Meme diversity (was Re: Ancestral Extropians?)

Robert J. Bradbury (
Wed, 7 Jul 1999 15:07 PDT

> Natasha Vita-More <> wrote:
> My initial comment was based on the fact that I grow not only tired, but
> weary of historical accounts focusing on any one type of thinking and/or
> contribution to cultural advances. I think it is important to recognize
> that ideas within the culture stem from many sources. Some of these
> sources are more subtle than others, yet just as poignant. Ignoring this
> is not a fair and complete account of our branching tree, nor its roots.
> I'm more interested in the quality and "rounded" (no pun intended)
> influence of meme breeders. By rounded I am referring to the scope of the
> breeder and all the areas of thought and ideas that affect our lives.

Here we get into the thick of it. I'm going to take what I think you are saying and attempt to put it in my frame of refference.

Presumably, concrete "constructions" and memes (have historically) survived/florished/become extinct on the basis of criteria to which little conscious thought has been devoted. [Fundamentally were they successful in a [local] environment!]

I am an "optimalist". I've devoted years of my life to determining how one gets "optimal" performance (according to the rigid criteria in computer science of space & time) from a computer program. I will freely admit that this approach may not be the best to use to evaluate things derived from other frames of reference. Often I may not even be able to see the frame of reference -- I can see the surface of the iceburg, but not know what is under the water. Nature uses a very simple, and from my frame of reference, sub-optimal selection criteria, namely does it survive & prosper. It in no way has to be optimal for nature to accept it. In some cases surviving & prospering may require that you mutate most quickly, in other cases it may require that you undertake heroic efforts to preserve a genome in its "original" state. (Contrasting for example E. coli that have a relatively high mutation rate with Deinococcus radiodurans which has a very low mutation rate). Both of these (because they are opposites) cannot be "optimal" excepting from the frame of reference "it works" in the local environment. [Interestingly enough, Nature has built into E. coli, yeast *and* humans the enzymes for both low and high mutation rates...]

Nature's process of operating blindfolded with her/his/its hands tied behind its back selecting something that merely "works" may fail in a very gross fashion in the light of a "consciousness" frame of reference. The example that comes to mind is the choice of "iron" as an oxygen carrier in hemoglobin (to provide the energy we need for metabolism), when iron (in conjunction with oxygen) may ultimately result in free radical production that destroys our genetic program (causing cancer and some aspects of aging). Now, if you were "consciously" designing a system, *would* you select a feature that caused the system's self-destruction? If you were creating memes, would you create memes that erased themselves? In a selection system it would be something that removed the process by which or the criteria on which the selections are based. (My mind is really stretched here!)

Even more importantly, how is it possible when designing a system (or memes) to know whether or not one is excluding design possibilities that may be *more* optimal? A "better" design may succeed in the environment of natural selection, but that in no way guarantees that such a design is in any way the "best". The "optimal" design (or meme) may fail because it is not close enough to existing designs/memes to be properly evaluated. In Nature, that doesn't happen very often because it is usually taking small incremental steps. Humans on the other hand can take things that are extrordinarily unrelated to each other and jam them together. Most of the time this produces garbage but sometimes it doesn't. But in those situations where we "think" what has been produced is garbage, do we have any way of being certain that we have the proper frame of reference to evaluate it? In other words, the frame of reference required to properly evaluate a new design/meme may effectively be in a hyper-dimension that is outside of the dimensions in which the creation and evaluation normally occurs.

This type of thinking leads to my perspective that actions that promote the increase of diversity and the survival of memes of diverse derivations seems to be a good strategy. It is a pitiful approach to increasing our dimensionality, but it may be one of the few we currently have.

All of that said, the SETI@home meme is still garbage, even though it appears to be remarkably successful.