Category Archives: Uncategorized

How the Black Death Radically Changed the Course of History

This article is relevant to our recent discussions and Zak Stein’s (see Edward’s recent post) suggestion that great destabilizing events open gaps in which new structures can supplant older, disintegrating systems–with the inherent risks and opportunities.

Can memes bypass rationality to manipulate you?

We’ve had a few discussions about what ‘memes’ are and how they work. We didn’t reach a consensus on whether they are true replicators in their own rights, as genes (or gene collectives) seem to be. Consider the following excerpt (author permission obtained) with the less rigorous working definition of a meme in mind: a unit of information with the capacity to shape perception and belief (or a  unit of ‘culture transmission’). Also, consider the conversations and readings we’ve had about metaphors and embodied cognition (particularly Lakoff and Johnson’s works and Edward’s many posts on the topic. Even in Facebook, there are people calling out manipulation by meme.


Memes can manipulate your perspective

New Scientist: The truth about intelligence

NS has several articles on the topic in their new issue, like “What is it really?” and “Do IQ tests really work?” See the link to explore it. For example, from the first article:

“When researchers talk about intelligence, they are referring to a specific set of skills that includes the abilities to reason, learn, plan and solve problems. The interesting thing is that people who are good at one of them tend to be good at all of them. These skills seem to reflect a broad mental capability, which has been dubbed general intelligence or g. This seems to fly in the face of old ideas. In the early 1980s, Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner argued for the existence of multiple intelligences, including ‘bodily-kinaesthetic’, ‘logical-mathematical’ and ‘musical’. However, most researchers now believe these categories reflect different blends of abilities, skills and personality traits, not all of which are related to cognitive ability.”

Interplanetary Festival June 7 and 8

Put on by the Santa Fe Institute. Anyone interested in car pooling? The Facebook blurb below. See the blue link for many more details:

“On June 7th and 8th of 2018, the Santa Fe Institute’s first annual InterPlanetary Festival will draw space enthusiasts from around the world for a two-day celebration of human ingenuity. This free-to-attend festival will transform the Railyard District in downtown Santa Fe, with an expo showcasing innovation, open-air concerts, lectures and panel discussions, a Sci-Fi film showcase, pop-up art installations, art talks, an InterPlanetary market, food, drink, cosplay, and gaming, all centered around InterPlanetary topics and citizen science.”

See additional Watson posts on our Meetup web site…

… since that seems to be where the discussion on this topic ended up this time around. — PJW

PS: FWIW — having encountered a Wolverine in the wild, finally, in 2014, even as a professional zoologist very interested in the species, my Wolverine meme-complex instantly changed quite drastically. Back at the Biological Station, I was not able to convey how it changed, and everyone else’s Wolverine meme stayed the same, or, if it was modified, could not possibly be like mine. I could tell. Memes are hard to convey and even harder to unify amongst people. This is why you have to threaten eternal damnation to those who cannot take moral memes on board with adequate resemblance to the rest of the in-group. — PJW

Memetics Discussion

Dear All,
Is our next meeting regular BMCAI meetup June 4th? Also, note that I have Cc’ed four of my most recent students on the chance that they might be interested in trying out our group.
I’m happy to be open-minded (part of me is, anyway) and discuss memes and memeplexes, and maybe have my perspectives upgraded. But, I’ve been dealing with the meme-thing since Dawkins came up with it in the selfish gene. It has pretty much gone nowhere within professional evolutionary psychology. Some initial excitement mostly fueled by Dawkin’s articulate charisma. But for the longest time now, very few peer-reviewed papers, very few talks at professional meetings. Even Dawkins seems to downplay the idea now. Maybe a bit embarrassed. Try to get a job specializing in memetics. You’ll probably end up as a priest in a dying religion, or in advertising. Not in academia. Of course, that is not necessarily the ultimate measure of the value of an idea. But there are other ways to mitigate the hold of the meme-concept on certain people.
Remark: I think that the main reason the vague idea of memes still fascinates some folks is that it triggers “religiosity instincts.” Ones that predispose all of us to magical thinking.
Anyway, the biggest problem is that memes are very crappy replicators compared to genes; hell, we cannot even get solid agreement on what a meme is!
Body-brain-mind systems should evolve to take memes (or not!) and be defended against having their memosphere “infected”  by that meme in its pristine primordial form (i.e., the form in which it originally was received). Specifically, every BBM system should take on the meme in a way that is maximally adaptive for that particular gene “survival machine.” For example, we know that taught morals, even if you have a skilled shaman, are very malleable in relation to an individual’s nonconsciously chosen optimal reproductive strategy, as makes perfect sense.
This is why when discussing any moderately complex idea, it is difficult to come to a common understanding. Even to develop a common language. And, even if you think you have done so, that notion is just hypothetical. A matter of faith. A “shared meme” really is evoking very different very different, and highly contingent responses in any collection of people. (Religious professional’s job, traditionally, is to use all possible tricks to minimize those differences, to make as sure as possible that everyone’s BIOS chip has the same code – a big job, thus the complexity of religion.) We cannot even get together on the bloodly “Golden Rule,” can we. Nope — I’m opening today’s New York Times. Looks like even within small regions, “infection” with the Golden Rule still has not occurred, not even within small groups.
Further, there is individually adaptive drift in people’s understanding of any given meme or memeplex. This is one reason why religious teachings have to be given, skillfully, over and over again. It is also why in the context of religion and most other ideological systems “honest signals” of commitment, quality, and need constantly have to be refreshed, renewed (religion helps us get those socially essential job done with high effectiveness and efficiency – one reason it is so popular). Having a somewhat unified understanding of your group’s moral code is critical for the operation of complex contractual reciprocity, pan-culturally the basic human way of life. If you cannot demonstrate that you do, you are less popular, shunned, or just killed. But we can always pretend a bit, risky but potentially profitable in fitness terms.
We could talk a bit about a “learning instinct” (Is it really one? Yes and No.) that, in the context of my evolution of religiosity and human coalitional psychology class, I call “cognitive system zero,” in contrast to CS’s 1 &2. It makes us maximally open to at least medium fidelity recording of meme’s. I also refer to this system and its cognitive-emotional effects as “the mystery instinct,” “the rationality switch,” (too often flipped to the off position in our troubled society), and “mystery mode.” I think we have evolved a cognitive mode, adaptive to the individual and their group (and so back again to the individual; eschew genetic group selection), that makes us maximally receptive to having certain kinds of memes burnt into our BIOS (i.e., not our normal relatively flexible memory systems) using very special procedures, often religious in nature at least for the last 300K+ years, with unusually intra- and inter-individual good fidelity.
The ubiquity, complexity, and nature of religion, IMO, is a testament to the nearly impossible job of getting people to adopt even modestly fitness-relevant memes in a uniform manner. But, thank God for that BIOS chip in my computer, right? Without it, my fancy laptop would be a brick. We would be bricks too, socioeconomically, if we did not have a relatively decent in-group tuned BIOS.
I had fun writing this. But I should be working on grading my students’ journals! — Paul


Fast mapping technique will revolutionize brain research

Tony Zador of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory devised a new technique for mapping connections among neurons. It is much faster than other methods and at least as accurate as the most accurate competing methods, including fluorescence techniques. The technique, MAPseq, uses genetically modified viruses to insert unique RNA sequences (“bar codes”) into each neuron. Post-mortem DNA sequencing identifies connections among all neurons in the sample. The resulting model is structural, not functional. Derived models are not spatially accurate (i.e., not to scale and not physiographically representative). The models identify intraneural connections but not specific messaging among neurons. Zador is pursuing functional analysis by combining MAPseq with other techniques. MAPseq currently can map about 100,000 neurons per week. Increasing hardware and software efficiency and power will improve throughput dramatically over time.

This is the most startling brain research development Mark has come across recently. The implications are tantalizing. Start with embedding unique codes (think of inventory numbers) in each neuron. Presumably using a virus to add a consistent unique identifier to every cell in an organism could result in a unique  “bar code” for every human and every other organism. We already have such a code in our genome, but this method could create a simpler code that would be easily readable by miniature, portable DNA sequencers. It could be a shorthand code linked to a person’s full genome record. 

Back to brain research, once Zador and others find ways to combine real-time functional mapping and non-destructive ‘reading’ of the cellular IDs, increasingly faster computing and smarter (AI-enabled) software may make it possible to map not only a person’s neural connectome, but the functional dynamics playing out in the brain from moment to moment. That, in turn, could make it possible to create a high-fidelity, functional copy of a human mind (aka, a ‘mindclone’). It would probably not be necessary to explicitly model every neuron, synapse, and intraneural communication, but that may one day be possible.