The 4th Humour
uninfluential words from an uninfluenced man
Bile humour Apathetic hemetic Fluent indifferent Emetic Phlegmatic

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Saturday, June 14, 2003
NPC Theory, Part 5 -- Processing

The remaining bit of this theory relies a little on memetics, which is a theory for the propogation/inheritance of (in short) human culture. The term "memetics" is derived from genetics, the study of biological inheritance, and was coined by Richard Dawkins in his monumental 1976 publication, The Selfish Gene, wherein he suggests the "meme" as a second "replicator" unique to humans, in addition to the gene, which is common to all life.

Whereas the Selfish Gene Theory asserts that organisms are "survival machines" that serve the selfish interests of their genes, memetics says that minds are the machinery memes use to replicate and spread. Our genes have selfish "interests" in that they want to survive (cause us to produce offspring and care for our families), and our memes have those same interests (spread a catchy tune, catch-phrase, or religion). Sometimes they conflict with interesting and telling results. For a great modern discussion on memetics, check out The Meme Machine by Susan Blackmoore.

Come to think of it, you don't need to understand anything about memetics to understand the rest of what I have to say here. Nonetheless, it's good stuff. Read it.

Our minds are made to process information. Therefore, since our minds are the replication machinery of memes/ideas/culture, there must be some mental processes associated with them. It could be as simple as hearing an annoyingly catchy song on the radio, subconsciously remembering the chorus, and then repeating it out loud in front of your co-workers, often with the response, "Oh I've had that song in my head all day, too!" It doesn't have to be a good song, either; it merely must contain elements that make it get passed on (that's a long discussion I won't get into here). That's a very simple example and requires a minimal amount of mental processing.

Not so simple would be, say, relating this NPC Theory to someone else. It requires memory retention, understanding, and communication skills. Anyone who's grown up in the United States has experienced the distortion that follows from the game "telephone". Many small errors made in duplication of a phrase result in a different phrase. There's no guarantee that everyone understands this theory the same way, or will communicate it such that it will be understood the same way. It follows that the key thing required in this case is thought. The teacher must think about the theory, its truth value, and his words, before passing it on. A great deal more mental processing.

My claim is that Character is a measure of mental processing. In other words, PCs mentally process more than NPCs. PCs will generally think more before responding to a question, reacting to a new situation, or passing along information (spreading memes). The shopkeeper has his automatic responses, but if he were to think--however instantaneously--before opening his mouth, he might be perceived as less of an NPC. This also applies to forethought. I might react automatically in many situations, but only because I've simulated conversations and situations in my mind beforehand.

Note that magnitude of thought has nothing to do with intelligence. In fact, it can be argued that since intelligent people don't have to think as much about something before passing in on, and that stupid people have to think long and hard before understanding something, then stupid people would be more inclined to be PCs. Here I'd like to emphasize processing over thought. Two people might think for different lengths of time on a math problem, but if they both solve it, they have both done the same (within the scope of the problem) amount of processing. I could've said this originally in my shopkeeper example above, but I wanted to make the difference obvious.

I mentioned that there must be physical processes in the brain associated with all this. As a former neuroscientist, I have no doubt that there are physical processes in your brain for thought, memory, and so on. Anything physical can ultimately be measured, though right now I couldn't tell you precisely what would be meaningful to measure. If such measurements could ever be made, however, tests could be devised to get a quantitative measure of a person's Character.

Next time I'll discuss the mechanisms involved in the biological and cultural development of the PC.