The 4th Humour
uninfluential words from an uninfluenced man
Bile humour Apathetic hemetic Fluent indifferent Emetic Phlegmatic
Friday, June 20, 2003
Life Without Hope
The NPC Theory is merely selfish meme theory projected onto the ignorantly blissful background of subjective free will.
However, don't confuse genes and memes. The memes are not working for the genes. Genes want to get replicated. Memes want to get replicated. The genes did not "know" that memes would take off and replicate themselves when they gave rise to brains large enough to handle them. Genes require the human host to survive long enough to reproduce...a rather long incubation period compared to memes, which only require weeks, hours, or even seconds to propagate. Therefore, memes are not "concerned" about the welfare of their human hosts...they may even end up destroying us.
How this all works into my theory is that Character is a measure of how much meme-interplay goes on inside a single mind before another meme is spit out of it. Information processing. It's not a measure of intelligence, and yes it's dependent on the genes that created the brain, but it's also dependent on all the other memes inside that brain.
All that is just a matter of chance. My brain was genetically predisposed to acquire certain memes, and accrual of those certain memes made me memetically predisposed to acquire others. This has formed a massive meme-complex, or "memeplex", in my mind, with a tremendous ability to survive based on its longevity (it has been in my mind for some time), fecundity (ability to be spread), and fidelity (it's very consistent and hard to break down).
This entire collection, this ultimate memeplex or even set of contradictory memeplexes (as evidenced by, say, Christian Scientists), is what we call the "self". We identify with this self because we are so familiar with it. We feel continuous merely because we are such awesome predictors of what our selves will do next, though sometimes we fail at it. We rationalize these failures with quips such as "I changed my mind," or "I was drunk."
The human brain acts before we are conscious of it. I can decide to snap my fingers, but my brain will "prepare" to snap before I finally make the "conscious" decision to snap. Athletes and martial artists often refer to "muscle memory", which is really just an affirmation that the body and brain will act before you're aware of it. This whole consciousness thing is merely an illusion brought about by the memes, an illusion that allows us to philosophize about ourselves, rationalize free will, and invent memeplexes such as religions and a sense of self to help us (and memes) survive.
The only "self" is the person here NOW. You did not exist 10 seconds ago, and the "you" of the future is not you. Your cells will change, your DNA will mutate, your synapses will fire in different patterns, your brain proteins will store different information, and your memes will be competing in different ways.
Consciousness regarding your past, current, and future selves is often depressing, and the illusion of free will often instills feelings of responsibility and grief. People are happiest when they are not grieving over the past or worrying about the future (too much). A doctor in surgery, a musician in "flow", a zen master, and a Wolf player in the zone all have the same thing in common: They are in their least-conscious state, and at their happiest.
So eliminate your consciousness. Don't spread those memes. Empty your mind, get it some zen. Eliminate your inner conflict, those competing memes, and find a consistent, if temporal, "self".
It is possible to live a life without hope.
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.
Thursday, June 12, 2003
Education the Hard Way
Two years ago I was sitting alone at the bar in Chile's, trying to enjoy my dinner while reading a book. In spite of my best efforts to drown out invasive sounds and conversation with my own mental voice, I overheard some NPC chick say, "...but that's the way I've always been; I have to learn everything the hard way. I guess I'll never learn [to not learn things the hard way]! Har har."
Like many common expressions, I never thought much of the phrase "learn the hard way". I mean sure, I'd applied it to myself now and then, wondering whether I was better off learning things for myself instead of being told what to believe, but while I'd always appreciated the results of learning things on my own, part of me also felt like I was wasting my time. It may be a good mental exercise, needed to solve new problems in life, but there are other ways to exercise your mind that don't have negative consequences.
Negative consequences? Like what? Oh I dunno, like what happens when you learn the hard way not to take a job just for the money, or to always be right no matter what, or let a relationship get too physical, or say things that probably shouldn't be said. Consequences that can scar your mind, emotions, finances, and happiness over the long haul. Was I better off for learning these things on my own? In my opinion: No. Wiser? Maybe. Did it build Character? Maybe in some ways, but not in others, for now I'm restricted to a certain subset of actions based on previous experiences, actions that will be irrationally influenced by classical conditioning.
By reflex, I like to take rules and phrases and turn them in on themselves, so I thought, well, the solution, then, is to learn the hard way that you don't have to learn the hard way, and this must be done before puberty, before you lose 40% or more of the synapses (and thus plasticity, or ability to change) in your brain (and no, you don't want to keep them; schizophrenics don't lose these synapses).
How can this be achieved? I'm not sure, but I can at least outline the type of problem a child would have to encounter. A situation must be devised whereupon the student will be torn between two choices: 1. Solve it the conventional way, or 2. Solve it your own way. The conventional method must be obvious, and even well-known, but it must appear at a glance that there's an easier, more appealing solution that is ultimately impossible and has horrible consequences. Let me say it another way. A problem must be designed to punish independent thought.
"Whoa, Phlegm, this is the land of freedom, man. What are you, a communist? Nobody tells me what to think, because I'm an individual!" Yes, such an individual that I predicted that response. Please. We are brainwashed from day one by the infectious ideas of others, some good, most bad, both from our parents (vertical transmission) and from others (horizontal transmission), and the only way to remain sane and good is to develop the right defenses. A so-called individual--someone with a high Character Quotient--will exhibit good judgement on whether to take advice from a wiser person or to think on his own, regardless.
Defense against the "learn the hard way" meme would be powerful, because it would instill children with the value of education, of learning from people who've already taken the damage for you. That is, after all, the point of education--reaping the benefits of your predecessors without incurring the costs.
Doesn't anybody else see this? Or is it too obvious?
Monday, June 02, 2003
NPC Theory, Part 4 -- The Character Quotient
Last time I presented the possible contradiction in this theory that Character is relative to each observer, which would make the statement that the world is populated by NPCs and PCs quite obvious and meaningless. Does this relativism discount the notion of an absolute value for Character? Absolutely not!
Are people in the world either intelligent or unintelligent? Supermodels or uglybones? Superstars or amateurs? No, of course not. These traits all appear continuous to us; most everyone is better than a given percentage of people at some thing, and worse than the remaining percent. A moron with a 60 IQ can't tell the difference between someone with a 130 IQ and someone with a 140 IQ, but those two someones might be able to discern between different grades of morons, and they'll probably argue between each other over who has more intelligence. The same holds true for Character.
I'll therefore fabricate the Character Quotient (CQ), a measure of Character. Now, I'll admit I have no way to objectively assign number for it (yet), but...just...stick with me here. Assuming we have some kind of test (the MTT, perhaps?) to measure CQ, let's continue. Oh, but wait, I see a question: "Why do we need a test? Aren't all smart people PCs, Phlegm?" Heh, no, no. Character is not a prerequisite for intelligence. While there may be a general correlation between the two, this is not necessarily so. Consider the extreme example of, say, an autistic person. A genius in some area, but you probably wouldn't call them "intelligent", no less a PC. Can you think of any smart people you know who nonetheless are utterly predictable? Oh sure. In a bit, I'll demonstrate why IQ and CQ are not (directly) causally related.
In the meantime, let's return to our shopkeeper example, where the shopkeeper seems like an NPC to you, but a PC to his wife. While it could be the case that you simply don't have enough information to know he's actually a PC, it could also be that his wife, who happens to be an NPC, thinks he's a PC simply because they're on the same level. Rather, they have a similar CQ, just as the two morons may (very stupidly indeed) think they are both intelligent people.
Now that we have this CQ, is there even any meaning to calling some people PCs and others NPCs? Sure there is. We still call people smart and dumb, athletic and inept, beautiful and ugly, so the terms still hold. There is probably a bell curve for the world for Character, too.
"So do you see NPCs as lesser beings, Phlegm?" This question from my first installment is now answered:
Yes. NPCs are definitely inferior to PCs.
Hey, doesn't mean you can't love an NPC, or have great NPC friends. You might not want to think of it in terms of inferiority, and that's understandable, but doesn't change the way the world works. Just because you're an "A-grade" PC doesn't mean you have the IQ needed (or whichever 'Q' it is) to understand that evolution wouldn't happen if everyone were equal (whoa whoa, new topic, so I'll stop there).
Anyway, so what was all that Role Space stuff about if we just came up with all this CQ business? Well consider that while I'm a genius (yes, it's true), I might still look like a moron to, say, oh...a clinical psychologist...because clinical psychology would be outside of my "Intellectual Space". Or maybe I seem like a moron to you because you don't care about any of this stuff and it's all just elitist gobbledygook...you NPC.
Next time will be a slight digression on replicators, which will be needed to explain (among many things) how the minds of PCs and NPCs work.
Continue on to Part 5