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Sunday, December 7, 2014

Alien Technologies

Just as some explain the Ancient Egyptian Pyramids as the result of space alien intervention, some look at the exponential growth in computer and communications technologies over the last fifty years and conclude intellectual exchange with an extraterrestrial race must have occurred.  There is no other way to explain the sudden surge in complexity, they argue. 

It's true modern technology has taken off at a near-unbelievable rate.  My grandmother grew up with the horse and buggy, without central heat or running water.  A hundred years later, her great-grandchildren take SnapChat and robotic space exploration for granted.  For emerging middle classes in developing nations, the change must appear even more sudden.  Even more striking, perceived within a geologic timeframe this all appears to have happened in the blink of an eye. 

Sudden and successful innovation tends to alter the environment and ecology so rapidly it obscures our ability to perceive what was there before.  Whether it is the development of cell life, the Cambrian Explosion, the development of language and writing, agriculture, pyramids or modern technologies, the rapid onset and lack of historical knowledge leads humans to conclude it arose in the blink of an eye, created by an intelligence far beyond our own.  Just as the fog of war impacts the historical record, the success and domination of a well-adapted organism or technology obscures evidence of the world as it was before.  Unbounded success as well as catastrophe is the fodder for myth-building. 

The rapid growth of modern technologies was created through incremental gains in scientific knowledge and mechanical innovations.  The benefits of energy-hungry technologies outweighed the costs, creating pressure for the technology to be conserved.  Yet resource constrictions exerted pressure for technologies to become ever more efficient.  As a result, first and second generation technologies (think 8tracks and floppy disks) were not conserved and reproduced. 

It is easy for me to say this, I witnessed the transition.  However for the next generation, blessed with flash drives and computers which don't even have a port for a floppy disk, it would be easy to assume the flash drive was invented ex nihilo (or to misinterpret a floppy disc as a funky beverage coaster).  Careful investigation (and faithful transmission) of how technologies developed is necessary to avoid these misperceptions. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Aliens Built The Pyramids?

We know the physical limitations of the Ancient Egyptians.  They worked with copper tools, had no pulleys or other simple machines which made the medieval cathedrals possible, yet their civilization left monuments over forty stories high. 

A lack of information on how they accomplished this feat has led some to conclude aliens were responsible for these marvels of antiquity.  It's understandable, in a way.  The civilization studied doesn't seem to have the capabilities to create this artifact, therefore look for another civilization responsible for the item's creation.  This path is useful if you want to explain how a necklace made from material only found in South America was uncovered at Cahokia Mounds (it was transported over trade routes) or how steam-engine technology developed  in England suddenly appeared in the conquered territories of its empire.  The conclusion that aliens built the pyramids is the interweaving of a pattern observed in the interactions of human civilizations with concepts from the space age.  It makes an exciting story, but it lacks material support.  It is myth, not theory.

Suggesting aliens built the pyramids requires an alien race to have interstellar travel...yet even with this advanced technology, still be dependent on human gain human cooperation or compliance, they must expend effort at communication and physical control.  After accomplishing all this (for reasons unknown) these aliens would leave without further trace or impact.  Such a theory requires an inordinate level of faith and dismisses evidence in support of competitive theories.  It is more implausible, demanding greater evidence than the initial theory that the Egyptians themselves built these structures.

But in emphasizing the terrestrial origins of the pyramids, we must note they are not simply the result of human ingenuity, though they attest to the power of ideas to unify people in the pursuit of a resource-hungry goal.  They stand as a testament to states and religions, the technologies of complex ideas.  However they are also products of the elegant and simple evolutionary algorithm.

The Egyptian climate acted as a selective pressure on beliefs about an afterlife and resulting funerary practices. Pit graves in the desert evolved into mastabas, perhaps influenced by grave robbing and/or drifting sands which would have obscured smaller burial sites.  (This would be the economic/social climate exerting as much selective pressure as the geographic climate.) 

Imhotep innovated the first known step pyramid by stacking consecutively smaller mastabas on top of each other.  Egyptian creation myths may have laid the foundation of his idea.  Alternatively, the optical illusion of the sun rising or setting in the desert appearing to form a step pyramid may have also inspired him.  Though we memorialize Imhotep and the Egyptians deified him, had he not existed it is possible another would have innovated a similar step pyramid.  It is the social, economic, intellectual and material environments which play the greatest role in innovation, not the brilliance of the individual. 

More remarkable still is the intense growth and innovation of pyramid construction in the following 100 years.  It is comparable to the innovation of high-rise buildings and skyscrapers in the modern age.  Snefru commanded the construction of the Pyramid of Meidum.  It was a step pyramid with a limestone casing forming the structure of a true pyramid.  This design was quickly eliminated by the selective pressure of gravity. 

Next the Egyptians tried a pyramid with an initial design angle of 55 degrees.  When gravity once again threatened with structural failure, they adjusted the angle to 43 degrees, which left the legacy of the bent pyramid.  However, Snefru was not deterred.  Perhaps he was spurred on by the allure of immortality or religious devotion.  Perhaps he had political ideas of consolidating and centralizing power.  It is this adaptation, this response to natural limitations and motivations which drives life and technology forward.  Under his reign the Egyptians attempted a third design, successfully completing a true pyramid. 

His son, Kufu built the great pyramid at Giza, yet the full articulation of Ancient Egyptian theology and the resulting innovations in burial customs and tomb decoration had yet to evolve.  This evolutionary history was obscured by desert sands and time.  Persistence rewarded investigators with the answers to the origins of the pyramids.  And yet these answers provoke more questions and a drive towards even more investigation. 

Do not simply dismiss the idea of alien pyramid builders.  It is an interesting study of the process of human inquiry complicated by the limitations of human perceptions and assumptions.  It is a complex story of the interbreeding of ideas.  For more in-depth discussion of the evolution of the pyramids, see Pete Vanderzwet's article The Evolution of the Egyptian Pyramid.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Trees of Life

I find myself running ahead, painting with broad strokes, even when I've promised to start small and go steady.  It's challenging to find a professional voice when your inner child is wondering at the complexity of memetic variation, running from pillar to post. 

The inner child and the activist need to express themselves, even if the scientist is a little taken aback.  I can't help but be passionate about social issues.  Memetics helps us to understand the complexities of our inner as well as social lives, and when we start to grasp those patterns we see how social interactions and judgments are restricted by the current paradigm, and I speak on topics the hard sciences are accustomed to remaining silent about.

I have faith readers may pardon me for excitement and personal bias.  Even the most rational among us are humans, not Straw Vulcans.  Science isn't just the accumulation of facts and the dispassionate reiteration of them.  It is the ability to understand, question and adapt policies and traditions we've taken for granted in light of new knowledge.  It is responding to changes of stimuli and information in our environment, a basic process of life.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Ritual Human Sacrifice In the Modern USA

The firing squad has a long history in the state of Utah, with some tracing its preservation to the concept of blood atonement found in Mormonism and wider cultural traditions and Christian doctrines. Most states in the US abolished firing squads in favor of the gas chamber and electric chair, finally (for the most part) phasing those out in favor of lethal injection.  Many citizens do not realize that the last execution by firing squad in Utah occurred in 2010.  Within this context it is little surprise that with current controversy over the process of lethal injection, some lawmakers want to revive the firing squad in Utah. (Though for people unaware of this history, especially the European drug manufacturers who boycotted sales to the USA, it must be quite shocking.)

The evolution of the death penalty and its eventual abolition in many countries is a fascinating study of memetic adaptation and extinction.  Of equal value is the study of how the death penalty persists as an acceptable state action in the USA.  This murder of a citizen is viewed as a deterrent to other criminals, although studies have demonstrated deterrence is ineffective.  It is viewed as justice even though studies have shown inequality in its application and faults within the judicial system.  In a land which adores the ideals of personal conscience and the ability of a person to reinvent themselves, people actively and passively play their part in a social machine which annihilates someone.

The actions of European drug manufactures are a form of selective pressure against the death penalty in the USA.  This action has stirred up controversy and consciousness, but that wasn't the main objective.  The initial goal was the same objective as boycotting sugar, tea and coffee during the slave trade (a concept which was tied to personal purity and influenced some of the prohibitions within Mormonism, btw).  It is a disruption of energy flow in the economic ecosystem.  It creates a decline in resources, placing pressure on the executioners to slow the schedule of executions or perhaps even halt their action.  But execution is a resilient memeplex in the USA.  It has many pressures feeding it (social memes, laws, institutional policies, pensions, etc.)  It will not die easily when faced with one single resource challenge.  Instead it adapts, using other forms of execution or going forward with botched lethal injections. 

But the boycott of the drug companies is an important innovation.  Instead of consumers boycotting a product to protest corporate production practices, this is a supplier refusing to provide a commodity, decreasing revenues and exposing themselves to some financial loss.  In an age where the drive for profit seems to be the ultimate moral law, the European manufacturers are making a statement that the value of human life is even greater. 

Though American culture has adapted the "humane" meme from Europe, it has simply integrated "humane" with the "execution" memeplex.  We can kill someone as long as they feel minimal or no pain, or as long as they are unable to show pain, as long as suffering is unobserved.  Yet if a man were on trial for vivisecting victims would he be exonerated if he could demonstrate that he took inordinate care that they were anesthetized to the whole experience?  Of course not. 

It's a matter of who has a right to be violent.  The violence of individual humans can be at times gruesome and horrifying, motivated by fear, hatred, self-defense and social conditioning.  Sometimes individual violence is the result of frustrations and survival instincts, motivated by memeplexes.   The collective violence of groups is even more frightening with its feedback loops and mob mentality.  Science is just starting to understand these processes of the human experience, allowing us to develop rationally based interventions.  But more horrifying than human violence (because our minds and bodies do not react viscerally to it) is the methodical and mechanical destruction of an individual caught within the legal machine.  We are unwittingly complacent and trusting until such violence hits close to home.  We can participate in it and rationalize it as "duty".  Just as we should be wary about granting human rights to corporations, we should be concerned over any institution claiming a right to violence.  Corporations, laws and other complex memetic machines should be in the service of humanity.  The European drug manufactures understand this well. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A Note to Fellow Atheists

Atheists are killing evolutionary (and memetic) theory. 
If we want to set ourselves apart from religions, we have to stop practicing the out-group derision, attraction-based recruitment, lack of self-criticism and leader-worship we've inherited from them.  Maybe we need some ego-stroking to counterbalance public and private ridicule we've faced.  At some point, however, it becomes counterproductive.

Religions are intricate memeplexes which interface with personal identity and action (what Blackmore terms the "selfplex").  So it is not as simple as Richard Dawkins recently claimed in a tweet on November 1,
        "It's possible to offend or insult a person, or hurt a person's feelings. 
         But you can't offend a belief. Beliefs have no feelings to hurt." 

Beliefs interfaced with a brain can respond defensively, throwing the host into intellectual and emotional turmoil.  Of course the host will respond negatively to the other person, identifying them as the cause of their pain.  That is what our brains do...they look for human action and intention.

If you want to reach someone & not just preach to the choir or "save the few who will listen", you have to reach out effectively, with consideration for the person and their ability to think critically.  Don't berate and don't infantilize.  Understand how thought processes, due to memeplexes, evolve over time.  Education doesn't happen overnight.

If we let our frustrations get the best of us, we'll sink evolution and memetics.  Frustration is good:  it shows when we're hitting heads against a brick wall.  Find ways to dig deeper if you truly want to get through. 

Most importantly, don't alienate allies. Don't tie science, evolutionary theory or memetic theory exclusively to atheism.  Even the most hard-set, true believers can learn the scientific method and begin to apply it to parts of the world which they feel comfortable with.  Let them dig deep into the history of religion.  Let them study evolution to discover flaws which they can discuss with you.  Don't alienate them from the scientific discourse.

Educate, don't be a "frustrated hammer".  Value intellectual growth.

Let's not approach this as saving the few that we can.  I'm not for converting everyone to my point of view, either in an instant or a lifetime.  I value diversity of viewpoints.  I'm for the collective improvement of our human lot. I'm not ok with sacrificing the few or the many to get to a better future.  I'm delighted if a believer looks deeply into memetics, picks up the torch and runs with it.  I won't turn them away.  I assume atheists will make the most headway in memetics, but that's just an assumption. I look forward to someone proving it wrong.  I think most atheists are too protective to evaluate the scientific process in light of meme theory, and perhaps believers could have valuable insights there.  We all have something to contribute to the conversation.  Deny no one a seat at the table.

Friday, November 7, 2014

How Chain Letters Get Inside Our Heads

We last addressed how Cat Memes colonize the internet (and our hearts) through connecting with widely recognized cultural memes as well as our basic human emotions.

The work of Daniel W. VanArsdale on Chain Letter structure, emotional integration with human hosts  and replicative ability is pivotal in developing memetic theory.  Since Chain Letters contain more text than Cat Memes and fewer graphics, Chain Letters can be mined for quantitative data more easily.  The linguistic structure can be analyzed, articulating the anatomy of the chain letter.  VanArsdale's work is the first I've come across which analyses a printed text from the perspective of memetic theory.

He traces the lineage of chain letters from "letters from heaven" which circulated in Europe for several centuries.  As the cultural environment changed, chain letters adapted, keying into different emotional and social drives.  Focus shifted from religious motivations to money, good luck and social advocacy. 

Letters threatening disaster if they weren't copied had a survival advantage as did letters including the affirmation "It works!".  Even more compelling were ambiguous hints of future reward: "see what happens to you on the fourth day". 

Most notably, VanArsdale investigates how chain letters set up distribution networks and key into basic human drives to gain human compliance.  In the process of copying, innovation ("It works!") as well as mistakes in transcription (make 8 copies ~ make 88 copies) create mutations which sometimes provide survival advantage to a lineage of letters. 

There is much work to be done in investigating chain letters.  VanArsdale's work does not delve into e-mail chain letters nor examines how different forms of copying (handwritten, photocopy, free & fast email) impact the spread of chain letters.

Whether you're looking for a research topic or more concrete evidence of memes, 
Chain Letter Evolution is a vital resource.  Best of all, it's available online for free. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

What Meme-Cats Teach Us

These crazy cat pictures (often with atrociously misspelled captions) circulate the internet with entire blogs and chat boards dedicated to them.  Yet, meme theorists don't take them seriously.  They're viewed as bastardizations of meme-theory...something that's too main-stream pop-culture to be examined closely. 

Because these are small, mostly visual snip-its of information, they're easier memeplexes to examine than say, a religious belief system or legal structure.  Several doctoral theses could be flown under the meme-cat banner. 

Take for instance the "Invisible Positive Pregnancy Test".  It has wide appeal as the cat's "reaction" could be interpreted as excitement or shock.  Even people who haven't personally experienced a moment like this can reference the cultural narrative of "the positive pregnancy test".  Because it doesn't encode bits of a larger memeplex (religious or political overtones) it has the ability to appeal to a wide audience.   The mirror neurons are firing.

"Whoever Said You Were Adopted" also anthropomorphizes the animals shown.  It references the media coverage of inter-species bonding (check these weird stories out) and appeals to our affection for cuteness.  Again, even if someone hasn't experienced this personally, they can reference the larger, cultural narrative about it.  It integrates with widely recognized cultural references and appeals to our emotional drives.  Success!

"Acute Kitty" doesn't anthropomorphize.  It shows the contortionist antics of a cat which might appeal to cat lovers as well as people who have no idea a cat is this flexible.  The caption also references math humor and corny humor, two sub-genres of jokes.   So "Acute Kitty" is more subtle with it's emotional integration, more dependent on the cultural references than the immediate emotional response of the viewer.  Wouldn't it be interesting to compare
"Acute Kitty" 's spread to the two previous memes?

"Gathering Wheat for The Motherland" references political history, the propaganda posters of social-realism and triggers the polarized emotions of the "should people put costumes on pets" debate.

"We Need to Find You a Boyfriend" references the urban-legend of women who are too obsessed with their cats to maintain a romantic relationship.  This puts a fun twist on it, suggesting the cats aren't enjoying this relationship.  It also triggers the emotions around the "costume" debate.

Clearly, to make a successful cat-meme (or any meme for that matter) references to existing memeplexes as well as integration with a hosts' (propagators') emotions is key. 

Notice such balance and integration need not be thought-out.  Someone may come up with a meme-cat which appeals to them & since they share certain cultural narratives and mental processes with others, the meme is able to spread.  In this way, memes mutate and propagate without the need of conscious design.  Creativity is often an organic process, designed by the culture and shared neurological patterns, not simply individual brilliance and a strategic plan. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

How We Teach Science: Science as Relgion

American science is a litany of Scientific saints.  Newton, Galileo, Edison and the Wright Brothers. We make the nod to minorities by recognizing George Washington Carver and Madame Curie.  Science is misrepresented in the classroom, with the result of most students alienated from the scientific process and discovery. 

We tie science in with the national mythology of progress, highlighting improvement and accumulation of knowledge with a triumphal narrative.  Classroom experiments involve predetermined questions, steps and outcomes.  Rarely is a genuine question asked and if it is (and the answer isn't in the textbook) it is left unanswered and worse, uninvestigated. 

So when an American says Science is just another religion, they aren't simply being ignorant.   They may be reflecting a keen observation of Science education in this country.  We are spoon-fed wrote answers and expected to regurgitate.  Rewards are received for performance and conformity, silencing curiosity and innovation because they are inefficient class-time management.   We are told our futures depend on our ability to perform.  The Good Textbook rules over all (until the next edition).

This obscures how science grows in fits and starts often overgrowing with factions competing for minds until disagreement and confusion rule.  Only a scientific revolution prunes and trellises this overgrowth. 

But we are unaware that this disagreement and confusion is a sign of an imminent paradigm shift, we simply read it as chaos.  We don't know that most experiments end in failure and that persistence and rethinking the questions asked are key to solving the riddles in our universe. 

This misunderstanding is compounded by well-intentioned individuals like Bill Nye and Neil DeGrasse Tyson who seek to engage the public in science by highlighting science's predictive powers, assurance and material benefits.  They want us to fall in love with going to Mars but don't give us the real picture that will allow us to develop a long term relationship with the scientific process.

Even those of us in the "sciences" are disenfranchised from a deep understanding of Science.  For the professional scientist it's the manipulation of numbers, the collection of data, the rat-race of publish or perish.  Understanding the Scientific process is relegated to the philosophers who read Thomas S. Kuhn (and even they struggle with it).  This widespread scientific illiteracy is satirized by The Big Bang Theory.

What if science education looked more like this:

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Why Richard Dawkins is Unatractive in the USA

When Americans, especially believing Americans, hear Richard Dawkins speak, they perceive it through the filter of the American experience.  Our experience is a collection of political myths, small historic facts and unarticulated insecurities over economic structures.  When we hear "evolution" we think "survival of the fittest" and we think:  "I know that all too well".  It's a jungle out there.

We've been placed in competition with other workers since before the spinsters strike in Lowell, MA.  Social Darwinism was debunked in academic circles long ago but no one has informed the economic systems of this.  So when we hear "evolution" we think of brutish, harsh resource restrictions, not the intricate emergence of stellar systems, geography, life and culture.  We think "competition" not "cooperation" nor "interdependency".

Science fascinates and frightens us.  It has dubious ties with political funding of arms races, industrial health care, and elite power.  It's something we are taught to believe in, not something we are taught to practice.  Because we are fed the mythic history, because we are discouraged from criticizing the economic system, we often place blame on Science.  It seems cold, mechanical, calculating.  The human element is left out.  We deal with the complexities of religious organizations because they seem to humanize the markets and help us believe that something better is possible.  It might be an illusion, it might be short-term rewards with long-term costs, but we are humans who don't always see the long-term picture.

We embrace normative conformity and admire or privately dismiss those who accept religious ideology more than we do.  But we also are cautious of anyone who openly bucks the system.  We worry about falling into a lower circle of hell in this existence.

So we trust our own experience over religion and science.  We are skeptical of any new person claiming authority.  We want to learn but we don't want someone to point out how little we know as we grovel for crumbs of knowledge.

If science wants to make headway in the USA, it will have to learn from the mistakes of Religion.  And Science must accept the good lessons from the Religious Era too.  Be an ally of the poor, the weak, the disenfranchised, not just in word but in deed.  Reach out and improve this existence, person to person, make the human connection and empower others.

Most importantly, be truthful about the advance of Science:

Darwin is not a saint:  He sat on the shoulders of scientists who came before him and he had his bias.  His studies in a tropical environment shaped his focus on competition.  Russian evolutionary theorists who succeeded Darwin studied the Siberian tundra and saw cooperation and interdependency as the main drive of evolution, not competition.  Let's value that contribution & insight. 

Science and the Theory of Evolution are not cold and calculating.  They aren't the ally of the strong against the weak.  They show how our desires to work together, to be considerate and to improve our collective circumstances are a natural drive, not some gift to brutes from the beyond. 

But when Dawkins speaks, we do not hear this.  We hear ridicule.  We hear shame and devaluation of the internal experience of transcendence.  We hear a British preacher saying "this is the new and only way" and we are a rebellious people.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Gravity, The Occult and Original Sin

Meme theory is playing a slightly different tune but with a familiar chorus.  The concept of "meme" was coined by an evolutionary biologist (Dawkins)  who cautiously subscribes (as any scientist thoroughly inculcated by "normal science" should) to the existing paradigm of mental health.  Why shouldn't he?  These ideas were formulated and tested using scientific methods.  It would be hubris for him, an evolutionary biologist, to go ransacking and questioning the presumable foundations of another scientific discipline. 

Dawkins takes the conservative route.  He looks at the existing framework of mental health, what he knows of human history and biology and he sees otherwise decent, healthy people behaving in arrogant, hateful and destructive ways.  He perceives this behavior is due to the beliefs they hold and their unwillingness to question them.  He theorizes there is a percentage of people who just aren't quite right in the head who have traditionally played the role of shaman and priest, leading the rest of humanity astray.  He places memes in the service of the existing mental health framework, when memetics should be rewriting the mental health paradigm

Without the framework of the new memetic paradigm we attribute odd and undesirable behaviors to a flaw in an individual's neurobiology. Memetics offers a second, primary cause: contagious ideas.

Dawkins inherited a very traditional meme.  In accepting the mainstream psychological paradigm (build from the de-mythologizing of a Western religious paradigm of human nature), Dawkins mirrors the beliefs of those who adamantly disagree with him. 

"Mental illness" is a re-working of "original sin", just as "gravity" was originally a reworking of "nature".  

"You have the wrong ideas.  Here are the right ideas, accept them from my authority.  Repent.  Seek help.  Acknowledge your failings and you can be treated, though never fully cured. "  Only without the resurrection of the dead, life everlasting and a hope of social justice, it's a rather bitter pill to swallow.  Believers don't see the hope of Science and Reason when they hear Dawkins speak: they hear something too familiar, too stripped bare to be comfortable with. 

The current mental health paradigm is not an elite conspiracy.  It's not an evil scheme to make psychologists and drug companies rich.  It's a naturally evolved outcome from the application of science to the individual mind in the petri dish of Western Civilization.  It's unpleasant but we can work through it.  We are in the crisis stage of an obsolete paradigm. 

The current Mental Health paradigm preserves the traditional explanation of human nature because there was (until now) no alternative to replace it with.  Normal Science doesn't throw paradigms out, it tries desperately to make them work until they shatter under pressure. 

It's time to embrace human nature in all that fascinates and troubles us; it's time to move forward.  'Meme' allows us to investigate cultural bits of the human experience and distinguish them from the human actors.  We stop talking about who coined and invented what idea (and what their mother must have done to cause it) and instead consider the movement and mutation of the ideas themselves. 

So as long as we don't have a means of measuring and testing memes, they remain "philosophical".  "Meme" is just a new word for "thought", "idea" or "word".  But without using the term "meme" we get caught in the current paradigm.  "Meme" is a thought tool on the cusp of becoming a theory.  And like every adolescent, it's development will be an awkward and fascinating journey.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Domesticated Homo Sapiens

We developed a symbiotic relationship with memeplexes from the start.  Language domesticated us.  Memeplexes played a  parenting role, stabilizing our food supplies, developing architecture.  As we domesticated other species, we domesticated ourselves, through cooking and tool making and telling stories. 

We are poorly adapted to survival in the wilderness.  We need tools and often companions to gather and hunt dinner.  We need shelter and clothing to protect us from the elements.  We quickly learned to create synthetic environments (the city being a prime example) and these environments changed rapidly (compared to geologic and ecologic change) and our natural bodies and brains have struggled to adapt with them.

We domesticated ourselves, selecting mates for their mechanical and linguistic aptitude, social skills, reputation and creativity.  Creativity is an interesting one because it involves a flexibility of the mind, playfulness, a juvenile trait.  And something curious happened: our features became rounder, eyes became wider, brows less prominent and our jaws shrank.  These smaller, juvenile features demonstrate the paedomorphosis of humanoids to modern humans. 

We shunned and executed those among us who were too aggressive and assertive...something we also did to other species in the process of domestication. 

Memeplexes extended childhood, even empowered people to experience lifelong "immaturity"  (meaning a dependency on the society & memeplexes to feed, clothe and shelter).  This has increased physical security and leisure time, meaning an increased potential for learning and an increased opportunity for creativity.  This has also increased life expectancy, material goods and food security.

Memeplexes are so intricately intertwined with us that we find it difficult to imagine our existence without them.  They often encourage deference to the group consensus, belief in supernatural entities and other practices which complicate our lives as much as they may help.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Minds We Create--Domestication

[This post is human-centric.  No big surprise there, since a dog clearly did not write this.  Bias is ok as long as we work in awareness of it.  For a more accurate insight into the process of domestication check out this article on dog domestication and borrow The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan from your local library.]

Whether we domesticated them for food, labor, defense or companionship (or a combination of all) we have shaped not just the physical attributes but the cognitive functions of domesticated species. 

We have made dogs and cats docile, perpetually juvenile, compared to their wild counterparts.  This has even extended vocal communication in cats.  Feral adult cats and wild cats rarely vocalize while their domestic relations mew dependently for every meal.  Dogs remain playful long after physical maturity, extending their learning as well as their adolescence.

Darwin aptly articulated the physical variations human selection of plants and animals creates among domesticated species.  The same can be said of the cognitive capacity and protomemes of domestic animals compared to variations within their species and in comparison to their wild relatives.  A Pit Bull's response to physical threat is quite different from a Sheltie's. The adult Wolf's means of acquiring dinner are quite different from the Papillon.

Cats have retained more independence as their main function was pest control and they needed little encouragement to fill that niche.  Dogs on the other hand depended on reading social signals and moods of humans.  Because of this dogs developed an ability to read human facial expressions, and respond to verbal and non-verbal cues (which most cats, as any roommate of one will know, feel too intelligent to do on any reliable basis).  Dogs even developed the ability to point (for hunting purposes) and to decode human pointing (something most creatures, even those closely related to us, cannot do). 

This shaping of cognitive and emotional function extends to farm animals as well and explains why animals in confined, industrial environments respond in ways similar to human psychological disorders.  We shaped them to function in a pastoral environment, complete with social stimuli, human husbandry and natural cycles, then rapidly changed that environment.  Since we control the breeding, even after the species has lost its ability to mate independently, such as with Angus cows (where natural mate selection is not permitted) and Domesticated turkeys (where the birds were bred to have so much meat they are physically incapable of breeding), these animals have lost all ability to adapt or go extinct, caught in a vicious cycle of human manufacture, driven by markets rather than gene-environment interplay. 

But there is another brain/body which we have domesticated with even more complex outcomes: Our own. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Cuttlefish and Octopus

For the last several posts we've talked about brains and intelligence in a very vertebrate-centered way (though we did briefly address the protomemetic intelligence of bacteria, fungi, ants and bees).  Let's take a side-exploration on the banyan-tree-of-life and explore cephalopods.  These creatures lost their protective shells early on which placed selective pressure on them to become agile hunters and crafty escape artists. 

There was no pressure exerted on the octopus to develop social networks and they rarely interact (except to mate and eat each other).  Their intelligence is cumulative over a lifetime, but not shared.  They easily adapt to artificial environments and show incredible mechanical aptitude.  They do however have incredibly advanced neural and optic systems which allow them to mimic venomous species and inedible environments, triggering reactions in predators which aid in their survival.  This is a protomemetic exchange, but it is a very advanced one, changing rapidly as different environments and threats are encountered on an individual, not collective, basis. 

Look at it this way: You, as a human, need other humans to survive (or needed their help to survive until you could create an illusion of being totally self-reliant).  The octopus is so flexible in assessing new situations and has been so well-adapted through the whole of evolutionary history that it never was required to become social. It has avoided the convoluted complexities of social interaction due to a quirk of selective pressures. 

Cuttlefish have developed slightly differently. They compete for mates with elaborate displays.  Smaller males who can't compete with larger ones will "cross dress" to avoid conflict with large males and get closer to females.  So they have a slightly stronger social interaction.  They therefore must have had a high enough population density at some point in evolutionary history to trigger and reward competitive and seductive mating behaviors.  Cuttlefish will also turn their skin into an elaborate pulsating display to stun prey.  These displays are protomemetic communication, triggering instinctive responses in others that aid their survival and reproduction.   

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


Selective pressures usually oppose ever-larger brains.
Survival depends on the conservation of energy and big brains are calorie hogs.  Therefore big brains are rare.  They do things that (as far as we can tell) smaller brains don't have the computing power for. 

Dolphins have the capacity for abstract thought and complex memetic communication, complete with regional dialects.  How did such a brain develop?

Through the fossil record and genetics, we are able to piece together the development of Dolphins, like forensic scientists recreating a crime scene.  Thirty-nine million years ago, odontocetes (an order inclusive of toothed whales, beaked whales, sperm whales dolphins and porpoises) diverged from the ancestral Archaeoceti group.  For the ancestors of modern dolphins, body size decreased and brain size increased.  Echolocation emerged which helped locate food and networked individuals more effectively.  The interplay of selective pressures and the survival advantage created by these new survival strategies spurred the growth of the Dolphin brain.  This interplay led to another growth spurt around Fifteen million years ago.  The more a dolphin depended on communication to survive, the more environmental pressures selected for big brains.

Researchers are still trying to "crack the code" of Dolphin language, which due to its complex relationship with the ocean environment and Dolphin experience, has not been as easy to decipher as researchers in the 1960s had hoped.  But researchers are increasingly aware that when a problem seems unsolvable, it often means we need to approach it in a new way, asking different questions and questioning assumptions.

Dolphins are creatures like us, who clearly have memetic communication built on top of protomemetic communication.  Understanding the protomemetic framework which creates structure for memetic communication is our first step in decoding Dolphin language. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Do You Remember Dinosaurs? (A Fun Sidenote on Memetics)

Dinosaurs was on air when I was in preschool, and Dad just loved it.  That's what I'd started to call him, "Dad" instead of "Daddy".  My oldest brother was home from college and wouldn't play along with calling him "Daddy" anymore.  (Can you blame him?)

When I asked my brother why he called Daddy that, he said "Daddy" was ok for a little kid but he's grown up, so he calls Daddy "Dad".  I thought, "I'm not little!"  So I started calling Daddy "Dad" and Mommy "Mom".

Dad liked Dinosaurs because it was about an average working guy with a well-educated, liberal wife, two teenagers and a baby and of course, the grandma.  We were a multigenerational family too. 

I just loved the show!  It looked almost like Sesame Street, only with a lot of Oscar the Grouches and all the big people watched it.  I wanted to be big too!  So every time Dad watched Dinosaurs I'd go into the living room. 

Pretty soon the predictable happened.   After all, I was the baby of the family and the star attraction of the show was: Baby.  I started picking up on Baby's bad habits like doing something mildly destructive then saying "I'm the baby, gotta love me!"

There was a girl sitting next to my second brother on the couch.  She had blond hair and a nice smile.  I stood in front of them, leaned into my brother and said, "So, are you gonna kiss her?"  He turned beet red and made a quick exit.  Maybe she was a baby sitter?  Who knows. 

Long story short my bed time was moved to half an hour earlier & I started sneaking downstairs to watch Dinosaurs from the stairwell.  Mom or Grandma would catch me and send me back to bed.  And so the narrative was created and stuck, that Dinosaurs was something for big people that I was not allowed to have yet. 

So, when I started school and the teacher asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I didn't say a princess or a firefighter, I said "Dinosaurs.  I want to watch Dinosaurs!"  And that was my introduction to paleontology and all those cool dino names and dreaming of excavations in our backyard to resurrect the bones and bring the characters to life.  By the time  I was in first grade, the idea of the TV show had melted away but the love-affair with everything prehistoric was hopelessly implanted forever in my brain.  It helped me fall in love with time travel stories and creative writing, Einstein, Geoscience and the theory of natural selection. 

Morals of the story: 

Memes start implanting in our brains at the start of language acquisition, long before rational thought processes develop. 

Ideas grow, scaffolding onto existing ones, melding in complex ways even in extremely young brains.

Never assume someone is too young or too uninformed to take an interest in your subject, assume you're teaching it wrong. 

For memeticists and other scholars: Don't look down your nose at the artists and comedians.  They are your allies: they can reach audiences you will not. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Protomemes vs. Memes

I want to avoid endless coinage of terms because as mentioned previously, endlessly coining terms without a methodology for testing memetics just convolutes the conversation and wastes energy. 

However, when our minds get hung up on the improper use of a term or the lack of clear definitions, it becomes necessary to alter the dialogue with a little linguistic innovation.

Saying other living organisms have memes goes too far for's  a deviation from the definition of meme (a bit that transmits culture).

Bacterial colonies and ant colonies do not have culture.

The chemical memes talked about earlier are transmitters.  They carry information from one individual to another, creating a network of communication and giving the network a stronger survival advantage than the individual.   But calling them real memes may be going too far.

Or perhaps we can call those chemical signals, body postures etc. "memes" but call the bits that form human culture "true memes" so we can tell them apart? 

(But then you get tangled up with the emotional weight applied to the word "true" and the devaluation of the regular "meme" which is widespread in nature and deserves equal attention).

So KISS me baby: Keep It Simple & Stupid.

Don't overcomplicate things if you don't have to.

This is what we'll do:

The chemical memes, postures, etc. which are network signals and form the scaffolding for cultural memes will be called "proto-memes" from now on.  This shows their pre-emergence and critical role of scaffold for human cultural memes.  The cultural memes we'll keep calling memes.  There we go, simple and devoid of emotional weight.  Let's keep going.

Thursday, September 25, 2014


We left off talking turkey.
Turkeys suffer from the general sterotype of having bird-brains, yet they have an innate, instinctual intelligence which has been honed by natural selection.  So, let's look at the lineage of a thanksgiving meal.

It is now generally accepted that birds are the modern descendants of a branch of dinosaurs.  Going back to the fossil record, we have evidence that some dinosaurs like hadrosaurs had well developed organs for communication.  Other dinosaurs cared extensively for their young for months after hatching.  They were social creatures.  They utilized memes.  Their memes were also closely tied to genetic concerns. 

For most organisms, memes remain in strict service to the genes.  Deviations from this servile position can endanger the individual and group (if the memes fail to promote survival behaviors) as well as expend too many calories (by stimulating activities unrelated to survival and reproduction). 

Human memes are a special case.  They are unique, they are more complex, but they may not be as advantageous as the commoner types of memes we see in the rest of the animal kingdom.  Environmental pressures select for small brains and caloric efficiency.  If most creatures had the capability to reflect on the human brain and its caloric consumption, they would no doubt conclude it is an aberration. 

Yet, the human brain is a product of natural selection.  Stripped of physical defenses, we were dependent on individual and group cunning to maintain our status among the living.  We fit into a niche: bipedal, defenseless omnivore.  The environment selected increased communication organs and large brains.

Dale Russell suggested that given other environmental pressures the dinosaur lineage might have produced humanoid creatures.  This theorizing is productive in that it allows us to understand the algorithmic nature of natural selection.  It is possible our niche could have been filled by creatures rather different from ourselves.  We are a special case, but we are not unique, elect or chosen.  We are natural.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

An Alien Intelligence: Turkeys

Wild turkeys are a wonderful example of genetic and memetic evolution.    Imprinting of a parental voice and vocalization begins before hatching. The display by males to communicate dominance is observed in young poults less than a week old.  Wild turkeys have distinctive vocalizations for distress, reassurance and even identification of poisonous and non-poisonous snakes.  Their vocalizations serve to network data about their environment, providing information which increases individual survival within the group.  This is especially vital to the survival of the species during the crucial stages of development, before reproduction, when an individual brain does not have enough experience and memory to navigate the environment on its own. 

In the first couple weeks, turkeys rely on the mother completely for protection.  They play and explore the environment close to the mother.  As they become larger, caution decreases and curiosity increases and they learn about their environment through networked, coordinated behavior as well as individual experience.  This activity appears to be completely dependent on the genes. 

Turkeys do not have language as humans do.  Instead, they have a set of memes directly created by the environmental selection of genes.  These memes trigger chemical cascades in their brains and bodies.  Alert calls create excited behavior, the flight/fight response and close physical proximity to family members.  Roosting calls trigger relaxation, allowing all brains in the network to power down in a synchronized fashion.  These roosting calls may be triggered by a change in light frequency as the sun sets or other environmental cues.  The genes and memes are closely tied to the environment because selective pressure demands efficiency.  Pain and other stimuli elicit vocalizations which trigger chemical cascades in others, facilitating survival.

This is instinctive knowledge, grafted onto emotional (chemical) and physical internal networks.  For a fascinating encounter with this alien intelligence, check out My Life As A Turkey, the story of Joe Hutto's study of the wild turkey in its natural habitat.

Continue to Dinosaurs

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Waggle Dance of Bees

Individual bee brains network through chemical signals, but that's not the only communication they use. The waggle dance, first documented by Karl von Frisch in 1973, helps individuals tell others where sources of nectar and pollen are.  Though the waggle dance does not have grammar or a set of symbols and may not be considered true language, it is the expression and reception of data important to the survival of the bee colony.  These memes, like chemical memes, are strictly tied to genetic interests.  So, like chemical memes, these are not the type of meme that play the key role in shaping human cultures.  Nevertheless, they are memes, transmitting information and encouraging copies of that information (in behavior, data storage, etc). 

[We can call this waggle dance a "posture meme" for now, if we must name it, though let's not get distracted with labels...I'm thinking out loud here. ]

Continue to  An Alien Intelligence: Turkeys

Friday, September 19, 2014


Ants are evolutionarily elegant.  They are social insects with small brains (read: minimal calorie expense) and have therefore successfully colonized the planet. 

They leave reproduction to specialized individuals (which is more calorie efficient than widespread fertility). 

They create extensive shelters and alter their environments.  Some even cultivate mycelium and milk aphids (meaning: some ants have evolved a symbiotic relationship with some mycelium and aphids). 

Their brains are in total service to the genes.  Though each brain is small, networked with chemical memes (derived solely from the genes and environmental factors) from other ants, their brains are able to join together in a way alien to humans, creating collective choices.

This is advantageous.  Big brains are a liability, not an asset to survival.  They require development, maintenance and experience decline.     They demand calories.  Only those species which have been pushed and pulled by prolonged evolutionary pressures evolve big brains and their long term survival is tenuous.  In the history of the Earth, the best long-term survival strategy has been to keep brains small, if they must exist at all. 

Continue to The Waggle Dance of Bees

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Fungal Networks

1.3 billion years ago fungi were the first organisms to colonize the land.  Able to digest rocks and create soils, mycelium began the ecological chain which formed a recognizable, modern Earth. 

Fungal networks are able to transport water and nutrients over great distances, recognize and alert the network to invasive organisms, as well as mount coordinated attacks on intruders and potential prey. 
When cells in the network encounter novel food sources or threats, the chemical strategy of addressing the new item is shared to other cells in the mycelium.  Additionally, fungi has the ability to preserve spatial data and re-apply the information.  This is learning and data storage...memory. 

Fungal networks can signal other species, interacting with organisms in their environments and other colonies of fungi.  Therefore this networking is not simply internal chemical signaling, it is chemical memetics.

In the words of Paul Stamets,  "Mycelium has a neurological archetype which we share as well.  Looking at the mushroom mycelium and how it is organized, it has cross-hatchings.  Computer Engineers call these 'hot points'.  For every branch length going one direction there's another branching in another direction.  This creates an alternative way of transferring information and nutrients in case of a break in the mycelial mat.  The mycelium is Earth's natural internet.  The invention of the computer internet is the inevitable consequence of a previously proven evolutionary successful model."

Continue to Ants

Monday, September 15, 2014

Comparison with Bacteria

One objection to comparing memeplexes to biological organisms is that memeplexes do not simply mutate and evolve over successive generations.  A memeplex can copy parts of other memeplexes, even a competitive memeplex, to gain a survival advantage, taking a practice or concept and reworking it into its own memetic blueprints.  Some would argue, this is not evolution as we understand it in sexual and asexual vertical gene transfer, but rather chaos.

Enter horizontal (lateral) gene transfer.  A tree of life that includes horizontal transmission looks somewhat different than the traditional vertical tree of life.  As species diverge and complexity increases, the mechanisms of gene transfer become more complicated and vertical transmission becomes more pronounced.  With less complicated organisms, lateral transfer is more common. 

The comparison to biological evolution holds.  It was our understanding of biology and genetics that had to advance before we could accept observations about memes, not a flaw in memetic theory.   

Continue to Fungal Networks

Saturday, September 13, 2014

How Bacteria Relate to Memes

The last post suggested chemical signals used in quorum sensing by microbes could be labeled "chemical memes".  For some (maybe for you) this is stepping onto questionable ground.  These chemicals are derivatives of the genes--there is no line between genes and memes. And there should be a definite line...right?

There are many similar transitions in biology created by our need to catalogue and classify.  Where is the first human; how do we distinguish "first human" from "closely related hominid"?  The pursuit of that question is not as productive as "how did modern humans emerge from hominids?" or "how did modern humans survive while other hominids did not?".  Yet the pursuit of that first question is deeply engrained in our collective Western tradition.  Something seems incomplete without an answer, but this is a misleading sentiment.  Questions of origin are not evolutionary questions: Questions of development are.

When does a bacterial colony become a superorganism--or cease to be an independent organism?
Is the bacteria in our gut part of us, an individual organism or a colony inside us?  With microbial endocrinology we are learning it is not so easy to separate two species which have co-evolved quite so elegantly.  We are entwined.  But still, the distinction between species is useful in certain disciplines and as such, remains a useful tool, even if it is not wholly accurate from all perspectives.

Let's make a distinction then:   When chemical signals happen within an individual organism, it's a chemical signal triggered by genetic and environmental factors and is not a chemical meme.  When chemical signals are exchanged between two or more organisms, it's a chemical signal triggered by genetic and environmental factors and it is a chemical meme.  It is the transmission of information from one organism to another that makes the meme (this will be an important distinction later).

Continue to Comparison With Bacteria

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Not the beginning...Not even close

Before the massive DNA double helix there had to be...something.  DNA didn't appear out of thin air.  Organic chemists and other scientists have theorized about what came before DNA and how it all assembled in the primordial soup of the early earth.  But Evolutionary Biologists stay out of that.  They aren't concerned with origins but with what developed after that first fact.

Evolution isn't interested in first cause, it's focus is rather on development.
How did we get from point c to point d?  b to c?
Evolutionary biology relies on other disciplines to address point a (which is rather fortunate: as far as we can tell, reaching point a is like trying to count to infinity). 

So...where does the realm of memetics (as part of evolutionary theory) begin?
There are no easy lines of demarcation...but let's approach this question from a new angle.

Memes didn't start with the first word or first warble.
They didn't even start with (as Hoyle Leigh might say) the first neurons firing.

They are far older.

Quorum sensing in bacteria is facilitated by the production and recognition of certain signaling molecules.  These molecules allow single celled organisms to aggregate, network and even overpower much more complex, multi-celled organisms. 

This ability to network and collaborate through broadcasted information was foundational to the survival of single celled organisms as well as multi-celled organisms.  Yes, these signals are intricately connected to genes.  Can we be comfortable labeling these as chemical memes or are they simply products of genes? 

(It's a trick question, just like: does light behave like a wave or particle?  The best answer is both OR it depends on the context.)

As we will see later, memes intricately scaffold onto genes.  Leigh can be understood for adapting memetics to a flexible modernization of genetic determinism.  He went as far as his induction into the practice of normal, clinical science would permit & no further.  However, his work did not accomplish a foundation in memetics because he did not question the basic assumptions of his discipline in light of meme theory.  More on this later.

For now, let's be content to say we cannot simply pin-point the branching of memes from genes. Memes originated in service to genes.  Chemical memes have high fidelity (a pheromone has a particular chemical signature, a protein will fold in one particular way--when something goes wrong with this, there is trouble).  This high fidelity in transmission and exclusive service to the genes makes organisms relying on chemical memes highly efficient examples of evolution.

Continue to How Bacteria Relate to Memes

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Let's crawl before we run...

It's all well and good to claim memetics will create a more humane psychology and social policy, protect the aged and young and address global climate change without resorting to the extermination of our species...but it's all a little...too much.

Too many grand, philosophical dreamscapes, a pinch of magical thinking...out of touch with reality.

Reality is
: the peer reviewed journal(s?) went belly-up a decade ago.
: most regard meme theory as a metaphor with little to offer.
: the inertia of the current paradigm encourages meme theorists to conform memetics to existing disciplines (as any responsible, normal science will do). 

Wake up folkies.  We aren't a normal science yet.  Let's cut the pretense.

We need to be flexible. think outside the biology box and design methodologies to test meme theory.  (A great example of this cutting edge research is Daniel VanArsdale's work on the Evolution of Chain Letters).

Hold onto your hats meme-mourners, philosophers and bespectacled lab-rats...we're about to tour a world where memes aren't just an ancillary concern but where they are given the full consideration that genes have been granted for the last hundred years. 

Continue to Memes, Not Metaphors

Monday, August 25, 2014

Incarceration & Memetic Reproduction

When we begin to see memes and memeplexes as measurable components of the world we begin to understand how self-defeating and irrational the American prison system is. 
Our prisons provide the perfect breeding ground for increasingly violent and destructive memeplexes.
The high control, resource restricted environment encourages (even demands) association for survival.  Gangs compete for resources and influence, growing small conflicts from society in the agar filled petri-dish that is the prison system.  Gang immune systems and survival strategies adapt, are imitated and develop a memetic arms race, leading to increased virulence and violence.

Additionally, the prison system, being a synthetic environment, has the tendency to create psychological disturbance as well as aggravate existing psychological conditions.  It doesn't help that USA prisons are utilized as a mental health system, dumping individuals in need of care into the highly competitive environment of legal incarceration.

We are still living in public policy dark ages.  Without the framework of memetics, we will continue to mock Norway's prison system and insist that such implementation in the US would encourage lawlessness.  Once we recognize the power of memes and memetics to influence human behavior, we will also understand the need to engineer legal systems which recognize the power of memetics and their ability to shape society.

Continue to Let's Crawl Before We Run

Memetics goes Mainstream

Any wannabe scientific theory can tell you:  you're making headway when you're included in America's highest-rated sitcom.
It hasn't made it into (most) university lectures or textbooks yet.
It might not have a scientific journal of its own.
But who really cares when Sheldon Cooper and Amy Farrah Fowler illustrate its rudimentary principles for the TV viewing audience?

Spread by all means available. Enjoy the meme of memetics utilizing humor to implant in American pop-culture!
* Note: This clip is posted with the intent of educational purposes only.  No profits are being derived from this video.

Continue to Incarceration and Memetic Reproduction

Sunday, August 24, 2014


The structure of this blog was too ambitious.
In-depth posts investigating monthly themes are good to foster reflection, but they lead to burnout. 
The topics are pressing & the field of memetics is exciting...but to preserve energy, let's pace ourselves. 

Let's have some fun doing this.
Let's have wacky random days.  Short post days. 
Meme-cat days!

shhhh... i is nap-kin
(ok, I promise, not too many of those). 

Let's not limit themes to a calendar month--let's make this more organic.
Structure will still be found in the topics, where themes can be tied together and networked
-but let's not try and write a dissertation each day...
Any reader out there can appreciate this. 

The revolution of Meme Theory can't be accomplished with logical argument and articulation alone.
Let's remember how we learned in Kindergarten...let's explore & play & grow.

Third time's a charm.

Continue to Memetics Goes Mainstream