Re: Memes and Kemes (spoilers for Benford)

Mark Crosby (
Thu, 24 Jul 1997 15:36:05 -0700 (PDT)

Anders Sandberg wrote about the kenes in Greg Benford’s novel _Sailing
Bright Eternity_:

<Benford never went into any detail about it, and it was mainly an
imaginative plot device and something that fit well into the theme of
his pentalogy (the struggle and co-evolution of different phylums of
"life"). His basic idea seems to be that once you have sufficiently
rich "memospheres" where memes can thrive (like the Internet?),
predatory memes can appear, some kind of meta-lebel entities which are
not directly observable to the hosts of the memes (humans or
computers). In fact, since they somehow *eat* memes, we can't even
think or understand them. I seriously doubt that the last is possible,
but it is a fun idea that there could exist beings which we are *by
definition* unable to comprehend. >

That wasn’t really a spoiler because there’s a diagram right up front
in the book that shows this hierarchy of intelligences ;-)

I’m not sure these would be predatory memes in the sense of eating.
It’s probably more a situation of control levels as in cybernetics.

Here are some excerpts that ARE more of a spoiler and give some flavor
for the story:

Benford has the 'voice' of the Syntony describe how: "a new stage
deploys. Above the apparent order of the gene world, above even the
drama of organisms ... the largest theater of all ... self-replicating
ideas in the minds of machines . . . called kenes."

I wonder, though, if 'above' is an inappropriate concept. Perhaps
microbes and genes are just as ‘intelligent’ as human organisms *on
their own level*. The same would hold for kenes and memes. Benford
seems to somewhat recognize this when he says "all wove and lurked and
had no conscious voice. They broke onto the conscious stage only with
force, sudden actors in a play that no one faction wrote." I take
this to mean that they can only be conscious or act through their
embodiments or instantiations.

Then, showing an uncharacteristically bitter bias against humans,
Benford spoils it for me by saying "A human could not do that. Could
not step outside and watch itself have an idea".

Hmph! I know that I have watched myself have ideas, though I certainly
can’t do this with any kind of consistency or completeness. Then
Benford starts ranting about "The messiahs. The fever-eyed shamans.
Bastards," and how the Hunker Down was necessary "to shrug off the
addictive superstitions that beset all humans in groups".

I wonder, though, whether intelligence and ignorance aren’t both
scalable. Where we are intelligent, Benford's so-called "Highers" know
nothing, and vice versa. This culminates in the deterministic dictum
of the Syntony: "Know this: All matters known to you further the
affairs of the lesser levels, to our wishes. We do not negotiate. We
do not dictate. We cause to happen."

I think it’s possible that there is both ‘upward’ and ‘downward’
causation, depending on what level you are observing. Also, I wonder
if Benford really believes this. For example, he has Nigel say to
Abraham, when they seem to be floating in some kind of cyberspace
being examined by the Powers: "Ignore all these onlookers. Even Gods
can be just a backdrop, if we choose."

The next step is to recognize that consciousness might be scalable.
The Syntony can not be conscious ("all wove and lurked and had no
conscious voice"), only its agents, on whatever level, can do that.
And if consciousness is scalable, then we could possibly abandon our
genomic bias and transform our viewpoints to any other level.

As sages have said for centuries, "as above, so below".

Mark Crosby

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