Tuesday, 4 August 2009

On: "The Third Replicator" from New Scientist 01-Aug-2009

I was a little inspired by the elegance of the framework Susan Blackmore proposes in this article. I've long been a firm believer in evolution in all domains, particularly in technology (i.e. beyond biology and genetics), but I may have been a bit fuzzy on where "Memes" (pronounced: meems not mems apparently) fitted in. What follows is my interpretation of the ideas.

* My Definitions:
+ Behaviour: is the instructions that translate current state into future state.
(State includes all of the world that influences and is in turn influenced by an entity.)

+ Genes are molecular-machines; a particular subset of entities in biochemical phase-space (a conceptual, multi-dimensional, graph space in which all (bio)chemical structures can be defined).

+ Humans (and all species of life forms) are 'gene-machines'.

+ Memes are concepts learned by certain gene-machines. (Meme-capable Gene-machines: MCGMs)

+ 'Meme-machines' include all of our (technological) creations.

+ Temes are the hypothetical, next type of replicators (where memes and genes where the previous two). And i think (as far as suggestions for naming Temes is concerned) they should be called "T3M3S" or "T3MES", standing for *Tier-3* (T3) replicators with the l33t speak adding the connotations of digitisation/computerisation.

** Replicators take control:
+ Genes control *behaviour* of biochemistry.
+ Memes control *behaviour* of specific species of gene-machines.
+ Thus, Temes should control the *behaviour* of a specific 'species' of meme-machine.

** Replicators are shaped:
+ Genes are selected by their utility in the environment (the biosphere) and distorted by it.
+ Memes are selected by their utility in the meme-o-sphere (brain-space) and the success of their physical implementation, if there is one.

** The march of the replicators:
When genes first appeared (in primordial biochemistry) they were able to evolve/emerge new biochemistry so much faster, than the previous (almost entirely surreptitious) biochemical processes, that they took control of biochemistry and quickly began to utilise all the biochemical resources (in the world).

When a species passes a critical threshold, where after memes are able to proliferate, genes can no longer compete for control of the species' behaviour (because memes evolve/emerge orders of magnitude faster, it would be a very biased arms race). Thus memes assume control of genetics: they assert huge selection pressures for genes that increase the size (depth and breadth) of the meme-o-sphere (i.e. the pool of human minds available for use). They don't stop at controlling the host species' genes either; as the mem-o-sphere grows, it asserts increasing influence over the entire genetic phase space, through that to the entire biosphere.

Genetically complex species can only emerge and persist within an environmental niche created by the baroque mountain of genetic species that emerged previous to it (like an exponentially expanding mass of foam). This is exactly the same for memes; the more complex (e.g. baking bread) build out (and sometimes up) from the less complex (e.g. how to make fire). The 'landscape', into which this web of concepts expands into, I will call 'meme-space': an unimaginably multi-dimensional place in which all possible concepts can be contained. In it is everything from: linking an oral noise to an object, to how a state of the art computer processor is built, and much more beyond that.

The amount of physical matter controlled, by these replicators, increases during each epoch: primordial biochemistry would almost certainly have been limited to a very meagre resources (e.g. the some organic compounds in an ideal zone around a hydrothermal vent). Cellular life conquered the world, incorporating practically all sources of water, carbon, nitrogen, etc, into trillions of tonnes of usable biomass. Now that us Meme-machines dominate the world, we (with our agriculture) account for much of that biomass, but far beyond that we're shifting around enormous amounts of inorganic matter too (housing, industry, infrastructure, mega-engineering projects like dams); a significant fraction of the earth's surface has been configured by us (for better or worst).

** Inferences on the next replicator King:
By analogy to the previous two phase changes (between dominant replicators), we would expect the "Temes" (the next level of replicators) to exhibit the following traits:

+ They are an emergent behaviour of a specific species of meme. i.e. an entity created by that meme, like a computer, or, more realistically, a particular type of software running on computers.

+ The domain of their possible natures (Teme-space) will have been ponderously explored, to a relatively limited degree, by Memes. Controlling their species' behaviour in a similarly blunt way to how hedgehog behaviour is modified to favour running away from moving cars, rather than curling up: through the ruthless pruning of individuals with unsuitable genes, rather than a logical induction.

+ Multiple Teme-capable Meme-machines (TCMMs) may begin to emerge in tandem, as may have been the case with proto-humans (Neanderthals, 'hobbits', homo-erectus, etc). Or perhaps a merging of two potential candidates may spontaneously create a suitable Meme-machine, rather than a gradual enhancement of a single Meme-machine (Memes are much less limited than genes when it comes to hybridisation).

+ We're not aware of Teme control over memes as yet, so: Either, no TCMMs have been created yet, or their influence is still fairly small (on a par to higher mammals that teach offspring some simple ideas by example). The latter would put us in a period of hybrid control (between Memes and Temes), where we are unwittingly assisting Temes increased prevalence by satisfying our own goals (our exponential increasing of computing power mirroring the earlier explosion in human brain size.

+ Following the pattern of increasing dominion over matter, Teme-machines could go far beyond merely scratching the surface of one planet; if they took the best features of Meme and Gene machines, for example, they would be able to manipulate an unlimited amount of inorganic matter at the molecular level: nanotechnology at it's most fanciful; utilisation of all planetary matter for the Teme-o-sphere!

** Conclusion (end of Meme)
A view I find enticing is that there is, and will never be a transition to Temes; digital information is just another change of medium for Memes. After all, they've gone from, learning by example to verbal to written to a bifurcation of various multimedia. What difference does encoding them in microscopic bits of matter make? It might not even make any difference if the ones slinging them about are Artificial Intelligences of superhuman intellect.

On the other hand, perhaps these superhuman intelligences will not be created in out image: consciousness as we know it is playing an ever decreasing part in the replication, transmission and even recombination of Memes (i.e. on the Internet); what if this trend continues to the point were the Memes are pushing themselves around; pure ideas coming into a life of their own in an entirely unfathomable level of reality.....

Ok, so that's probably just me flapping my trap with the delusion of thinking I'm saying something vaguely profound, when I'm just taking an idea an inference too far. However, just because we are unable to imagine any level of intelligence beyond our own logical consciousness, is that a good reason to believe one won't emerge? By definition we would lack the ability to comprehend that domain. Just as it's impossible to frame the concept of MMPORPG gold farmers [1] in a way that a dog could appreciate.

This "replicator" categorisation may be entirely useless; a trend line drawn from 2 cherry picked data points. Alternatives that follow a similar vein may be more pertinent. Ray Kurzweil, in "The Singularity is Near" suggests 6 epochs: (1) Physics/Chemistry (2) Biology/DNA (3) Neurons/Brains (4) Technology [where we are now] (5) Merger of humanity and technology (6) Universe awakens [all matter is intelligently configured].

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