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Empathy, the External and Robots

We can come to believe that all the matters is the external. What I do for other people. What other people do for me.

There’s an AI driven, holographic version of Salvador Dalí at the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida.

To the people who experience the hologram, does it really matter that this a hologram? If it makes you feel like you’re talking to the artist. If it makes you laugh. Does it matter that its not a living person?

Philosophers talk about robot cats. What if you learned that all cats were really robots? Would it make a difference? They act the same. They purr the same. Nothing changes in the world except you just learned that cats are actually robots. Would you love your cat any less? Or, if you don’t care for cats, would you change your feelings about them?

The same thing can be asked about people. If you learned that somehow everyone you know was a zombie, would that make a difference? By zombie I mean that they had nothing on the inside. That they were not alive in the same way that you are.

Now, of course, we can see how people react to others not being alive the same way. There are many homiletic interpretations of Biblical Scripture where non-believers are labeled as dead. Or not really alive. Many believers consider themselves living in a way that’s different from people that don’t believe.

AI Dalí, Robot cats. Zombies. Non-believers. They raise the same questions. How much does it matter what’s going on inside? What’s going on inside things we interact with?

Looking around. There aren’t many examples of people with AI Dalí, robot cats or zombies. There are lots of examples of how believers treat non-believers. And, well, its all over the place. Sometimes believers treat non-believers with pity. Sometimes they treat them with anger and spite. Sometimes they treat them as they would treat anybody else. Except you know there’s a club for believers only. Secret comforts you can have with people like you.

You also know that sometimes it goes the other way. That non-believers treat believers with anger and spit. They treat them disrespectfully. Like they’re uneducated. Or un-enlightened in some way.

Basically, believers and non-believers can treat each other equally poorly. Or equally well. Neither believers or non-believers have the market cornered on disrespecting other people. Or on treating people nicely. And, incidentally, the believer and non-believer categories can apply to many things besides religion. There are people other people consider inside and outside the fold in all sorts of areas. Areas like politics. Do you believe the same things I do? Areas like medicine. Do you believe the same things I do? Areas like science. And conspiracies.

There are no end to the ways we, as people, find ways make ourselves feel comfortable. To find ways to make sense of the world. And, in doing so, creating divides between us and others. There is some strange connection between the desire for certainty and the fact that we find comfort by figuring out where we fit in. Where we belong. And where others don’t belong. Who is inside. Who is outside. It’s like that strange evolutionary tale where we survive by knowing who is a friend or a foe. What’ll eat us and what we can eat. What’s poison.

Somehow, in the evolutionary tale, that grows into who is poison.

Robot cats. Zombie people. Non-believers.


I was sitting on our couch thinking about things these. Our youngest daughter was on the couch. Someone else in the room said something funny. Our daughter began to crack up laughing. She was rolling on the couch with the biggest smile on her face. Laughing.

It made me so happy that she was laughing. It made happy that she was experiencing something, inside herself, that brought her joy. That brought a smile to her face.

I looked at her. Looked at her eyes glimmering with laughter. Heard her smile filled breathing. Felt her energy.

It mattered what was going on inside. What was going on inside her, made me happy. It made me happy, inside.

Later that day my wife and I talked. And, you know, we all have different ways that people make us feel special. There are books about it. Our love language. The books help us figure out how other people can make us feel special. What other people can do to make us feel special. The books teach us how to tell people what they can do for us that makes us feel special.

Well, my wife and I haven’t read those books together. We’ve just been real patient with each other over time. We’ve learned a lot about each other. Though, I’m always amazed at how much more there is to learn. But, what I guess I’m saying, is that she tries to do things that make me happy sometimes. And sometimes, I try to do things that make her happy. Sometimes its a hit. Sometimes its a miss. What I’ve learned, though, at least, is that she is doing something nice for me. I may be so caught up inside my little world or my brain or whatever is going on that I don’t see it. That I’m a jerk. But, gosh, when I take a step back I can sometimes see through myself and see that she’s doing something nice for me. She’s doing something she thinks will make me happy, inside. She cares about what’s going on inside me. She cares about how I feel.

Cats, as we know them. People, alive. Beliefs, just ideas. Not dividers.

There’s a lot of talk in business circles about what jobs can be replaced by robots. By AI. About who can be replaced. I recently took a continuing education business course at Stanford. One entire section of the class was about artificial intelligence. Robots. Algorithms. How we can think about our jobs. Our careers. And how we can think about not being replaced. Or replaceable. By robots.

Some of the answers are around what we can do that’s different than machine or a computer. But that’s all about the external. What I do for other people. For companies and organizations. What other people do for me. For companies and organizations. And sure, its easier. More comforting. More certain. To see the world that way. To think about the external. The easily measured. The easy to make a case for. But I think that misses the point. That puts others people on some side of a divider or other. Makes it all about me. About us (not them). About the company and organization.

I think the point is that the difference is about feelings. Its about the inside. Of others.

It’s about how we make other people feel.

And yes, sure, we can manipulate that. Particularly on a grand scale. With things like social media. News. Programming on the internet that appeals specifically to how we think. The believer in us. The non-believers everywhere else.

So its hard. It is hard. Very hard. To get out of our own way and see. Or care. About the inside of other people. It’s not necessarily rational. It’s not necessarily measurable. It may not be scientific. It may not even be in keeping with anyone’s particular beliefs. It’s more a way about things. It’s about not wanting to be angry. It’s about getting out of our way. Understanding how small we are. How little we know. How manipulative and self-seeking we can be.

Then, just looking. Just asking. How are you, that other person, feeling? Can you pick up on the signals the other person is sending? Are they happy? Are they sad? Are they uncomfortable or in pain?

What can you do to make them feel better, inside? Meeting them where they are. Not where you want them to be. Seeing them for who they are. Seeing them as an equal. Or better.

Finding their joy.

First Presentation After 2020: Livestream on the PM Podcast


From the invitation:

At this week’s live event [on Monday 22 of March, 2021], Cornelius Fichtner welcomes guest Mark Phillips, as they discuss his book, The Practitioner’s Guide to Project Performance. Mark brought together 35 experts to share their advice on improving project performance and tied it all together with his afterword, What the heck are we studying? Projects, performance, and laws.

There will be time for Q&A, so bring your questions. We look forward to seeing you there!

Click to join on YouTube

This is my first presentation since COVID. Very much looking forward to it. Cornelius is a great interviewer and has a wonderful podcast.

A little about the book:

Practitioners operate in a necessary reality. We work in a space where project performance is above theory or methodology. In the best environments, delivery and an affirmative culture are what matter most. In the worst, it is politics and survival. In any environment we are challenged to adopt best practices and adapt our style to the environment in which the project is occurring. This is a book about those best practices and practitioner experiences. It is a must have reference and guide book for project managers, general managers, business leaders and project management researchers.

This book is the result of the hard work and dedication of more than 35 authors from more than 15 countries across four continents. It brings a diversity of experience, professional and personal. It includes practitioners, leading academics, renowned theorists and many who straddle those roles. The chapters cover experiences in software, large scale infrastructure projects, finance and health care, to name a few. The chapters themselves take many forms. Check out the table of contents to get a deeper sense of the topics included. All provide real-world guidance on delivering high performing projects and show you how to build, lead and manage high performing teams.

The Practitioners Handbook of Project Performance is complete in itself. It can also be an enticing start to an ongoing dialogue with the authors and a pleasurable path to get deeper into the subject of project performance. Find your favorite place to begin learning from these chapters, to begin taking notes and taking away nuggets to use in your everyday. But don’t stop there. Contact information and further resources for this diverse team of experts authors are found throughout. The Practitioners Handbook is a modern guide to the leading edge of project performance management and a path to the future of project delivery.

Is Biology Scary?

By saying the biological uses a subjective, interpretative mode of description are we paving the way for the political and capricious? How far a leap is it from codifying the explanatory role of the non-objective to totalitarianism? The beauty of Popper, of the scientific method is the reduction of the subjective.

“The Chicago perspective also launched the idea that the origin of life depended on two complementary modes of description, not just the description provided by classical physics that works so well for machines. Pattee summed it up thus: ‘Life itself could not exist if it depended on such classical descriptions or on performing its own internal recording processes in this classical way.’ This follow up on Rosen, who had really shaken things up earlier by asking, ‘Why could in not be that the ‘universals’ of physics are only so on a small and special (if inordinately prominent) class of material systems, a class to which organisms are too general to belong? What if physics is the particular, and biology the general, instead of the other way around?'” [Gazzaniga p.227]

Biology the general is a fleetingly exciting idea to those of us who manage / navigate the subjective uncertainty of human behavior every day (which is really everyone).

Gazzaniga explains, later, that what he proposes is a study of emergence. A study of second and third order effects of a system. There can be an objective study. An objective collection of relationships. Of facts.

Does this eliminate the scary part of the subjective? Probably not.

[Or is this doubt a failure to understand complementarity? Gazzaniga quoting Feyman that no-one truly understands Quantum]

Our behavior as humans, creatures evolved as we are, has a role in setting the course. The subjective exists. Normative guideposts impact life.


Determinism and Dualism, The Scientific Method Says Both

In the post on Neuroexistentialism we pointed out the distinction between naturalist, deterministic approaches and subjection, phenomenological approaches. Michael Gazzaniga in “The Consciousness Instinct” suggests this distinction is the same distinction physics faces between measuring and the thing being measured, Quantum and Classical Physics.

Drawing on the revolutionary work of Howard Pattee from the mid-20th Century, he pegs this distinction as stemming from the difference between organic and inorganic life. As highly evolved organic life (for all we know), this difference is built into us.

“Pattee states ‘our models of living organisms will never eliminate the distinction between the self and the universe, because life began with this separation and evolution requires it.'” [Gazzaniga p.198]

[This aligns with Sartre, Dennett and others’ description of the self as the first mode, as it were, of being.]

Our minds reflect the distinction at a relative high level of sophistication. Pattee and Gazzaniga suggest we adopt Niels Bohr’s idea of complementarity as the most accurate description of the way we understand the world.

“It should therefore not surprise us that two complementary modes of behavior, two levels of description, keep appearing in our thinking. The subject/object cut is present in all the great philosophical debates: random/predictable, experience/observation, individual/group, nurture/nature, and mind/brain. Pattee regards the two complementary modes as inescapable and necessary for any explanation that links the subjective and objective models of experience. The two models are inherent in life itself, were present from the beginning, and have been conserved by evolution. Pattee writes, ‘This is a universal and irreducible complementarity. Neither model can derive the other or be reduced to the other. By the same logic that a details objective model of a measuring device cannot produce a subject’s measurement [see Schrodinger’s cat], so a detailed objective model of a material brain cannot produce a subject’s thought.'” [Gazzaniga p.198]

[Echoes of Godel’s incompleteness theorem] [Echoes of the Tao]

[Cells as complete semiotic systems.] [Cells as memetic machines.] [Biosemiotics, memetics as a science equivalence? or guiding path? (see Vada)]

It seems a useful description. Its seems applicable to the way we embrace uncertainty in an organization, balancing deterministic tools and the wonderfulness of human unpredictability for management.

Grounded in the scientific method. It aligns with there being other modes for groups to believe things e.g. religion, shared experiences.

The memetic heuristic less useful. More a reflection of shifting to a different mode of explanation. There is, needless to say, recursion here.

Caruso, Gregg, and Owen Flanagan, eds. Neuroexistentialism: Meaning, morals, and purpose in the age of neuroscience. Oxford University Press, 2017.
Gazzaniga, Michael S. The Consciousness Instinct: Unraveling the mystery of how the brain makes the mind. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018.
Pattee, Howard Hunt, and Joanna Rączaszek-Leonardi. Laws, language and life: Howard Pattee’s classic papers on the physics of symbols with contemporary commentary. Vol. 7. Springer Science & Business Media, 2012.
Vada, Ø., 2015. What happened to Memetics. Emergence: Complexity & Organization, 17(2).

Is There More to Neuroexistentialism?

Professors Owen Flanagan (Duke University) and Gregg D. Caruso (SUNY Corning) penned an essay called Neuroexistentialism in The Philosophers’ Magazine. It briefly describes the project behind their recent book Neuroexistentialism: Meaning, Morals, and Purpose in the Age of Neuroscience from Oxford University Press. I haven’t yet read the book. But, having read the essay, I’m looking forward to seeing if the book offers other approaches to understanding meaning, morals and purpose than those alluded to in the essay. In the essay, Flanagan and Caruso seem to seek meaning in a trick box within which meaning would prove illusory.

There are two sides to this trick box. On one side of the trick box the search for meaning is trapped between the objective, observable – the work of scientific consensus and the sense making activity of meaning formation within single subjects.

To clarify, the neuroscientific approach, upon which we understand ourselves as 100 percent animal, to quote the essay, is a data driven approach. It is based on empirical, reproducible observations ostensibly free from subjectivity. Any observer of the data would come to the same conclusions.

Phenomenological investigations into meaning, upon which the essay seems to draw, stem from an analysis of the cogito or pre-reflective cogito. We see its appearance in Descartes through Sartre, both cited in the article. Phenomenological investigations place the creation of meaning within the subject.

We are thus trapped between two methodological approaches for conferring meaning on experience.

The other side of the trick box grows from the trouble with meaning. It is unclear, from a scientific perspective, why meaning is necessary. Proposing it as a fundamental, existential need is a statement of a subjective state. There are numerous examples of people who live without meaning or, at least, without meaning in the deep, existential sense to which it feels the authors of the essay allude.

Further, we can just as easily propose that meaning, in itself, is a memetic trick. It furthers the longevity and reproduction of ideas or sense patterns which have adopted ‘the meaning trick’ as a component. Evidence for this proposition is nearly tautological. However, it seems just as plausible, and potentially more satisfying to a data driven mind, as positing meaning as an existential need of the human condition.

We are here trapped in the definition of meaning. Though, that sounds like may well be a question the book covers which is not covered in the essay.

Both sides of the trick box point to a question on the role of the individual, whether as meaning maker, meaning seeker or carrier of memetic instruction. A question that does not, as yet, seem to have a naturalist answer. Namely, what makes one person behave differently than another?

Erich Fromm, in The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, speaks towards this with the concept of character. He defines character as “the relatively permanent system of all noninstinctual strivings through which man relates himself to the human and natural world.”

This question may eventually find a naturalist answer. We may one day find there aren’t ‘noninstinctual strivings’ or more, that there aren’t any non-scientifically identifiable and observable causal relationships behind our choices and actions. But the answer is still, as yet, not there.

In the book, Professors Flanagan and Caruso seek “to satisfy our existential concerns and achieve some level of flourishing and fulfilment” in the face of ever more persuasive naturalism. This seems an important question space.

One source of answers may be in what remains unknown. It seems an exploration and celebration of the individual, of the diversity of individuals (e.g. understanding what individuals value, the choices individuals make and what individuals create) may provide a more rewarding, and fruitful avenue than the trick box the essay suggests. This, and others, may be among the answers in the book. I look forward to finding out.

Meme as Philosophical Heuristic for Romantics

Do memes have to be real to have value? [utility] [instrumentality]

The concept of a meme can be a thought experiment, an intellectual tool, to evaluate ideas.  Can it provide an easy threshold for approaching ideas, for seeding doubt?

For example, reading Hegel we can explore the proposition: “…we comprehend and express the true not as substance but just as much as subject.” Substance and subject. There is a unity between truth value (is it true?) and the concept of truth (what is truth?). An ongoing dialogue, an inter-relation between how we know and what we know. An underlying ebb and flow in the nature of thinking and that which we think about.

“And when,…,thinking unites with itself the being of the substance and comprehends immediacy or intuition as thinking, it still remains decisive whether this intellectual intuition does not fall back into inter simplicity and present actuality in a non-actual manner.”

“The living substance is, further, that being which is in truth subject or – to say the same thing in other words – which is in truth actual only insofar as it is the movement of positing itself, or the mediation between a self and its development into something different.”

Further, “The true is its own becoming, the circle that presupposes its end as its aim and thus has it for its beginning -that which is actual only through its execution and end.”

It tugs at the soul. It feels like there’s depth. It makes one crave to explore further, dig deeper. It speaks to a yearning. Reading Hegel one can get swept up. One wants to get swept up.

Or, we can ask, is the depth a memetic trick? Is Hegel carrying a message that feels substantial, but when confronted, collapses at the prick of the memetic test? Is it trick for survival, replication of itself?

And that, alone, can break the spell.

And pave the path to well honed tools.

Subjecting Hegel to the scientific method we seem to search cultural processes, historic waves, interpretations of physical processes which exist only when conceived in a world encompassing whole, a totality (structuralized totality, to use Fromm). This seems tainted data.

When the consonance between observed phenomena and a hypothesis must pass through layers of interpretation of further hypotheses, through a totality, we seem on solid footing to reject that consonance and say the hypothesis is unsupported.

Hypotheses requiring data passed through believing is suspect. It calls for conformity of belief and interpretation rather than unfettered exploration of ideas.

Of course, one can get there with logic, with reasoned skepticism.

Russel: “Hegel thought that, if enough was known about a thing to distinguish it from all other things, then all its properties could be inferred by logic. This was a mistake, and from this mistake arose the whole imposing edifice of his system. This illustrates an important truth, namely, that the worse your logic, the more interesting the consequences to which it gives rise.”

But for a romantic, a stronger tonic is sometimes required to awaken reason. The memetic test can be that poison.

That being said, it is still intoxicating and pleasurable to partake of the illusion every now and then, dive into a little relaxation of the spirit.

Hegel: Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, and Walter Kaufmann. 2003. Hegel: texts and commentary : Hegel’s preface to his system in a new translation with commentary on Facing pages, and “Who thinks abstractly?”. Notre Dame, Ind: University of Notre Dame Press. All quotes are from Section II.1, pages 28 – 30.
Russell, Bertrand. 1973. A history of Western philosophy. New York: Simon and Schuster. Page 746


Memes and Individual Psyches – Building of Fromm

Memetic Fromm role of communityErich Fromm, Escape from Freedom, page 51

A Dialectic from Community

Community, organizations are critical to human survival. They create and constraint. They form us.

On page 89 Fromm says, “ideas which are not rooted in powerful needs of the personality will have little influence on the actions and on the whole life of the person concerned.”

Psyche first then ideas. We could flip that.

Whereas Fromm would have them an outcropping of a psychological need, memetics would have them as the blind result of successful adaptation and spread by memes themselves, without human agency.  The psychological fades into being biological / memeticological. That is, humans as meme carriers.

Is that real?

Is the psychological real?

Is there an avenue for putting the psychological between physical and memetic, which helps us better figure out what a meme truly is and how it operates?

For example, does a meme only exist with humans? can bees/ bee hives organized as they are, be examples of a successful meme?

If so, what is the role of psychology/individual human psyche? Perhaps nothing. Is it, rather, what our physical brains do when encountering so many memes?

Psyches Evolve

Instead of memes evolving from interaction with individual psyches, psyches evolve from interaction with a world of memes.

That sounds consistent with Blackmore and Dennett.

Memetic Fromm psyche evolves from socialErich Fromm, Escape from Freedom, page 52

A Genealogy and Dialectic of Memes

Nietzsche (The Gay Science: We Fearless Ones, and other places) paints striving and comfort in a world of continual uncertainty. Comfort in striving, surpassing. Becoming and more.

The medium is the message. Current events as reactions to a change in the environment. When people or communities react to social media they are not reacting to it’s contents, it’s silos of information. Rather they are reacting to the existence of social media itself.

Fromm, in Escape from Freedom, argues in the space of the tension arising from individuation and belongingness / security within a society. Drawing on that tension from the Reformation to parallels in the 1930’s, 1940’s. It seems applicable today, 2018, with respect to social media evolving and other factors in the world.

Were that the case, it seems we could catalogue memes across time and potentially across species (bees, etc/). A Genealogy of Memes? Meme pedigree?

Memes such as ‘class’ may serve a specific purpose. But that may be all that they are. We could deny the existence of class ontologically. See Project Management as a Meme.

From Fromm, insects’ social organization created by instincts.

Memetic Fromm instinctsErich Fromm, Escape from Freedom, page 47


Human culture (memes) a function of our lack of instinct – biological weakness in Fromm’s terms. A relationship between biological needs and the beginnings of culture, that is, memetic opportunity.

Memetic Fromm evolution of cultureErich Fromm, Escape from Freedom, page 48

But Are Memes Real?

All this prods the question again of what is a meme? What is idea stuff? Can we really say memes are real?

If they were we could use a meme genealogy to identify changes in the underlying organism, the carrier, such as may be happening now with humans and social media/ electronic media. We could examine earlier incarnations of the tension between individuation and belongingness/security. For example, totalitarianism, may be various mutations of the co-evolution working itself out or manifestations of whatever the underlying meme is.

It would be great were there some experiments or method we could cling to to reality check this or ground it.


Memes: Blackmore, S. J. (1999). The meme machine. Oxford [England: Oxford University Press.
Memes and consciousness: Dennett, D. C. (1991). Consciousness explained. Boston: Little, Brown and Co.
Fromm, Erich. 1968. Escape from freedom. New York: Avon Books.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1974. The gay science. USA: Vintage Books.
Project management as meme: Whitty, Stephen Jonathan. “A memetic paradigm of project management.” International Journal of Project Management 23, no. 8 (2005): 575-583.

Inventing Ourselves, Our Environment

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

Why We Go Deeper

meme machine

It could be we ask why, look deeper than surface, because that is a trait of successful memes.

To occupy our mind, to be spread, successful memes beg for more.

More mindshare. More processing power. More thinking about only them.

Them, relative to everything else. They are central.

Them, alone. They are all we need.

Them, still hidden behind even something new. Resurfacing, resurgent, after years.

More transmission. Whatever the format.

The media is malleable. The meme remains.

Mutated. Perhaps. But alive and growing.

Is depth a comfortable (or consuming) illusion of successful memes?

Not the illusion of obscurity, of muddy waters. Rather, the illusion of depth. That there is such a thing.

When we begin sense-making or way finding, encounter new data, access or create mental maps, we reach for patterns. Successful memes may be those patterns.


Memes: Blackmore, S. J. (1999). The meme machine. Oxford [England: Oxford University Press.
Memes and asking why, brains as prediction machines: Dennett, D. C. (1991). Consciousness explained. Boston: Little, Brown and Co.
Way finding: Morville, P. (2005). Ambient findability. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly.
Encounter new data: John R. Boyd, “Patterns of Conflict,” briefing presentation, December 1986, available at:
Mental maps and patterns:  Spencer, Donn (2009) Card Sorting: Designing Usable Categories. Rosenfeld Media
Young, Indi (2008) Mental Models: Aligning Design Strategy with Human Behavior. Rosenfeld Media
Neuroscience of mental maps: Search for ‘brain.’


Striving, Trust and Management

Critique of Pure Reason

Precursor Questions

Does Kant, in the Critique of Pure Reason, still hold together if we consider knowledge is all communication? Is knowledge purely a means of communication?

Is there a different knowledge if disconnected from communication?

Why would God communicate?

Is communication purely a product of the need to survive or is there a different sense of communication when we think about something beyond? Why would a contented God communicate? Or, rather, does this point to another reason for communication or another definition, one that is outside of the need to survive/be fit in an environment? A non-primal, perhaps more idealistic/metaphysical need?

When thinking about the existence of:

  • the spirit
  • soul
  • eternity
  • communication that is more than survival
  • God
  • knowledge being something more than a system that accurately describes the way things work.

That is, when thinking about anything being more than it is.

Why do we do that?

Why does it sometimes feel that there is more there? Why is there a drive away from the describable, away from low context? Reaching for high context? Is that simply part of how we discover? Is it the wiring of our particular consciousness, our particular style of prediction machine? Something we should accept and cease to wonder about; Or if we find it bothersome, move on to another style which makes this observation less interesting?

Poetry’s Role

[‘More or Less Human‘ Radiolab podcast]

Interacting with current AI’s fosters low context. Changes us.

To stay human / expand being human
We need new words
New ways of using words
New ways of communicating together

This is the challenge of poetry
Since it’s words
Since the Turing test is texting
Since AI recognizes certain phrases and intonations more than others

Since my son became “Call son mobile” on CarPlay
And my mother “Call ICE mom home.”

This is poetry.

The act of writing, in one’s own voice, adds new ways to describe things. To be human.

It may or may not resonate with anyone or find an audience. But the act itself creates.

Poetic Management

There is a relationship between communication and orientation toward uncertainty/ the approach toward uncertainty. Certain communication environments lend themselves much more to experimentation.

Too much fear of meeting sales quotas impacts this. Can companies with aggressive sales quotas have development groups that embrace uncertainty/ failure/ experimentation?

The sales orientation of the company and drivers of growth i.e. how important aggressive sales are to the company, impact the environment. Are customers a trusted community or revenue to extract? If one part of the corporate ecosystem, particularly one that is stressed as most important, lacks trust, can trust be established anywhere else in the company?

Without trust, experimentation falters. Cohesion moves from enthusiastic pursuit of something amazing to huddling together in fear. Disengagement occurs. Following the rules becomes appealing.

The model of a prediction machine is useful. In our particular style of prediction machine, we drive to low context. Towards a low context that fosters inefficiency. Decay. Declining margins. Declining quality. Declining revenue.

It seems an entropy we must continually and actively work against – by being human, embracing quirks, paths, journeys and strivings.

Is it contagious across cultures as the use of the same techniques, technologies and processes spread or are some cultures/models of consciousness resistant?

Building cultures, communication environments, shapes the consciousness. It shapes the prediction machine. It shapes how we invent and strive and trust.

At its apotheosis, it is poetry.

The alternative is succumbing. Going under.