Thursday, October 31, 2013

Franken-memes

Muwahaha...Happy Holloween to all you spooks out there!


The maladapted pseudoscientific hybrids of the Social & Hard Sciences are macabre.  They are more dangerous than the Inquisition, because though we are aware of them, we rationalize and defend them.  There will be no enlightened skepticism to rescue us this time. 
 
Some seek deliverance in ancient or new religions, others turn to power, demand rules & enforcement, cynically surrender or foolishly believe we can protect ourselves.  Many go with the flow and stop thinking.  Deep, critical thoughts are uncomfortable.  We should have empathy, not contempt, for the discontents of Science.  When we see exactly what is done in the name of 'reason', those who would not run screaming into the hills must be mad.

We will now examine a few of these curious demons of modern life, if you dare!

Psychiatry:  The amalgam of chemistry, neurobiology and psychology yields prescriptions, forced medication, incarceration.  Patients are expected to devalue their internal dialogue, question every strong emotion and when tensions arise attribute it to their own inherent flaws.  It's a transposed attitude about the 'soul'(rechristened the 'mind') a vestigial mythology sanitized of superstitious language but still far from reality.  There are no cures, only treatments, patients must recognize their illness, and resolve to accept 'treatment' from the modern shamans even when their bodies revolt.  If psychiatry were a relationship with a person we would counsel that it is unhealthy, that (intentional or not) manipulative behaviors are present and the patient is dependent.  But because it is a relationship with a prevailing cultural memeplex, we let the person be contorted and controlled.  Some psychological disorders seem to be inherent in certain brains, like schizophrenia and neurodegenerative disorders but the prevalent diagnosis of schizoaffective disorders, the belief that these are permanent chemical features when neuroscience has demonstrated the plasticity of the human mind, is absurd.  The resilience of this faulty medical paradigm has more to do with ideas left over from Western religion and industry's advertising campaigns than with science, but when science gets top billing,  science receives the blame.  And of course we're going to talk about the science, because science sells.  Science is authority.  Pay no attention to the economics and religion behind the curtain.


Political Science:  In more candid circles it is known as Propaganda.   But on diplomas and in the media, we call it Political Science, Public Relations and Human Resources.  It gauges responses to information campaigns and engineers future programs to be more effective at manufacturing consent.

It is the cancer of a democratic society, as more are starting to realize with the expansion and transmission of independent media.  Nevertheless, it has the sheen of dispassionate science, and after all, it is done for the common good, right?  No!  It is done for the memes, seeding ideas that oppress our humanity.  But we believe we are constructing a better society than we had yesterday and we keep forging our chains, looking askance at anyone who stands disillusioned. 

Social Policies:  In the name of building a more just society we have created social institutions that turn people against the state and science.  There are people who shudder at the mere mention of Child Protective Services.  US drug policies, justified by biased medical studies, have dictated global policy and animated the prison-industrial complex.   And there are our educational institutions which train people to be cogs in the social machine, to recite rather than think, to take a test rather than investigate and dream. 
 
Is it any wonder so many people are disenfranchised from Science and its benefits?
Science educators have not failed in their duty.  Our culture has confounded the language and we are left with inarticulate forebodings.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

#GlobalClimateChange

"You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You're a plague and we are the cure."
~ the Matrix

Could humanity be analogous to the spread of cancer in an otherwise healthy body?  Jared Diamond has investigated how humanity engineered it's own demise on multiple occasions in his book Collapse

It must be a flaw in our species.  We have big brains, but maybe not large enough to see the full picture.  How else do we explain Global Climate Change?  It is a disquieting, fascinating idea.  Disturbing because it raises further questions about population control, government power and human rights.  It's easy to slip into questionable policies, such as the UK funding sterilization programs in India.  It's also easy to slip into paranoid YouTube rants.

Some human societies have lived sustainably within their environments.  So, maybe it's jumping the gun to say humans are the problem.  This is where it gets fascinating.  Memetics provides us another factor to study, and frees us from dismissing the problem as a moral failing or idiocy of our species. 

With memetics, we see the role the meme & memeplex  play in shaping individual and collective thoughts  & behavior.  Our world is run by memeplexes, not masters.

The modern global-economic memeplex has no regard for us...

It think's it's alive and does everything better.
With equal resolve it creates and destroys.  ~ Rilke

But it doesn't have to remain this way.  We are the writers of this memeplex.  Each one of us.  Instantaneous communication has enabled a previously unimaginable empire to emerge, constructed with social as well as material machines.  This global culture has polluted our air, depleted soil & fresh water and dehumanized us...but it is evolving.  We are aware.  We want memeplexes that are beneficial to us, which take a symbiotic instead of parasitic role in the global ecosystem.

What selective, evolutionary pressure will you bring to bear?


Continue to Fraken-Memes

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Larger than the sum of its parts

When we tell a story we generally develop a timeline.  This happened, next that, then another.  Unfortunately in science education, we do the same thing.   First Galileo, then Kepler.  Linnaeus then Darwin.  Big Bang, KT Extinction, Humans. 

But to understand memetics, we have to step outside that simple, linear pattern.  Just like the genetic tree of life, the ecosphere of memeplexes emerges like a banyon tree or a mycelial mat, not a neatly manicured topiary.

We have an incredible opportunity.  Computers empower us to visualize complex fractal patterns of emergence.  We could plot how the exchange of information and data saturation make environments ripe for the growth of a new scientific theory or political philosophy.  In this new future, the emphasis will be less on "who did what, when" and instead focus on how a memeplex organically grew within a given population. 

With such an understanding, we can see how human culture is more than the sum of its parts, just as the mind is more than its matter and an ecosystem is more than it's geography and biological members.  Not with some otherworldly weight, but by the collaboration of the parts, the conservation of scarce resources and energy, the means and elegant ends of intention-less design.  We will see the beauty of our universe, which has given rise to us to comprehend it.


Continue to #Global Climate Change

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Oh the Humanities

For those who are wondering whether the hard sciences can effectively integrate with the social sciences, who eschew tying the sacred word of 'science' to anything in the profane, social sphere...we present the history of...well...History.

History was once simply a term for the PR industry, a tool of the powerful (or those desiring power).  The early empires wrote and rewrote history to justify the consolidation of power and deter revolt.  Check out what happened with Akhenaten in Ancient Egypt.

Let's not kid ourselves, the same thing happens today.  Spend anytime outside of the US (and outside the company of a tour guide or tourist board minder) and you will quickly learn how watered down your high school history class was.  But today there are standards of academic rigor within the formal discipline of History.  You might not get a straight answer about US foreign policy in high school or the best-selling biography, but if you dig deep enough you will find authors like Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky. Because Chomsky and Zinn are dedicated to examining primary source material and substantiating any claim they make, they have a leg to stand on even when the social and political tides are against them.

Now, one can be critical of the introduction of a scientific methodology to the discipline of History.  In valuing primary source material, History gathers the bias of literate cultures and classes.  It often leaves out the stories of laborers, women, children and nomadic peoples.  Even with the expansion of forensic techniques in Archeology, this bias still exists.  But to lament the imperfections is to miss the point. 

We are now aware of these biases, and can take them into account.   History was made more accurate and more democratic through the application of scientific methods.  This revolution was set into motion by Ibn Khaldun in the 14th century.  It is time for the revolution to spread into other disciplines. 


Continue to Larger Than The Sum Of Its Parts

Friday, October 25, 2013

Roadblocks

Tycho Brahae & Johannes Kepler's different temperaments and personal philosophies made collaboration nearly impossible.  Both accomplished astronomers in their own right, Brahae's concern for his legacy and Kepler's protestant ethics slowed the exchange and interbreeding of ideas.

In a similar way, the temperaments of the Social Sciences and the Hard Sciences make their synthesis appear to be impossible.  This is not only an issue of specialized vocabularies or "turf wars".  It speaks to the basic methodologies and assumptions of the two tracks.

Let's begin with every "real" scientist's favorite punching bag: Social Science. It has several apparent weaknesses.  It has ingrained linguistic biases which frame interpretations and judgments.[1]  The social sciences also accumulate extensive data (interviews, historical texts, etc.) regardless of the accuracy of these materials.  These resources are available for any academic to review, reinterpret or reframe.

On the other hand we have the apparent strengths, the rigors, of  the Hard Sciences.  The discoveries have mathematical proofs not just correlations.  No mediocre theory lasts long, or so the story goes.  Hard Science is compact, not verbose.  Physics has no need for literature reviews.  It is austere, elegant in its simple precision and proofs.  But hard science has its own shortcomings.  Politics and economics creep into the lab, individual scientists censor themselves to gain professional ground and if an unwary neophyte ventures out of the prevailing paradigm they will face suppression. 

So the question is, will we ever develop a methodology for integrating the hard sciences with the social sciences or will we continue to allow them to clash (bringing disrepute to science in the public sphere)?


Continue to Oh The Humanities

[1]  An example would be the prevalence of the term "deviant behavior" in applied psychology and sociology, even decades after their research counterparts have swapped this term for "non-normative behavior".  The first term carries a value judgment, the second does not.  The second (ideally) creates a space for objective observation.  But in a culture focused on individual action and evaluation, the traditional term holds out.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Platforms

You might want to know why I'm doing this.  Why not publish a book or work towards recognition in an academic field?  If I believe this theory withstands the highest scrutiny, why am I resorting to writing (without any guaranteed compensation) on the internet?
 
The best way to spread this idea is to produce short, well written appetizers for any internet wanderer to digest.  This will encourage people to take a deeper interest in memetics, beyond internet cat-memes.

Bottom line:  the internet age is an age of information abundance, not scarcity.  The best way to empower people to improve their life is to spread the informational wealth.   Memetics affects every person on the planet, therefore its investigation should be a communal effort rather than an ivory tower privilege. 


Continue to Roadblocks

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Sophisticated Immune Systems: Science [Four]

"Religion is the nourish-crop of Science.  I think it’s very possible that we would have never had Science if we didn’t have the Religious Era first.  We can be grateful for those oats.  Now we have Science, and it’s not clear whether we need to plant any more oats."
~ Daniel Dennett

The memeplex of science has a sophisticated immune system.  It increases our knowledge base not by making it too sacred to investigate, but by testing data and remaining open to new interpretations.  Science views knowledge as a common good rather than private property and seeks to protect that knowledge through vetting discoveries before adding them to the cannon of knowledge.  The process of peer review confers social recognition on those who contribute to the scientific body of knowledge, tying itself to basic human emotions and pleasures.  Science rewards a host society with knowledge, material goods and leisure. 
 
Perhaps most importantly, Science allows us to reconsider and adopt new strategies.  It allows us to see past our biases & sensory limitations and approach a closer understanding of reality.  This allows us to move from wishing or delaying satisfaction until after death to working towards knowledge and understanding, helping us create a just society.
 
Unlike political, economic or religious memeplexes which restrict information flows and unequally distribute limited resources, Science (independent of other memeplexes) offers direct and democratic interaction and intervention.  We are no longer dependent serfs but co-creators with this memeplex.  We are what we were in the beginning, the parents and potters of the memes.

Still, the scientific method(s) is far from perfect.  Testing of a new theory is hard to initiate while scientists are committed to a current paradigm (emotionally & professionally).  Objections and dismissals are heard in all corners.  Other memeplexes compete for resources, redirect funding and create emotional blockades in would-be allies.  It is a general inertia.  But we should never assume that the scientific method will triumph in the end.  It is but one memeplex in a global jungle.  It must have its champions.
 
Reality-testing, the basis of Scientific inquiry, is perhaps the first and truest devotional impulse of our species; discovery for discovery's sake, aiding unconsciously in our survival.  It is perhaps this original devotion that we will now turn to, as we  see the pitfalls of dogmas which limit human flourishing.


Continue to Platforms
 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Sophisticated Immune Systems: Economic Structures [Three]

Economic structures are memeplexes that have the power to unconsciously alter their material and memetic environments for their survival advantage.  For ease and brevity I will address the defensive structures of Corporate Capitalism only, although all economic structures deserve to be equally scrutinized.

Corporate Capitalism engineers its memetic environment to be hospitable to the perpetuation of its memeplex.  It creates copyright laws and patents.  It shapes education to introduce ideas of intellectual property and centralized, privately-funded research for capital gain.   It shapes distribution of resources and information,  funneling material resources to allies (the State, the Church) and away from individuals and small business which might undermine its survival. 

For some, Corporate Capitalism is inextricably intertwined with their emotions and self-perceptions.  They avoid exposure to competing ideas.  They see the ideology as unquestionable, even when policy implementation spells disaster.  But this blind devotion of a few is not enough to keep the system afloat.  Even the support of a majority fed on media propaganda is not enough to perpetuate an economic system over generations.  
 
The bottom line which keeps Corporate Capitalism going is the dependency of every person (or their strong belief in their dependency) to be rewarded and sustained by the system.  As long as a person is dependent on a paycheck to cover the mortgage and the groceries, that person is a loyal cog in the economic system. 
 
Ecological mapping of economic memeplex development, introduction and competition might reveal new insights to historians studying the colonization of Africa, the fall of the Iron Curtain and the suburbanization of the United States. 
 
Note: Stating that memeplexes have the power of a replicator to adapt, grow and shape social and natural environments provides a counterbalance to the fear-mongers who think the world is run by an elite conspiracy.  Check out Noam Chomsky's short talk on differentiating between interest-based actions vs. conspiracy theories. 
 
[Again, this analysis of economic structures as memeplexes which alter environments for their survival advantage should be applied to investigating all forms of economic organization.]


Continue to Sophisticated Immune Systems: Science [Four]

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sophisticated Immune Systems: High Control Groups [Two]

"Cult" is a misleading word.  For many it conjures the image of Jonestown and Heaven's Gate.  For others it is a mere theological distinction: any doctrine other than the one held by a speaker is labeled "cult".  It is more productive to speak of High Control Groups and Thought Reform Environments.

High control groups can be centered around political, economic, educational or therapeutic doctrines and are certainly not limited to supernatural beliefs.  Perhaps the most glaring examples of political cults are North Korea and The Third Reich.  Less obvious (and less comfortable for the US audience to contemplate) is how the political system of the US is high-control in some sectors.  There are economically motivated groups like Amway.  There are even educational approaches which construct thought reform environments, fostering group loyalty and suppressing self-motivated inquiry.

Thought Reform memeplexes are highly integrated with a host's brain, controlling emotions, thoughts, behavior and access to (and processing) of new information and reality testing.  Because of these features, thought-reform memeplexes are able to spread within a population even when they are detrimental to an individual, the host-group or the wider society.

Note: 
For a more detailed investigation of High Control groups, look at Hassan's BITE Control Model, Margret Singer's work Cults in Our Midst and Robert J. Lifton's The Psychology
of Totalism
.

This lecture by Steven Hassan addresses verbal Strategic Interaction with Cult Members.  Through understanding how high control groups use language to program a devotee's mind, counselors and loved ones can help the member regain their former identity and leave a destructive group. The general language and thought patterns of specific groups which Hassan addresses at 21:20-23:21 should be of special interest to those studying memes through linguistics.


Continue to Sophisticated Immune Systems: Economic Structures [Three]

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Sophisticated Immune Systems: Religion [One]

One feature of a memeplex (versus a set of independent memes) is its ability to scrutinize other memes, incorporate compatible memes and respond defensively to detrimental memes.   To draw the biological metaphor out, a memeplex has an immune system.

The sacred statements of religions are perhaps the best known examples of memeplex immune systems.  For example: Catholics say, 'Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  Christ will come again.'  It is a declarative statement that is (or is expected to be) beyond question. It is the core of the faith.  Serious discussions may be had about other doctrinal points, but the core teaching is too sacred to be examined.  

Affirming this declaration (even in ritual and not as personal conviction) places the speaker in an in-group, making them more receptive to internalizing other ideas within the Catholic memeplex.  ['Taboo' or 'sacred' statements indicate regions of vulnerability & intense defensive structures, the equivalent of 'vital organs' in a biological organism.]

If these ideas are ever challenged (or perceived to be challenged) there are various, natural responses within the community to limit the damage.  Internal, individual responses can range from strong emotions of anger & sadness to dispassionate dismissal of the speaker due to age, gender, education, etc.  These responses distract the listener from possibly adopting the new, opposing meme.

Communal responses range from embarrassed silence, contemptuous laughter or redirection of the discussion.  This is accompanied by a social demotion for the culprit and anyone in close association with them, making even the most daring soul reconsider dissent.

Additionally, the most sacred memes continue to persist in the minds of former Catholics.  For example, a former Catholic may continue to believe that Jesus is the Christ and attend another Christian denomination.

These patterns of emotion and behavior are predictable, no matter how personal the experience is for the people involved.


Continue to Sophisticated Immune Systems: High Control Groups [2]

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Focusing on Language: Our Minds Are Not Our Own [Three]

No matter how excited we are by the prospect of studying memeplexes, we must remember our subjects are inextricably interwoven with human brains and societies.  Careful concern for people intertwined with a memeplex under study is non-negotiable.  Questions of ethics should not simply be ordained by the rituals and rubrics of internal review boards.

I ask those pursuing the study of memetics to pause and contemplate the ethics of their work and to open dialogues about the direction, funding and social impact of their research.  With knowledge comes responsibility. 

Our minds are not our own, but are shaped by our parent cultures.  In every question we ask lie biases and perspectives which can alter the thought patterns of others.  Interaction spreads the weaknesses as well as strengths of our memeplexes, with unforeseeable consequences.

What then should we do?  Must we adopt some form of  the Prime Directive to avoid responsibility for negative outcomes?


Continue to Sophisticated Immune Systems: Religion [1]

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Focusing on Language: Don't Reinvent the Wheel [Two]

We can't waste time constructing an approach from scratch.  So let's borrow from other disciplines.  Our theory proposes memes are replicators just like genes, so strategies of studying genetic populations should be adaptable to the study of memeplexes.

Just as we can track the introduction and spread of invasive species, we can use principles of ecological mapping to  see how  new memeplexes spread and impact other memes.  We could visualize the waves of the First and Second Great Awakenings.  We could see how Cold War concerns led world leaders to actions which primed certain populations for religious memeplexes spread by US missionaries.  We could see the memeplex of non-violence spreading from India to South Africa and the United States or the exponential growth of the Anti-Slavery Movement as it confronted and then co-opted religious language.

[There are other visual tools from the biological sciences which we can borrow.  To see how some theologians & religious studies scholars have applied phylogenic trees to religious traditions, check out this truncated phylogeny of Christianity .  Scroll down to see the diagram.]

But this approach has a broader application than simply the study of religions and social movements.  We can apply it to the history of Science.  We can visualize the paradigm shifts Kuhn wrote about, mapping the spread of scientific revolutions and how they correlate to the spread of communications technologies.

We can also use satellite imagery to study the spread of agricultural memeplexes, to see how Western Monoculture has overtaken the diverse systems of traditional farming, even where monoculture is ill-adapted to the traditional landscapes (signifying a complex memetic story).  We can see the growth and spread of cities & artificial light.  We can see the mines, supply routes and industrial centers, how the geography of our planet has channeled the flow of certain memeplexes, aided in their development or stifled them. 
 
We could, with our new information technologies, demonstrate that cultures are natural phenomena.

Continue to Focusing on Language: Our Minds Are Not Our Own [3]


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Focusing On Language: Designing Methodologies [One]

Linguistic analysis is our best approach in designing a methodology of memetics.  Words provide us with a record.  Though meanings of words change over time and have different emotional values for different people, if we account for these variations, words prove to be a good foundation for quantitative (not just qualitative) analysis. 

Here is a brief sketch of how a methodology for analyzing memeplexes might work:

We need to look at how a memeplex interacts with individuals, its environment and itself.  To understand how a memeplex functions, I propose three levels of analysis.  The Personal & Social, Ecological and Ideal levels of analysis.

Personal & Social:  Understanding how a memeplex interacts with how a person thinks and how they encounter and respond to their environment is accomplished through qualitative interviews and observational notes.  This level of analysis is important for the field of psychology / mental health.   Of equal value is understanding how a memeplex regulates behaviors and thoughts, how it engineers a social structure.

Ecological:  This level examines how memeplexes compete for resources and spread through populations.

Ideal:  Linguistic analysis of holy texts, official publications, or massive collections of correspondence can provide a baseline of what the ideal expressions (social, political, psychological, economic, etc.) of a particular memeplex are and how it has evolved. 

[Side Note: General quantitative analysis can be accomplished through Linguistic Analytics (mathematics).  An example of this can be found at ted.com in the talk  Mapping Ideas Worth Spreading.]


Continue to Focusing On Language: Don't Reinvent The Wheel [2]


Friday, October 11, 2013

...or not

A follow-up to the post: In The Beginning Was The Word


The written word developed from the spoken word.  Was the first spoken word the ex nihilo origin of memes & memeplexesWere they suddenly created by the god-like awesomeness of the human brain?  That's too anthropocentric & mythic to be accurate.  Evolution encourages us to see how complex systems in nature arise from simpler forms. 

Even though the development of language is typically seen as the beginning of the human species ("what makes us human") it is not the origin of memetics.  There are simple chemical precursors to memes.  Certain plants exude chemicals which attract predators of pest species when the pest species attack, an example of interspecies signalingAmong invertebrates, colonies of ants and bees use pheromones exuded by the queen to maintain and direct collective behavior. 
 
More complex behaviors in some animals, such as matting rituals (including acquisition of ornamentation, shows of fitness and hunting & nest-building skills) also appear.   Driven by a biological need to pass on genes, animals use resources and brain power to communicate their fitness. 

We also observe vocalizations in whales, birds and other creatures.  The wild turkey has distinct calls linked to mating, observed threats, assembly calls, etc.  These may be instinctual but they serve to network individuals to share information relative to survival. 
 
Still, it appears that we are the only species to have developed true memes, distinct from our biological and environmental needs.  We may never know if any other species achieved this. But it is painfully obvious the proliferation of memetic precursors made the environment ripe for the development of modern memes.  It is our evolutionary fortune (whether ill-fated or blessed) to share contagious ideas. 

Since language systems are superimposed on an organic brain-scaffolding, abstract concepts can trigger deep emotional and biological responses.  In fact, it is those memeplexes which access our emotions and drives most deeply which make the deepest impressions on our lives, cultures and biosphere. 


Continue to Focusing on Language: Designing Methodologies [1]

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

In The Beginning Was The Word

Some critics of Meme Theory say memes are unprovable and therefore memetics is a branch of philosophy, not science.  We can't see a meme or a memeplex in an fMRI scan.  We can't see them anywhere.  Or can we?  The critics search is too narrow.

Daniel Dennett asks an important question at the beginning of his lecture at Zurich.Minds in 2009.  "Do words exist?"  Words transmit culture.  Complex societies have developed from the evolution of language.  This development of verbal communication is seen as the dawn of the human race.

Civilization blossomed at the advent of writing.  Before writing, extrasomatic knowledge was stored in tools and other artifacts.  Knowledge was acquired primarily through individual experience and interpersonal communication. 

Writing allows information to be stored outside the human mind and yet (once decoded) transmit information to a reader as long as the tablet, stone or paper survives.  Writing makes memes & memeplexes more enduring.  It increases transmission to a larger audience and preserves fidelity to the original idea.  Thus, writing is a significant evolutionary step for memes and memeplexes.

So if you are looking for physical evidence of a meme, look no further than the printed page.  Memeplexes reside on your bookshelf.   They're not just in our heads.


Continue to: ...or not






Monday, October 7, 2013

Selfplex

If Richard Dawkins is the father of Memetics, Susan Blackmore is the mother.  Her book The Meme Machine laid a foundation for meme theory, demonstrating how neuroscience and social science converge in the transmission of ideas.

Towards the end of her book Blackmore writes a well-developed critique of the Western memeplex of the 'self'.  The construction of Chapters 17 & 18 lead readers to examine this particular memeplex instead of a deeper analysis of memeplex origins, context and cultural saturation. 
 
Blackmore offers a counter-weight to our all-pervasive Western self-plex by introducing her readers to the Eastern non-self-memeplex.  She highlights how the non-self-memeplex is more in line with neuroscience and how it is a beneficial memeplex to her.  Thus a reader could easily interpret it as a plug for Buddhist philosophy, crossing the line from scientific text to religious tract.

Blackmore may not have intended this.  She may have simply wished to offer an insight and a cultural critique to an idea Westerners take for granted.  But the impression still stands.  It ends as a self-help text.

In the East, the non-self-plex has been as pervasive as the self-plex in the West.  Both shored up feudalism.  Both provided a core idea through which high-control groups (monasteries, ashrams, convents) could effectively recruit and retain life-long devotees.  Both have adapted to and support urban, capitalist societies.

It is not the particular memeplex ('self' or 'non-self') that is intrinsically beneficial or detrimental.  It is the saturation level and how the memeplex interacts with other memes that produce results we label "good", "bad" or "neutral". 

In an earlier chapter Blackmore highlights how celibacy is a product of memeplexes controlling biological drives.  One could add:  "free-love" is another memeplex incompatible with our biological drives.  For that matter, life-long one-partner monogamy seems to be the same. 

Just as a "free-love" man could adopt a "celibacy" memeplex, a "celibacy" man could adopt a "free love" memeplex.  These would be equally complex transformations. [I have my bets on the celibate man and the free-love man adopting the "marriage" memeplex instead.]

Returning to Dawkins: the magnificent-mental-beast throws a second ringer into the mix.  He responds to the prolific memeplex of "God" and all its terrible complications with the declaration "there is no God". 

Now, one could conduct a thought experiment imagining a society devoid of an idea of God...is this society therefore wholly just, non-violent, and verdant?  Of course not.  It would couch its practices (especially structural violence) in scientific or "rational" terms.  And one could not dispute that structure without meriting the label "irrational".  In such a case an activist may invent or adopt the concept of a higher-power, superseding rationality, to justify calls for reform. [I will argue later that this is precisely the predicament we are in.]

This is not to say Blackmore or Dawkins are short sighted.  They are indeed visionaries.  The presentations of their memetic speculations and other ideas they champion have complicated the general perception of memetics.   It is not solely their responsibility.  It is the result of a world-wide meme pool interacting with their prolific ideas. 

Cultural "givens" (memeplexes dominating a society) have the ability to abbreviate communication (saving energy), restrict thoughts (saving time) and manipulate actions (acomplishing tasks beyond an individual's capacity).

Therefore an effective methodology for memetics needs to address the saturation and concentration of dominant & competing memeplexes as much as it needs to address the unique ideas and structure of individual memeplexes. 


Continue to In The Beginning Was The Word

Saturday, October 5, 2013

What is a Memeplex?

 A memeplex is a group of memes which in combining have enhanced their chances of reproduction and survival. 

Meaning, their original environment bound them together.
By interacting with a changing environment their survival fitness improved.
There was no 'conspiracy of memes planning a collective future'.  That's a straw-man interpretation.

The Meme Machine  by Susan Blackmore addresses how memeplexes are everywhere, dominating human thought and interaction.

Memeplexes are more than religions.  Some are benign, some are beneficial and some are downright poisonous.  Nationalism is a viral memeplex.  Corporate Capitalism, crusading under the banner of "Democracy", spreads its "good news" to the whole world.

So Dawkins well-known position that the eradication of fantastic metaphysical claims would resolve the world's problems is short-sighted (though it needs more consideration here in Middle America). 

If you contemplate the memeplex, you might conclude Science is also a memeplex.  It is an assortment of complementary ideas passed down over generations.  It is cumulative.  It has a sophisticated immune system to scrutinize information before it is added to the cannon of knowledge.  It has co-opted social institutions (schools, governments, etc.) to colonize human brains in both vertical and horizontal transmission. 

A scientific mind is not simply one that accepts the scientific discoveries of others, but one which tests the discoveries of others.  It can apply the Scientific Method to new problems as they arise in the environment. Science has the cumulative wealth of tradition, the ability to adopt new theories when the evidence permits and the flexibility to adapt knowledge appropriately to new environments. 

So, let us reframe Dawkin's assertion.  It is not that all viral memeplexes are barbaric in the light of the non-mempelex of Science.  From the host of viral memeplexes humanity uses, Science is best for improving human knowledge and quality of life.

We must remember as we journey into memetics that Dawkins and Blackmore are guides but we would be ill-advised to adopt them as gurus and bask forever in their shadow.


Continue to Selfplex


Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Second Replicator

 Memetic Theory is an intuitive leap.  It looks at the world through the lens of evolution, aware there must be a rational, material cause for the diversity of human cultures.

We see cultures regulating, even openly contradicting basic biological drives.  Either our understanding of human biology is significantly flawed, or there is an unrecognized intervening factor.

We know the power of an unconscious replicator through observing genes.  An unconscious replicator has an uncanny ability to adapt to environmental changes and create fractal diversification without the need of a conscious will directing it. 

A second replicator which transmits and alters human culture is at least plausible.  It is testable...unlike metaphysical conclusions which encourage belief without examination. 

We see the inherent ability of humans to imitate.  Culture is transmitted through imitation.  We also know true imitation is a rare trait in the animal kingdom.  These facts were  not always known; they had to be tested and proven. 

Our unaided senses are limited in acquiring and analyzing information.  Physical tools and measurement techniques must be created.  New paradigms for interpreting data must develop.  The scientific community can then vet the data and its interpretations, gradually acclimating to the new paradigm or dismissing it. 

Memetic Theory is a new idea.  It is a very unsettling idea.  But we must test it.  It is built on the scaffolding of our previous scientific discoveries.  No matter how unsettling a theory is, we cannot dismiss it out of hand.  We are obligated to test and disprove it.

Many people have devoted countless hours to defining terms for the study of memetics.  This is vital work, but we can't get bogged down in definitions.  (Coining terms without a framework to test the theory leaves us vulnerable to the criticism that memetics is just metaphysics.) 

Others, applying the theory of memetics to their specialized fields have developed detailed reinterpretations of data, reframing their discipline though memetics.  (Have a look at Hoyle Leigh's fascinating book Genes, Memes, Culture, and Mental Illness: Toward an Integrative Model.)

Still others have worked to apply the theory of memetics to specific goals, such as social justice hacking (hacktivism), data mining and advertising.  Their work provides fascinating case studies of applied memetics.

But all of these "put the cart before the horse". 
We need to develop methods to test Meme Theory.


Continue to What is a Memeplex?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

An Open Letter to Richard Dawkins

Professor Dawkins,
You coined the term "meme" in 1976 to describe a second replicator impacting the biosphere.  You posited this second replicator but did not reinterpret sociology, psychology or linguistics to support the new theory.  As social science is not your professional focus, this was entirely sensible.  You left the endeavor for others. 
 
Skeptics criticized you for a perceived belief in non-material, un-provable agents influencing human behavior.  Religious leaders jumped at the chance to point out that you must have metaphysical beliefs after all.  This placed you in a rather thankless position.  It was prudent to take several reflective steps back and withhold comments on the subject.

You once said in an interview, 
"I used not to think this but I'm increasingly thinking that nothing but confusion arises from confounding genetic evolution with cultural evolution.  Unless you are very careful about what you are doing and don't talk as though they are different aspects of the same phenomenon.  Or if they are just different aspects of the same phenomenon, let's hear a good case for regarding them as such." 1
 
In the following blog you will find such a case.  It is crucial to remember Meme Theory  is a paradigm shift.  The initial response to a scientific revolution (which can last for several generations) is skepticism.  The current paradigm is not simply ingrained in scientific literature; it is ingrained in our culture and in the English language.  We have a long road ahead.


Continue to The Second Replicator
 

1.  Shermer, Michael  The Skeptic's Chaplain Skeptic Magazine Vol. 13, No. 2, p. 45; 2007