Friday, May 15, 2015

Young Student: Heed E.O.Wilson's Advice

Young student, you won't yet find a university with a memetics department.  In fact the discipline is still in such a formative stage you'll be hard-pressed to find an adviser or committee who will validate your interest.  Be your own champion. 

This does not mean you should strike out completely on your own in isolation, walkout of a scholarship or eschew mentors from established fields who remain skeptical of memetic theory.  Lean into such associations, they will teach you the ropes of academic disciplines and strengthen your intellectual rigor.

You may need to pursue studies outside of the recognized, hard sciences to find memetic subjects worthy of your interest, and you may receive criticism from your scientific contemporaries who have chosen well-worn paths.  Do not hesitate to venture on the less-worn trails and apply the scientific method to previously sacrosanct subjects.

Follow the advice of E.O. Wilson in his Letters to A Young Scientist:

*  Ideas emerge when a part of the real or imagined world is studied for its own sake.

*  A thorough, well-organized knowledge of all that is known of the relevant entities and processes that might be involved in (memetics) is vital to sucess.

*  It is important in choosing the direction to take to find the subject that interests you deeply, and focus on that.

*  In selecting a subject in which to conduct original research, or to develop world-class expertise, take a part of the chosen discipline that is sparsely inhabited.  Judge opportunity by how few other students and researchers are on hand.

*  March away from the sound of the guns. Observe from a distance, but do not join the fray. Make a fray of your own.

*  In the attempt to make scientific discoveries, every problem is an opportunity, and the more difficult the problem, the greater will be the importance of its solution.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Question of Scale

We have been scientifically investigating our environment since prehistory.  The cognitive process of learning is a scientific process, establishing working theories of categories and relationships, testing hypotheses and reworking assumptions to fit new data sets.  Formalizing the scientific method allowed us to streamline data-processing, (it was an innovation in memetic structure which paid higher dividends than previous methods of codifying collective learning), but it was not the birth of science.

The "magic" of early civilizations can be viewed as primitive science and primitive maths as much as it can be labeled primitive religion.

But our investigations were limited to our five senses and our human scale.  Distances beyond our bi-pedal range limited our conception of the size of our planet, how distant the stars were, etc.  Items which fit within our hands were open to investigation, but the cellular level, genetics, the nano scale, had to be inferred and theorized before we developed technologies to view them.   

This is the challenge memetics currently faces: it is a question of scale.  We do not have the traditional limitations of sensory perception which might frame our initial investigations.  Though our discipline is similar to biology, (covering environmental relationships, population dynamics, individual anatomy, organ structure, cell processes, epigenetics and inheritance), we lack the limitations, the initial scope, which would allow us to establish a framework.  We see the whole picture at once, and therefore can't see much.

Our instinct is to oversimplify and we are tempted to draw out the analogy of viruses (contagious ideas which have some, but not all, of the defined properties of life)--when the complexity and environmental roles of memeplexes are as diverse as the extremophile bacteria, phayge, oak trees, lichens and marsupials of biological systems.

We seem possessed by the smallest scale of analysis--memeticists are obsessed over the meme, its particular definition and specific parameters.  We also seem to think a clear distinction between the meme and its phenotype is beneficial to our discipline at this point in the game.  No other scientific pursuit has benefited from such self-imposed limitations at the start.  It is like being fluent in German and expecting ourselves  to comprehend a dissertation in Thai after one semester of classes.

We must start at the scales more familiar to the human experience, let those areas which perk our interest drive our inquiry further, and work to smaller scales from there.  We must learn how to learn, selecting an initial scope for our studies, even if it proves later to be incorrect.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Fractured Modern Mind

There are perils to living in ignorance of humanity's evolutionary origins.

This criticism isn't directed at creationists...they might fundamentally misconstrue the biological world, but they hang together and generally make out alright, as decent humans do.

This is directed at the memeticists who limit our discipline, who preserve secular-yet-destructive ideologies, placing unswerving faith in the system, ignoring systems analysis and critical theory. 

We should be looking at the structure of our artificial environments, our industrial schedules, our cultural expectation that the mind function at all times like an inorganic machine. We evolved within a volatile and complex environment & if we ignore this, assuming the context we came out of doesn't matter, we will continue to label ourselves and ignore the cause and the simple solution.

Our minds and our bodies are in rebellion--the mass of humanity calls out for something more humane.  

Will memeticists heed this cry?  Will we respond by encouraging psychologists to re-work the DSM-V in light of humanity's evolutionary context (both genetic and memetic)?  Will we stand up and push for change in our education structures or will we continue to  aquiesce, drugging non-complacent children and stigmatizing creative resistance?

I ask this question of myself and other memeticists--because the social and cultural pressure is to create a discipline which fits comfortably into the current political paradigm.  We are encouraged to eviscerate the religious memeplexes but leave the secular myths intact.  Giving into this pressure, refusing to question our assumptions, will castrate memetics.

We have the ability to understand the memeplexes, to name them, to gain power over them, but this will only occur when we develop the courage to question our own deeply-held assumptions.

For further discussion on re-working psychology and social policy, check out the following:

Incarceration & Memetic Reproduction
Importing Memes and Madness
Non-Optimal Elder Care

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Lewis Mumford Understood Memetics

Folks have been talking about the existence of memeplexes and their impact on humanity for generations. 
I surrender the stage of this post to one of the great minds of the 20th Century:
Lewis Mumford

"The inventors of nuclear bombs, space rockets, and computers are the pyramid builders of our own age: psychologically inflated by a similar myth of unqualified power, boasting through their science of their increasing omnipotence, if not omniscience, moved by obsessions and compulsions no less irrational than those of earlier absolute systems:
particularly the notion that the system itself must be expanded, at whatever eventual cost to life.

Through mechanization, automation, cybernetic direction, this authoritarian technics has at last successfully overcome its most serious weakness: its original dependence upon resistant, sometimes actively disobedient servomechanisms,
still human enough to harbor purposes that do not always coincide with those of the system.

Like the earliest form of authoritarian technics, this new technology is marvellously dynamic and productive: its power in every form tends to increase without limits, in quantities that defy assimilation and defeat control, whether we are thinking of the output of scientific knowledge or of industrial assembly lines. To maximize energy, speed, or automation, without reference to the complex conditions that sustain organic life, have become ends in themselves. As with the earliest forms of authoritarian technics, the weight of effort, if one is to judge by national budgets, is toward absolute instruments of destruction, designed for absolutely irrational purposes whose chief by-product would be the mutilation or extermination of the human race. Even Ashurbanipal and Genghis Khan performed their gory operations under normal human limits.

The center of authority in this new system is no longer a visible personality, an all-powerful king: even in totalitarian dictatorships the center now lies in the system itself, invisible but omnipresent: all its human components, even the technical and managerial elite, even the sacred priesthood of science, who alone have access to the secret knowledge by means of which total control is now swiftly being effected, are themselves trapped by the very perfection of the organization they have invented.

Like the Pharoahs of the Pyramid Age, these servants of the system identify its goods with their own kind of well-being: as with the divine king, their praise of the system is an act of self-worship; and again like the king, they are in the grip of an irrational compulsion to extend their means of control and expand the scope of their authority.

In this new systems-centered collective, this Pentagon of power, there is no visible presence who issues commands:
unlike Job's God, the new deities cannot be confronted, still less defied
. Under the pretext of saving labor, the ultimate end of this technics is to displace life, or rather, to transfer the attributes of life to the machine and the mechanical collective, allowing only so much of the organism to remain as may be controlled and manipulated.”

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Light bulb

The invention of the light bulb is a perfect example of how the evolution of a technology is obscured by secular myth-making. 
Many tinkerers and scientists contributed to the invention of the lightbulb.  They were in various corners of the developed world and were in communication with one another to varying degrees (depending on their collaborative or competitive dispositions).   Edison didn't come up with the idea of artificial light contained in a glass bulb, nor did he personally perfect it.  We ascribe the title "inventor" to him due more to his PR prowess and his economic ability to buy up patents and buy out competitors (or hire them on his staff).  Edison was a synthesizer.  That's a skill which develops in certain individuals due to circumstances, not innate gene-based 'intelligence'.

The myth of Edison is one that fits in with the secular myths of the West: it is compact, capitalistic and individual. And it is wrong.  It obscures how this technology evolved.  This narrative dismisses the possibility the light bulb would have developed even if Edison had played no part.  It places the uniqueness of one individual above the development process.  It turns just as many people away from science by emphasizing genius as it might entice a few to pursue it.  

Let's start rethinking our stories.