Memetic Inertia (Was: Lyle's Law)

Dr. Rich Artym (
Mon, 7 Oct 1996 00:20:03 +0100

In message <>, John K Clark writes:

> On Tue, 01 Oct 1996 Lyle Burkhead <> Wrote:
> >This is very boring. [...] I find myself in the odd position
> >of trying to convince grown-ups that Santa Clause doesn't exist.
> ...
> Lyle's Law, which I have taken the liberty of naming for a well known member
> of the Extropian list, could be stated as follows:
> LYLE'S LAW: Whatever the future has in store for us of one thing we
> should be certain, the universe must be constructed in such a way that
> the majority of late 20 'th century bipeds on the third planet
> orbiting a small star on the edge of a run of the mill galaxy will
> never find things odd.

Heh, heh, I had a good chuckle at that, well put, John. It's nothing new
in the world at large of course, as an inability to accept alternative
futures appears to be endemic in the majority of the population, and it's
more sad than funny. In contrast, it's quite hilarious to find a few here
wearing their blinkers firmly in place and proudly proclaiming the Earth
to be flat. They're committing the only real crime possible in futurism,
the denial of future possibility on the grounds of past precedent. Your
cutting humour is a very mild punishment ... :-)

Perhaps this issue deserves highlighting a little more strongly within
transhumanist circles. I think of it as "Memetic Inertia", a force which
acts as a brake on the rate of change in meme space. It shares a niche
with Neo-Luddite Activism, although it's not the same thing: NLA is an
active resistance to change on principle, whereas MI is passive and based
not on principle but on a cognitive inability to accept that the world is
in flux and that today's engineering was yesterday's science fiction.

It applies not only to engineering but to economics and other affairs: the
sharp discontinuities in economics and politics and society that the world
experienced over the last hundred years or so (eg. when the motor vehicle
wiped out the horse-based economy) are lessons from which one should learn
that "fixed points" are not fixed at all, and that discontinuities should
be expected regularly. The foundations of our cherished economic system
are wobbly at best, Black Wednesdays being almost an institution. In that
light, a fixation with continuity in economics even when faced with the
arrival of nanoscale control of materials indicates a total inability to
comprehend the extent of the impact, memetic inertia of the first order.

I think it was suitable that you gave this episode a humorous turn, John.
Reasoned argument was clearly getting nowhere.


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