|In the architecture of Factasia the bit of Magic which has prime place in mediating between our capability and our purposes is consensus. Can memetics help us to create and exploit consensus? Here are some thoughts on how it might.||Memetics rests on an analogy between cultural and biological evolution, in which ideas (renamed memes) are replicators in the evolution of culture and play a role similar to that of to genes in the evolution of the biosphere. We consider below some ideas from biological evolution and speculate on their relevance to cultural evolution.|
Evolutionarily Stable Strategy|
The idea here is that for a gene to survive it must be locally optimal in the biological niche which it occupies. This means that there must be no alternative gene which would be relatively advantaged (in terms of self replication) should it appear in that context.
The need for evolutionary stable strategies could be translated into a deep distrust of the viability of altruistic memes. Culturally however this needs to be treated with the greatest caution. I would like to introduce here the idea of a consensually determined memetic topology. A substantial factor in the advantage of a meme to active hosts is the attitude of others. The topology of advantage is largely determined by culture. The effect of consensual determination of topology is that a meme-complex which combines altruism with intolerance of behaviours which exploit that kind of altruism may well be stable in the ideosphere. This is like a tit-for-tat strategy in which society at large may contribute to the tit in support of an individual who has just had a bad tat.
Evolutionarily Dynamic Strategy|
Most of the time evolution moves very slowly and therefore we would only expect to see characteristics of organisms which are stable in context. If there is a discontinuity of context (e.g. climatic change caused by meteorite impact), previously stable strategies will become unstable. To understand how things work during such crises you have to understand the dynamics.
Engineering with Dynamic Meme-Complexes|
The ideosphere has been evolving at a much higher speed than the biosphere. We are now in the region of a discontinuity in the pace of evolution of the ideosphere catalysed by the deployment of pervasive broadband digital networks. Future engineering now demands the creation of consensus in favour of moving towards some distant desired state.
So we should expect to see dynamic rather than stable strategies proliferating in the ideosphere. Memetic future engineering should in any case be primarily interested in dynamic strategies, since its purpose is to effect change.
Even without any self-conscious memetic engineering we can see strategies being adopted which are essentially dynamic. This applies particularly to technology development, where players must invest in technologies long before their viability can be demonstrated if they are to be competitive when it matures.
Dynamic strategies may also become more conspicuous in socio-political matters as they become increasingly bound up with the evolution of supporting information techology.
To engineer the future you need meme-complexes which are good today (while most people are not "infected"), but become benignly suboptimal as they are taken up. By "benignly suboptimal" I mean that a better strategy appears which just happens to be nearer our engineering target. Though the targets are accidental rather than contrived, this happens normally as technology progresses. It is optimal today to invest in tommorrow's technology, tommorrow, investing in that same technology will be suboptimal.
One of the toughest things to understand in biosphere evolution is how a behaviour could have evolved within the constraint of reachability. This constraint is imposed by the vanishingly small probability of the complex genetic mutations required for evolution of some new biological feature. If these changes could not have occured all at once, then a sequence of changes must be postulated in which each step in the sequence is advantageous.
Thinking in terms of a topology of genetic advantage, one cannot jump from one local maximum to a distant local maximum, and to progress from one peak to another by small steps involves the organism in lethal disadvantage during the journey.
There are features which help to mitigate the difficulties which that presents. Sexual reproduction is one, which improves the amount of non-lethal variation which can occur in genomes by shuffling packs of genes. Evolution of adaptability is another.
In the ideosphere consensus moulds the topology and can create bridges over what might otherwise have been unbridgeable chasms.
For this reason, memetic future engineering need not be constrained to engineering a dynamic which plots a course to a reachable target by an uphill route. Efficiency and speed dictate an understanding of the topology so that where necessary, consensus can be harnessed to fill in the dips or chasms and facilitiate the journey. But a chasm is not an impassable obstacle as it might be in genetic evolution. We can eye it up and engineer a bridge.