Re: virus: UTism and Media Memetics

Dan Plante (
Sat, 19 Jun 1999 04:47:36 -0700

At 09:58 AM 18/06/99 -0700 Tim Rhodes wrote: Dan Plante wrote:

>Tim, I realise that your suggestion is to subtly influence the path of
>evolution here, but this just isn't the way I understand evolution (in its
>broadest sense) works.

Well, I suspect that most higher-ups in the Republican party didn't think their `98 House and Senate losses were "subtle" by any definition I know of.

A blip on the chart. The ability to detect patterns, sub-patterns and meta-patterns, is supremely sensitive to the depth and breadth of the survey we make of our world, in percieved function as well as structure, even in how we approach boiling the pot of obfuscating detail to extract the essence of the common relationships hidden therein.

>As I've come to understand it, a change is
>introduced into an environment that, when interacting with other existing
>things in the environment (whether the environment is a single cell, a
>proto-stellar system, a uranium isotope or a culture), manifests a new
>dynamic (i.e. expresses a trait) that will either endure or be suppressed,
>depending on the selective pressures determined by all the other dynamics
>introduced by all the other things in that environment.

This is not how I understand evolution. What are you counting as heredity in star systems or radions?

How would you describe the role of "heredity" (in its very basic, generic sense) in a system that you _do_ see as evolutionary? As the "memory" component of the variation/selection paradigm? Maybe as the "causal links" in the chain of observed changes over time? This is one of the approaches I use when looking for underlying patterns in the system or systems that I ponder. Another approach I use is to take these resulting fundamental, irreducible dynamics/relationships and use them as a kind of "cut-out" pattern, holding them up against other observed systems to see if something in there fits inside the pattern. It is this process that led me to the realization that evolution is, at its most fundamental level, simply variation and selection. That's it. Nothing more, nothing less. There are some caveats to this, of course, but they don't change the final equation: evolution = variation + selection. Period.

Seen in this light, it quickly became apparent that this described the essential character of many other dynamic complex systems. Take "radions" for example. The pre-existing state would be a high-temperature flux of electrons and positively charged nucleons (plasma) during a supernova explosion. The _environment_ would then be comprised of the aforementioned components in the plasma, plus the basic physical forces (strong & weak nuclear forces, gravity & electromagnetism) plus the physical laws operating on the quantum level (yes, there's some overlap and redundancy here, but you get the idea). Variation manifests itself as random collisions within this plasma that create an enormous number of different nucleon weights and compositions (fusion). As the ambient temperature drops slightly, these positively charged nucleons attract and hold free electrons, resulting in a wide variety of elements, and a further menagerie of isotopes of these elements. Selection happens when the aforementioned aspects of this environment "weed out" isotopes that are unstable (i.e. unfit). The rest endure (have very long half-lives). But some isotopes of these remaining elements (uranium 238, for example), although long lived, have weaker nucleonic bonds than the other remaining elements. Again, other selective pressures in its environment (in this case high speed neutrons) tear it appart (fission). It was not as fit for this particular environment, so the number of other elemental isotopes remaining will far surpass it after a while. Random variation and environmental selection. Or simply "variation and selection", since "random" and "environmental(or "natural") are implicit, and so it kind of "goes without saying". There is a more fundamental reason for the simplification, though.

Anyway, after applying this "conceptual template" against system after
system, and finding them all to be evolutionary in nature (as described
above), it became apparent that evolution is literally universal; that it
drives everything. Evolution (as the logical description of a distinct process) is responsible for all the complexity and order in the cosmos, and has been the driving "force" in all order and complexity since the beginning. At this point I kind of sneered at myself and said "Well of course, you dork! How could it possibly have been any other way? Did you imagine that evolution was only some Johnny-come-lately organising principle that only decided to start acting in the cosmos when "life", as defined by Humans, decided to come onto the scene? What do you imagine was driving all the emergent order and levels of complexity in the cosmos _before_ then? Evolution's apprentice? Something like evolution, but not exactly like evolution? Give your head a shake!"

Then I thought about what I knew about the beginning, and realised that evolution, as the engine of order, has to be _the_ ultimate "force", or "guiding principle" in the "multiverse", since it would logically have to "pre-date" the big bang because, based on any and all of the currently competing theories (including M theory), there had to be some selective regimen that, when confronted with the massive variation embodied in the (presumed) quantum flux singularity that errupted in a deluge of probabilities for the characteristics of the new universe, only some would survive (i.e. 17 dimensions - 13 of which are folded in on themselves, etc.). But then I figured I should stop there because I realised it was all getting _very_ speculative, but not before I wondered about the "pre-bang selective regimen", and realised that it was "logic". Plain, simple logic. Then I had to wonder "why?". What is it about the fabric of reality (even "outside" our particular instance of existence) that demands logic - including very simple logical processes such as evolution? I don't know why, but this kind of gave me a bit of the meta-physical creeps at the time. Then I laughed, and thought "So much for 'Homo Technicus'. That cowering little ape is still just under the surface. Jesus Christ........."

The prevelence of stable forms is not the same as evolution.

Are you absolutely sure about that?

And I've been taking about employing directed selection--like a dog breeder might use--in the political arena and what traits it would be good to breed for. Since voters (and their moneys) are THE selection pressure upon politicans I don't really need to be too concerned about what form variation takes between acts of selection.

As long the selection pressure in constant it will change the system. The system may tend to move back towards the middle when the selection pressure is removed (i.e.: mutts instead of pure-breeds), but if the pressure itself becomes a social tradition--an established meme--your going to quickly see politicians allying themselves with it further perpetuation the process around a different basin of attraction.

>In other words (at the risk of getting bogged down in anthropomorphisms)
>the incremental change uses, or takes advantage of, things that already
>have some effect on the environment.

Complexity builds on complexity. Is that what you're saying here?

Well, no. Not really. Evolution builds on complexity. That process creates more complexity (on average, over long periods of time and expanses of space). Complexity itself doesn't _do_ anything, especially not make more complexity (or order). Complexity and order are states, not processes. I was simply trying to condense the example about a variation co-opting UTism, into a simpler, generic "rule". I may have been rather obtuse about it.

>UTism and polarization (i.e. fear or suspicion of the unknown), it seems to
>me, would be ideal things for a meme to co-opt, creating a different, more
>beneficial memeplex for humanity by shifting attention (meme-processing
>resources) away from petty, localized interpersonal or intercultural

This is the "Lathe of Heaven" theory--override the minor US/THEMs by creating a larger THEM. But it doesn't work long term. At best it sublimates the smaller UTisms for a time, but it doesn't ever remove them. And they come back just as soon people have ajusted to new framework.

For instance, did WW2 end the "THEM" statis of African-Americans, Native Americans or Asians when they all banded together to fight a common enemy? Or did it simply side-step the issue in some branches of the service until that particular crisis was over? (Not that it even "side-stepped" it that well at the time, to be sure.)

Remember how evolution manifests itself. For every new, successful systemic paradigm, the trail is littered with billions of systemic "corpses". What you described could be seen as one of the corpses. On the other hand, there is one successful example I know of: Canada. Probably the most pluralistic, multi-ethnic and multi-cultured country on the planet. As a matter of fact, WASPs comprise about 48% of the population, if I remember correctly. Not to mention all the different religions, sub-cultures and ethnicities. A couple of hundred years ago, the different groups actually were trying to kill each other off. Wars between the French and the English, between the English and the native population, between the French and the Metis, Anglican and Catholic, Upper and Lower Canada, Lower Canada and The Hudson's Bay Co., etc, etc. Proto-Canada was tearing itself apart. Then the U.S. attacked. That's all it took. Canada got together (a bit) and won (too bad - I'd rather be living under the US constitution right now), but from then on, there has existed at the grass roots in Canada, a vague but powerful notion of strength in plurality, and an almost knee-jerk abhorrance to any sort of intercine violence within the border. Today, the initial fear of physical attack from the Excited States of America (Canadians "term of endearment" for the USA), has given sway to an equally vague (but equally powerful) fear of cultural assimilation. The cultural organism needed something to replace the cohesiveness afforded by the old, fading fear. A random event provided it, in the form of an up-and-coming young politician named Lester B. Pearson, who used the Chicken-Little ploy wrapped around the idea of American cultural assimilation (something no one thought much about back then) to incite fear, then political support, and an eventual job as Prime Minister.

>This is how I understand evolution to operate. Everywhere. In every system;
>self-reproductive or not. I wonder if we have as many concepts of evolution
>(a fairly pivotal idea in CoV) as we have members? Probably.

Seems that way. Mine definately would seem to differ from yours.

-Prof. Tim

I'm used to interpreting your posts as emminently logical, even insightful, on average. I think if we wanted to, we could find a definition somewhere between you and me that was also correct, not just egalitarian. On the other hand, I'm not sure I care enough to invest the time. Do you?