virus: memetics=calculus???

Ben Mack (ben_mack@deutschinc.com)
01 Feb 99 11:32:32 -0800

When I was twelve, I was fortunate to have spent four days with Buckminster Fuller. Bucky talked about people and society being like a doughnut. Not the pastry that Homer Simpson is the foremost expert on, but the general shape. In fact, the doughnut shape in flux. He had a model made of paper which allowed the inside to become the outside in an endless cycle. He said that the environment shaped who we were and that we shaped environment. I asked him if he meant our beliefs and he said it was a higher magnitude which included genetics and perception. I think that Bucky was recognizing memetics without having the vocabulary to describe it.

Iíve sketched out some of my thoughts in the following babble. I canít quite articulate where Iím going, but I figured I would throw it out there. I welcome comments, criticisms and extensions.

Development of Cultural Psychology--Understanding Memetics I was born in 1968. Since then, the population of the world has doubled and technological development has pounced forward at an unprecedented rate. In 1968, the quantity of facts was greater than it had ever been. In addition, the shelf life of a scientific fact was shorter than it had ever been before. When I was born, learning was a two fold struggle like no generation before me encountered. I had to learn the language of the culture at the same time I had to keep up with the changes in the conversation. It feels likely this trend will continue.

Since 1968, the timespan between a fact being established and a new discovery challenging that same fact has continued to diminish. In addition, the number of facts continues to grow exponentially. No wonder so many of us feel disoriented. As a culture, we are suffering from knowledge overchoice. There are so many things that are knowable, it is difficult to chose what one wants to know.

We seek access to higher order intellectual structures to help us assimilate what has happened and what is happening. The emerging science of memetics helps analyze the structure of cultural change from a broader perspective.

The utility of memetics becomes evident when viewed through a historical context. Memetics is to understanding evolution, what calculus is to understanding physics, a tool to better understand change. Our primitive brain was selected for noticing radical change, as animals, our natural ability to distinguish subtle directional change is weak. The development of new tools to more clearly make distinctions is beneficial to our speciesí longevity on this planet.

A brief history of man on Earth
About 700,000 years ago, Homo Erectus was beginning to master fire. Homo Erectus was on the verge of metamorphosing into Homo Sapien. Over the next 100,000 years, the size of our brain would double. Mastering fire manipulation taxed the mental power of Homo Erectus.

Survival favored big brains; those packs of Homo Erectus monkeys able to master fire were often the packs with slightly more brain space. Survival favoritism can be seen as having two intertwined components: genetic and memetic. Genetic evolution is often noted by trends in body changes; Memetic evolution is often noted by trends in cognitive changes. Genetic and memetic evolution are indelibly intertwined and manifest themselves physically.

Trying to understand favoritism in evolution is like guessing the mechanism of a closed watch. Although we will never be able to open this watch, knowing the outcome, we can try and infer the inner workings. If current humans only use a set percentage of our brains, it can be surmised that a slightly larger brain would access greater capacity to assimilate if the percentage of oneís brain utilized remained constant. Presently, it appears that there is little opportunity for our brains to grow in size. An increased cranium may throw off our physical balance and balancing hardwiring.

However, 700,000 years ago, there was an opportunity for brain size to increase while imparting minimal affects on our body. Fireís affect on food is malleability. Cooked food requires less effort to chew, allowing for smaller teeth, smaller muscles and as such increasing the cranium space available for brain. In addition, it was during this time that Homo Erectus began pounding grains, also relieving the need for exceptionally strong biting and grinding abilities. The effect of Homo Erectusí food preparation technology was an accelerated big brain favoritism. Survival favored those monkeys which maximized this opportunity.

Approximately 20,000 years ago (18,000 BC), humans began to record celestial observations known to repeat themselves with the seasons on what are called "batons." Batons were likely to have been used by the tribeís shaman to predict the events of nature. Knowing when to fish or hunt for certain animals brought great advantage to tribes that incorporated this technology.

Batons are the first known deliberate and detailed use of a device to extend the memory, noting sequences of nature outside of the brain. Previously, it is speculated that many of these sequenced observations were passed through the generations via ritual. While we had used pictures to depict scenes from hunts before this time and of recurring seasons, there hadnít been records of the details of events noted to repeat themselves cyclically.

Batons were made of carved bone or antler horn. Several thousand have survived and they appear in most cultures of the period. The baton is covered with markings which correspond to events in nature. Some marks are simple lines, others are curved lines, some are a grouping of dots. It is thought that batons are the root to the image of the magic wand in folklore. With the invention of batons, humans had mastered the basics of reading and writing.

The technology of reading and writing preceded regional settling. This notation was essential in terms of feeling safe. As humans, we needed a sense of stability before we were ready as a tribe to settle down. In fact, settling down did not occur as a possibility since we were chasing our sources of food.

Early man was lead by shamans, those that were more closely in tune with nature than the rest of the tribe. In essence, shamans were scientists. However, their science encompassed both nature and spirituality. An increased ability to understand the history of nature lead to an increased ability to forecast nature that proved to have a direct correlation to probability of survival.

About 9,000 BC, life was eased as man began enrolling the assistance of animals through domestication. This was the beginning of the birth of Man seeing himself bending nature to his will. Within the next couple thousand years, man began to discover the role of seeds in reproduction. Around 5,000 BC hydraulic communities emerged. Man experimented with staying in one location and creating food around him.

Accumulating stuff requires different efforts than finding stuff. If your tribe is nomadic, there is little need for property rights, being stationary, one can accumulate stuff and there is a need to know what you own. Tokens were established to represent physical items. A new level of abstraction was developed. If you had one cow and one token for a cow, then the token of the cow now equaled your cow. There was a direct representation between a symbol and something else. In addition, tokens began appearing with a symbol of the leader, so names were developing.

Growing ability in farming leads to abundance. Not having an immediate need for what has been produced, requires accounting of what is on hand. Originally, a cross tick equaled one. However, many cross ticks was incomprehensible. A community called Uruk was growing larger and comprehending the resources of the larger group required new ways of looking at the data. Tremendous surplus lead to mathematics, the use of numbers other than one tick equaling one item seems to have developed circa 3,000 BC: 0 emerged as ten, ticks equaled one.

While there may have been some specialization in migratory tribal communities, urbanization created a need for a large scale social reorganization. There developed a need for information managers, those that could spot where a group stood in terms of its holdings. The scribes, those that could read and write, became the elite, those not producing goods, but overseeing the production.

It is roughly this time in Uruk, 3000 BC, that we find evidence of a king. As the community grew larger, the need for a leader was no longer by consensus, but ordained. Pictograms were the primary means of assimilating data. With over 3,500 pictograms, scribes in Uruk were privileged through their scarcity. However, pictograms collapsed because of the weight of their inefficiency. Pictograms were reduced to roughly 300 and now many people could understand the accounting system as opposed to needing faith in the elite.

Around 2,500 BC, we see the emergence of private property law. At the same time, the king was now saying that he was given his power through higher powers, his power was divine power. As the people got more empirical power, the rulers entrenched in divine power.

However, not all rulers felt that the masses were there to support the elite. King Hammurabi of Babylon created law for the people in 1792 BC. I speculate that he saw unjust rulers and wanted to ensure a certain level of human rights. To study the history of law, we run into to many facts, similar to the early Uruk accountants who couldnít manipulate all the tick marks--the data is too vast. Perhaps looking at the physical manifestation of thoughts is more efficient. This is where memetics comes into play, in looking at patterns of the past and seeing possibility in the present for the future.