Thursday, 21 June 2012

Memetics and what you should know so we can get to the fun stuff.

Having imbibed a great deal of exceedingly cheap alcohol, I decided to not let this reprieve from the everyday artist anxieties that beriddle my being on a daily basis go to waste and actually put some words on (digital) paper. This is something I generally intend to do every day but never “get round to it” when in fact both OpenOffice Writer (laugh if you want but I like it more than the alternatives) and Ableton sit in that little horrid bar thingy that lies at the bottom of my screen in windows all day and I never touch the fucker.

SO. What the fuck have I finally started to harp up about? Artist anxiety? Fuck no, that side of art is depressing as fuck: it ruins the romance, the feeling that the end product just popped out, fully formed, from the head of Zeus. No, class, today we are going to talk about MEMETICS.

Why, you ask, does it deserve both bold and italics? Surely you mean memes, those delightful text-and-visual posts that crawl all over the internet, mutating and mating with each other and making people the world over laugh? I say NO! Although these beauteous things fall under the remit of memetics, they are not the long and short of it.

Potted history of memetics: Richard Dawkins posited in his book The Selfish Gene that genes are, at base, the replicators involved in both evolution (ie genes are the things that really desire to be passed on and drive their “vehicles” [read: us] to reproduce so the genes can survive) and at an individual level, but that this may also have a counterpart in human culture. He invented the term “meme”, from the word “mime”, to copy an action from another individual, to be analogous to the word gene. And thus the word lay pretty dormant until the early part of the first age of the internet, when Neal Stephenson picked up on the idea. He posited that Dawkins' idea, thrown in at the end of an otherwise era-defining book, actually had travel in it. It wasn't until much later that Susan Blackmore picked up on the idea and produced a crystallized formation of the theory in her book “the Meme Machine.”

But this is is mere history. The theory is a beauteous one indeed. When a person interacts with someone else, information is transferred. The information that is transferred can be called a meme. However, memes are selfish quasi-creatures, that exist in an ecosystem analogous to one in nature. They have to evolve to cope with environmental factors, just as individuals do in nature. A successful meme has to be memorable, or else it'll be forgotten and pushed out. It has to be flexible, to be able to survive and cohabit with other (potentially complementary, potentially hazardous) memes in the surrounding “meme-pool” (analogous to a gene pool). It has to be adaptable to change. It can sometimes combine itself with other, complementary memes to create what we call a memeplex. Its transference is virus-like, jumping from one individual's brain to another, by having a mechanism that makes the individual want to share it.

Have you ever wanted to share a piece of music or news with a friend? That is because the information you picked up isn't easily forgettable and we are a sharing species, not to mention the fact that that information has written into it that you should want to share it. 
Even this entire mini-essay is an exercise in memetics. I am sharing this information with you, dear reader, precisely because as a human being, geared very specifically towards memetics, believes that this information is important to share. A prime example of a memeplex is religion, and it does spread like a virus, from one individual to another. 

Mostly I'm sharing this with you because this theory has informed the basis of my thinking for many years, and if you're going to read about the (frankly far more entertaining) posts I intend to put up later on, you'd do well to understand this base level. Capiche? It's a bit of a dry post, but it's gonna get a lot more Weird from this point forward... Read more on the above at wikipedia if you want, k?

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