage — Photo by Call Me Fred on Unsplash

Apollo —

Rene Girard — Memetic Desire and the Scapegoat Sacrifice

Rene Girard follows in the footsteps of Freud and Jung to define the primary mechanism of the human condition. Not sexual desire for our parents or immortality projects defines us as human being, but Memetic Desire and the Scapegoat reflex.

Memetic Desire: I want what I see that others want.

Scapegoat reflex: To protect the tribe from the social-destructive nature of memetic desire, tensions in the tribe are managed through a ritual expulsion or sacrifice of a scapegoat. The person that makes the easiest target for the tribe.



B.M.R. Heijligers

Cosmologist gone #Rogue. Embodiment coach for the technologically gifted. Voor Nederland: Drs. B. — Sterrenkundige en #WetenschapsFilosoof.