2003 NBIC Report: William Sims Bainbridge on “Memetics”
Posted Jul 06, 2007
Update 11/18/08 Faced with a global economic crisis and the prospect of a radically altered standard of living, there's been a lot of traffic coming through Skilluminati Research to read about the "Changing Images of Man" report. I've also fixed the link for this gem of an information overdose from William Sims Bainbridge. The media tools and psychological triggers that marketing and advertising persuaders use are no different from the tools and triggers of political spectacle. It's worth taking the time to understand the rather obtuse field of Memetics -- because most of the people who do understand it are being paid to use it against you.
After this excerpt there's links for further reading on the subject, as well as some related Skilluminati articles. The NBIC report, however, covers a tremendous range of topics and memetic theory is just a tiny slice. The acroynm stands for Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information Technology and Cognitive Enhancement. Here's the Abstract overview:
"The chief areas of application include: expanding human cognition and communication, improving human health and physical capabilities, enhancing group and societal outcomes, strengthening national security, and unifying science and education. Convergence will be based on the material unity of nature at the nanoscale, technology integration from the nanoscale, key transforming tools, the concept of reality as closely coupled hierarchical complex systems, and the goal to improve human performance."
Not exactly a page turner but there's about 50 amazing passages in here, most of which you can clear find through browsing the table of contents.
In the "information society" of the 21st century, the most valuable resource will not be iron or oil but culture. However, the sciences of human culture have lacked a formal paradigm and a rigorous methodology. A fresh approach to culture, based on biological metaphors and information science methodologies, could vastly enhance the human and economic value of our cultural heritage and provide cognitive science with a host of new research tools. The fundamental concept is the meme, analogous to the gene in biological genetics, an element of culture that can be the basis of cultural variation, selection, and evolution.
"World-views" may be self-regulating, in this respect, each dominant ideology naturally stimulating the evolution of counter-ideologies. Just when Western Civilization rejoiced that it had vanquished Nazism and Marxism, and the "end of history" was at hand, radical Islam emerged to challenge its fundamental values (El-Affendi 1999). Quite apart from the issue of terrorist attacks from radical fringes of Islam, the entire Muslim religious tradition may have an evolutionary advantage over western secularism, because it encourages a higher birth rate (Keyfitz 1986). An inescapable natural law may be at work here, comparable to that which regulates the constantly evolving relations between predators and prey in the biological realm, ensuring that there is always a rival culture, and complete victory is impossible (Maynard Smith 1982). However, deep scientific understanding of the memetic processes that generate radical opposition movements may help government policymakers combat them effectively. It may never be possible to eradicate them entirely, but with new scientific methods, we should be able to prevent them from driving our civilization to extinction.
The scientific study of culture is both possible and pregnant with knowledge of human behavior. Thus, it deserves to be given more resources, especially in light of current events. These events include not only the terrorism of September 11, 2001, but also the dot-com crash and the failure of nations as diverse as Argentina, Indonesia, and Japan to sustain their economic development. Memetic science could help us deal with challenges to American cultural supremacy, discover the products and services that will really make the information economy profitable, and identify the forms of social institutions most conducive to social and economic progress.
For more information on memetics, the best intro I've seen so far would be Wes Unruh's introduction -- look past the fact it's a Squidoo page and check out The Truth About Memetics. (Wes is also the author, along with Vancouver-area metagenius Edward Wilson, of the very expansive and thought-provoking book The Art of Memetics, which you can read for free by clicking here.)
Courtesy of Pizza SEO, here's a DIY curriculum for a deeper understanding of memetics as a practice:
1. Start with Language and Power, a thorough and unusually honest assessment of persuasive language patterns, from a wide variety of contexts and disciplines.
2. To keep your brain moving with another model (this is contradictory but still useful), check out The Memetic Lexicon.
3. To scramble the signal even further, here's purely pragmatic perspective from Eric Dahl, who maintains this wiki about Memetic Warfare.
4. Finally, for a sense of where all this logically leads, check out Dan Bartlett's excellent introductory essay The Biology of Belief.
Filed in: Social Control
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