Thursday, October 29, 2015

Memetic Sterility

"Well treat me like the sea, oh so salty and mean, a-ha-ha
Well treat me like disease, like the rats and the fleas, a-ha-ha!
We'll discard who you please like the leaves off a tree, a-ha-ha
Let's shake hands if you want but soon both hands are gone, a-ha-ha, haha!"

Modest Mouse - March Into the Sea

So I'm listening to someone talk about minimum viable populations and I thinks to myself, I does - has anyone estimated this for humans? But then of course when we discuss humanity's survival, what we're really talking about is the persistence of human civilization. A few extra lice-ridden apes mucking around digging up roots and worms with their bare hands to gnaw on as they huddle in the bushes hoping the wolves don't find them, that's not exactly what we're going for with this whole evolution thing. Thought is the individual. Ideas make us what we are, the greatest of them being the idea of the self, what we normally call self-awareness. The packaging is increasingly superfluous.

So if human survival is the survival of ideas, that sets me thinking: is there such a thing as a minimum viable population of ideas? Ignoring the apes which house these, the ecosystem for ideas, can we talk about a minimum viable population size within the memetic milieu? How many thoughts make up a sentient society? Or at least a living system - does the pack of music composition trends hunt the herds of instrument forms for sustenance? Or are instrument forms parasites subsisting on the population of musical forms available at any one time? There's no real room for a pibgorn in Enter Sandman, any more than deer can graze in a parking lot.

Further, what other ecological precepts might we adapt to this system? Can we talk about memetic inbreeding depression? How mono can a monomyth get? As the Luke Skywalker meme is selected for over all other alleles at the hero locus, as we lose Ender Wiggin and Valentine Michael Smith to an increasingly homogenous, ballooning population of Luke-clones, does the resistance of the hero-bearing sentient system to diseases like religion or postmodernism also decrease? How few individual thought patterns you see fleeting across a Twitter feed still carry the Feanor allele? How long before the entire population is wiped out by a single pandemic, by the latest quack nostrum or racial panic or sinking the whole world's resources into promoting the latest boy-band? The world was nearly wiped out, and is still in such danger, when the weapon meme could not adapt to the stochastic pressure of nuclear fission. We had to dredge up and breed up the nearly extirpated notion of the double-edged sword, more elusive than white tigers in a weapon-meme population dominated by the invincible high-flying bomber and ICBM. We still don't know how to curb the proliferation of the "profit motive" which shows such a great predilection for inbreeding and such ravenously large litters when it does.

How long before the precept of personal social status, now mating with itself in old and new forms from wealth to fame to conspicuous consumption to the number of friends on Facebook and the number of achievement points on Steam, ostracizes all divergent thought processes and thought becomes unable to procreate, unable to formulate new thought?

How long before sterility?

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