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

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Tuesday, July 29, 2003
Shut Up (Pass it on)

I've caught some kind of paradoxical, masochistic, self-destructive, doomsday meme, because the more I think about memes, the more I'm convinced that they are in the "wrong hands" (actually, they're in nobody's hands, but...) and represent a real threat to society. As Douglas Adams put it in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Radio Show, "...the Babel fish...removed all barriers to communication...consequently, it has been the cause of more and bloodier wars in the history of the known Universe." Something like that.

I see one solution as getting everyone in the world to just shut up. There may be other solutions...a society of immortals comes to mind, but I'll discuss that later. Maybe.

Anyway, my self-imposed challenge lately has therefore been to devise a meme that can make everyone stop communicating. This is naturally very difficult since communication is needed for memetic transmission (specifically, imitation is needed); a meme must have high copy number (fecundity), a long lifetime (longevity), and accurate reproduction (fidelity). (Aside: I also think there is a 4th property, some sort of spontaneous evolution rate, which would be a measure of how often the meme springs up out of "nowhere" in the population.)

The phrase "Shut up" is the simplest silence meme I can think of. However, I know it will fail simply because it's failed so far, in spite of having all the attributes outlined above. It meets fierce competition with all the other memes out there, because it's hard for a silence meme to compete. That's why I've tacked "pass it on" to the end of it. Admittedly, it's still not effective, but it's the sort of property it ironically needs to have.

Silence has spread in certain pockets of culture out there, though. Some monks take vows of silence. Natives of St. Petersburg, Russia consider it rude to speak loudly. The fictional "Ellen Jamesians" in The World According to Garp have no tongues. Whether religious, spiritual, or cultural, however, simply not speaking (or speaking softly to prevent unintended transmission) isn't enough, because speaking is only one type of communication. When I say "shut up", what I'm really saying is, "stop trying to breathe your memes down my neck." This includes any sort of information that could be processed by my mind.

One way to shut the world up would be to give it quite a big scare, somehow convincing it that communication really IS bad and must be limited. Information paranoia to replace information addiction. Seeing that I already have this paranoia to some extent, it seems theoreticaly feasible. The problem would then be in its execution. It's unrealistic to expect everyone to come up to speed on my lifetime of scientific and philosophical musings that led me to this point. Therefore, I'm certain the meme would have to enter the machine of Popular Culture in a nice manufactured package. It would be fitting.

The other possibility would be to invent a new religion. L. Ron Hubbard did it, so why couldn't it be done again? The gist would then go something like, "Shut up, pass it on, and you will be rewarded in the afterlife." As Hofstadter once noted, tacking "in the afterlife" to the end of a reward-promising phrase immediately gives it more weight, because hey, you never know!


Tuesday, July 22, 2003
Meme Warfare

I was watching TV the other day when this guy appeared out of nowhere with a syringe (my door was open to let wandering friends, "fresh air", and insects in). He asked if he could inject some cat shit into me. I naturally said no--because hey, who wants cat shit injected into them--but I was too passive to do anything about it, and he injected me anyway. Now I'm feeling a little strange, and a little disappointed in myself for not having developed the proper defenses against this person.

That's a lie, of course; everybody knows I don't watch TV.

The rest isn't true, either, because we all know that none of us would ever let anyone do that. At the least we'd move away. At most we'd grab that baseball bat under the couch. We all know that being physically injected with foreign substances is, on the whole, a bad thing. Even most drug addicts would want to know what's in that syringe before letting someone inject them with it.

And yet this goes on all the time, metaphorically-speaking, when it comes to our minds. We leave the TVs and radios on, subjecting ourselves to numbing sitcoms, mind-wiping political agendas, and manufacturered music. We walk down the street and get assaulted by bulletin boards, blaring car stereos, raving activists, and the occasional philosophical homeless person. We listen to everyone else's crappy opinions, crappy music, and crappy agendas because this is a free country. "No, I won't shut up, because this is America, and I have the right to free speech. What the fuck are you gonna do about it?" I wouldn't have a hand left if I punched every mouth that said that. Such is the price of freedom.

On the one hand, sure, I like being able to say whatever I want, but on the other, I don't want anyone else's crappy ideas soaking into my head, either. It's easy to stay away from physical harm, because you can just avoid it, but it's harder to protect your mind from all the invasive memes out there--especially the ones manufacturered by the media specifically to get into your head and spread--because while there are laws (not to mention etiquette) against physical harm, information broadcasting is not yet seen as something harmful. It's seen as Popular Culture.

We are bombarded by information day-in and day-out. So much, in fact, that people are becoming addicted to information itself. As Khan points out in his entry about addiction, addiction can happen with anything. This is one of those cases where it's less noticeable. When you are addicted to information, you'll take ANYTHING into your head just to get that fix, and that's pretty dangerous. Humans did not evolve in this Information Age. We, as a society, are not equipped to deal with this.

"Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me." What an ingenious meme that is, forcing children for generations to prematurely lower their memetic defenses! Memes are possibly the most destructive force on the planet (tell me that any ecosystem driven only by genes would ever wipe itself out, and yet we might just do it), though their effects are subtle.

"Don't even think about it" is another common phrase. I used to rebal at this, thinking to myself, "I can think whatever I WANT." I knew the reasoning, of course...if something's in your head long enough, you might eventually believe it or act on it.

So how do we keep all this crap from getting into our heads in a nation of free speech? We develop defense mechanisms, some more active than others. Passively, people wear headphones, stare at the ground, or reflexively glaze over large banners (I often miss obvious titles in papers and webpages, because my mind automatically discards anything BIG near the top margin). Actively, people turn up their stereos louder, and speak and behave in ways to bring more attention to themselves, thus competing with the other memes out there. Memes for silence are (by default) less successful than memes for non-silence, so we end up with a memetic arms race.

--Listen to me!

--No, listen to me!

Arms races happen all the time in nature. Progress for the sake of progress. However, in an arms race among memes, our minds (for the time being) are the battlefield, and I wonder how well they can handle it.

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Saturday, July 05, 2003
Close Your Mind

For generations, we've been brainwashed since childhood to be "open-minded individuals", to consider the views and opinions of others as equally appreciable despite their apparent irrationality or invalidity. I say "apparent" because people would like to believe that we puny humans will never really know "the truth". Therefore, since our own beliefs are never really true, we can't judge the beliefs of others.

Nonetheless, I do believe some beliefs are more valid than others. I think most of us do, even people who claim to "...listen carefully to everyone's arguments and then make a rational decision based on the evidence." That "rational" decision is nothing but one's own relatively powerful memeplex (system of beliefs) competing against a poor lone intruder, and usually it wins. It's also the reason we tend to think we're right moreso than others.

A good belief is a consistent belief, and any consistent system of beliefs is de facto resistant to other beliefs. A person with a consistent belief system is therefore more closed-minded than one without. This is a good thing. If your beliefs are consistent, you have less inner conflict, and you find it easier to make decisions in both your daily and long-term life. It's a matter of efficiency, of utility.

Nonetheless, in today's world you're often looked down upon if you have this attitude, if you're not "open-minded". Having an open mind is so trendy, and the concept piggybacks with amateur philosophers, drug addicts, and gay paraders, all of whom are either hyppocritical--demanding you remain open to their beliefs while they stick to theirs--or decisively confused. In either case, how can you take such people seriously? Well, you can't, which is why in rare cases, the close-minded person is at least respected for being stalwart in the face of overwhelming opposition.

Religious zealots are an exception to the open-mindedness trend, of course. They believe they ARE right (or that God is right) and don't need to be open to a challenging system. However, even modern religions accept that other views are out there, telling young people to " strong in your faith when you go away to college, because your faith will be challenged, and you will be tempted to turn away from God."

Having an open mind is a bad thing. How can you stand for anything if you stand for nothing? What identifies you as a person? How can you constantly analyze everything and decide what is right on a case-by-case basis? How do you keep from getting duped, or believing any old thing?

An open mind is like an open wound; it's ripe for infection.

My mind is closed.

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