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Inventing Ourselves, Our Environment

February 17, 2019

Memetic evolution of writing systems

From The Meme Machine page 206

Writing as an Artifact of Meme-Gene Co-Evolution

What can we learn about ourselves by studying writing? It makes sense writing started with accounting for food and the such. Those items are directly related to survival of the vehicle, to the organisms which we are. Attaching to survival is a trick for replication and helping survival helps longevity.

In the same way, the meme of business is so prevalent. It is directly connected to survival of the replicator and helps wit longevity of the vehicle and therefore of the meme. With the evolution of culture the way it is, business also helps fecundity. People want to be successful in business. Look at the number of business titles published every year, business schools, blogs, media, etc.

The reality of media discussed by Baudrillard is the next layer in our evolution as a vehicle and mechanism for replication of memes. The same can be said of the internet and, more specifically, social media. Being networked.

The Challenge of a Networked Society

In media and in supply chains and in a society. Being networked seems to help spread memes. But it’ll be an interesting experiment to see how long the networking lasts. Will the underlying, constituent nodes/vertices decrease in effectiveness of being a replicator if too deeply intertwined in a network? Do we somehow sense we lose ourselves? How do we see ourselves when we are part of a double helix of connection, a chain of replicators to carry the instructions, to reproduce? Will the vehicle reject it? Or does that ascribe too much intentionality?

But, in other words, playing out the evolutionary algorithm, will the networked vehicle, us as nodes/vertices, be the fittest design?

Seems the current state in America is a push against it. Anti-globalism. Anti-network. Questions on the veracity of information on networks. Questions of big tech’s responsibilities, obligations, where and how it fits in. All anti-network.

It is an interesting pairing of the business meme and big tech. Could social networks have come about in another pairing? France’s Minitel, Darpanet and other forms of network seem to indicate the pairing is needed for the network to thrive.

What happens when it encounters specific memes in politics or better, more accurately, when different memes arise in politics? Memes that are anti-network? We are seeing that now.

Memes will naturally battle it out. The state of the replicator, the vehicle, which evolves from that battle will be more resilient and able to carry a broader range of memes. It will be more general than specialized replication mechanisms which cater to only a specific set of memes. (Compare to early replicators before DNA.). Will all human life coalesce to one form of organization?

Do bees, for example, represent one form of networked existence perfected to replicate a very specific and rigidly defined set of instructions?

Are bees an evolutionary dead end for that specific memeplex? Nowhere or no way to evolve the replicator past what the bees are. Particularly in light of existence of other replicators like us, or even dogs, who evolved to live with us.

From a memetic point of view who are our ancestors? Why take a biological view of ancestry, a genetic view? Perhaps we can look at ourselves through a memetic view?

From that perspective we certainly seem unique and singular. A whole other level of creation. In the image of a Creator, as it were, because we can create. We are outstanding vehicles, like no other biological organism, for memes.

Perhaps that explains the persistence of religion ( can only speak to biblical based religions). There is something inherently valuable in them for us as vehicles and for memes as replicators.

Is that playing out? Not a science versus religion, globalism versus nationalism… but rather an evolutionary mashing up of elements that contribute to finding the right combination / patterns of organization optimized for meme replication, for being the best vehicles possible?

Psychologically our sense of self is stretched. Is plastic, surface only enough, sufficient to be successful vehicles? Or does it impact survivability of the organism, the vehicle? Like in The Matrix, there needs to be an illusion of sense of purpose, of independent existence. Baudrillard again.

[McLuhan talked around the mechanism of the interplay between media and our development. Hall’s extensions. ]

The Role of Civil Rights

Is the erasing in society of apparent, physical differences as stratification in inter-personal relationships, in the way we look at and treat each other, a move towards greater connectedness, greater plasticity, greater surface? Seems to also bring greater creativity and flexibility in what each of us, as a node, is and can be for the whole network. It expands creativity, the expanse of the potential project of our being.

Civil rights, and the expanding sphere of what it covers, as this movement of erasing differences. And again, the memetic evolutionary thrashing accompanying it. Networked, anti-network. Individual, anti-individual. Definition of community, of connectedness up in the air. The algorithm running to try out different patterns to find that which best serves the memes.

Memetic genetic societal co-impact

From The Meme Machine page 209

Where Do We Go from Here?

If analogy holds true we will tend towards a “uniform high fidelity copying system capable of creating a potentially infinite number of products”.

Is that the future of societal evolution, being that high fidelity copying system? What would that look like?

The different ways of organizing knowledge (Foucault) and the anguish of shedding the societal impact those organizing principles have to individuals (critical theory) can be seen as part of the evolutionary thrashing.

Literary analysis, comparative literature, literary studies as analysis of the co-evolutionary interplay between memes, people, communities and societies. [e.g. Sioned Davies on The Mabinogion]

Of course, so what? There is no totality (Benjamin). The push back of the individual (Baudelaire, Rimbaud). And most importantly, to me, the value in reducing suffering and pain. Why paint ugly pictures? The individual matters. Each individual matters.

[From a scientific, meme/gene, consciousness as meme, perspective the individual mattering is an illusion or perhaps part of the altruism or being nice trick. But so what? Whether illusion or not, it is a choice to believe I’m making. And who knows, perhaps Kant was right (or meant it) that free will is outside the realm of reason. And doubt is a fundamental element of consciousness (Descartes).  Curiously, doubt serves scientific reasoning (Popper). A case where normative and descriptive coincide (Thaler)?]

[Perhaps it itself is all a neat trick where meme gene co-evolution makes this feel enjoyable to me. 🙂 ]

Going back to the connection between business, cuneiform, and increased survivability of the organism… perhaps that’s why instrumentalist perceptions win out? Memes, ideas that work in the physical world win out. They increase survivability of the transmitter, the vehicle – and their society, i.e. the organizing pattern, the network, in which they operate.

Increasing who can participate in that network increases potential variations (number of potential inventors in Jared Diamond’s framing). It increases the number of potential transmitters and potentially, longevity. More organisms to carry the memes increases the number that could numerically survive some event that harms other carriers.

Self Aware Nodes in a Unique Copying and Creating Network?

Thinking about spell checkers, autocorrect and the interplay with AI, us learning to speak better AI as AI learns to speak better human (see ‘More or Less Human‘ Radiolab podcast). It seems a natural progression and fine tuning, from a memes perspective, to find the right balance in fidelity, fecundity and longevity in a copying system.

Scribes and political system around writing, its uses. Who could write? The flowering of novels, poems, etc. These seem good examples of the interplay between the physical survival needs of the vehicle and the memes. Finding the right balance. And as food supply and other physical needs became less of a concern ( more predictable and stable) the balance could tilt towards replication of memes and development of better ways to develop memes, transmit them, etc. Greater playing field for that element of the network design.

It could be a false dichotomy. It could be the interaction of memes, genes and individuals. The network may not be a factor. How to test and research?

Testing the Importance of Individuality

If there is a memeplex that is my consciousness and is me, combined with the genes that gave instruction to the cells that make my body and my brain, why is that any less unique? That memeplex which is me is unique. Just because it is explainable by a theory doesn’t make it any less unique and individual. That is, just because there is a set of organizing patterns that accurately describe the fact patterns / perceptions of the world, it doesn’t impact a sense of self.

Can the same apply to an AI we build?

Can we test the importance of individuality by running simulations with varying degrees of invention? Individuals invent and experiment. Individuals provide the variation needed for the evolutionary algorithm to work. Individuals create the memes ( so far, human individuals) we are the imitators but also the creators and experimenters.


Memes: Blackmore, S. J. (1999). The meme machine. Oxford [England: Oxford University Press.
Networked Society: Castells, Manuel. 2010. The rise of the network society. Information Age. Economy, Society and Culture. 1. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.
Networks: Caldarelli, Guido, and Michele Catanzaro. 2012. Networks: a very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
McLuhan’s Extensions: McLuhan, Marshall, and W. Terrence Gordon. 2015. Understanding media: the extensions of man. Berkeley, Calif: Gingko Press.
Hall’s Extensions: Hall, Edward T. 1977. Beyond culture. New York: Anchor Books.
Organizing Knowledge: Foucault, Michel. 2006. The order of things: an archaeology of the human sciences. New York: Vintage Books.
Literary Studies, Sioned Davies’ introduction: Davies, Sioned. 2018. The Mabinogion.
No totality: Walter Benjamin. One Way Street. The Arcades Project.
Baudelaire: Les Fleurs du Mal: The Flowers of Evil: the complete dual language edition, fully revised and updated Paperback – May 16, 2016. Charles Baudelaire (Author), John E. Tidball (Editor, Translator)
Rimbaud: A Season in Hell & The Drunken Boat (English and French Edition) (French) 1st Edition. Arthur Rimbaud (Author), Louise Varèse (Translator), Patti Smith (Introduction)
Kant, Immanuel, Werner S. Pluhar, and Patricia Kitcher. 1997. Critique of pure reason. Indianapolis, Ind: Hackett.
Doubt: Descartes, René, Frank Edmund Sutcliffe, and René Descartes. 1971. Discourse on method and the Meditations. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.
Doubt: Popper, Karl. 2002. Conjectures and refutations. Routledge Classics.
Diamond, Jared Mason. 2017. Guns, germs, and steel the fates of human societies. New York: Norton.
Normative and Descriptive Theories: Thaler, Richard H. 2016. Misbehaving: the making of behavioral economics. Pages 25 – 27

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