Thursday, 19 February 2015

Memetics and Probablities

As a musician, writer, academic, whatever-the-hell-I-decide-I-am-that-day, the biggest burning question to me is how exactly do ideas generate and propogate? I've read a buttload of psychology (the discipline of which is ill-equipped at the moment to deal with this), history, philosophy, semiotics and the like, and not come across anyone who's really started to tackle this question. It's a thorny issue in general, when you have to start with "well what constitutes an idea?" and a whole other related definitive questions, but still, it remains. 

More interesting still is when people converge on an idea in entirely different circumstances on limited amounts of the same information. This has occurred time and time again throughout the histories of art, music, science, mathematics... So many bizarre incidences of people arriving at the same solutions to issues entirely independently, and with little recourse to what we'd consider linear logic from those initial questions. 

Eventually, when I found my way to memetics, I thought that this could potentially give at least a narrative solution to this idea. The solution could be seen as that similar local ecologies of memes (the local memepool) and a similar environment could yield similar mutations - a process in evolutionary biology called convergent evolution

As Steven Jan (eminent musical memeticist) notes in his paper "Replicating Sonorities" coequality of memes is rather difficult to distinguish, and therefore probabilistic means shall have to be implied when distinguishing between the equalness of memes at different levels of meaning. However, this idea of probability in memetic creation and transmission is actually a really elegant solution to the above problems. 

For example, is there a formula for how far a memeplex (a collection of memes/ideas that replicate and adapt together - think "genre") has to come before a measured evolution and stable mutation is likely and suggested? How do ideas that are "in the air" in similar cultures with similar inputs occur independently? There are numerous notable cases where this happens (especially in the sciences - see Kuhn and scientific revolutions etc), and it's certainly advantageous to understand this mechanism for it happens often enough that there surely is one... HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN?

Probability actually really fucking important - how probable is it that a meme will copied? What conditions need to be satisfied on a gross basis? (individual differences occur, but in talking of memetics and musical receptivity altogether we're in the realm of abstracts already, so how abstractly likely is it for any given meme to be copied at all, and how is this affected/how does it affect variability?)

Apologies for the echo-chamber post, but sometimes I think it's interesting to try follow someone else's thoughts into abstract realms just to sort of make your brain reach into places it's not accustomed to.

The Beauty of the Incomplete

Have you ever seen sketches, half-finished skeletons of works, and found them to be full of intriguing possibilities? Half-heard, half-seen, half-remembered suggestions of what the work could be, the details that may have been, the structures that it could have given birth to. These sketches sometimes are a greater piece of work, more personal, more intimate, and more bursting with life, than the finished article. 

In this sense, some of the greatest works of art we may ever encounter in our lifetimes may be half heard and half remembered, and may never have existed at all. Have you ever experienced the small and incommunicable horror of digging out a track from your youth, old to find it was nowhere near as intense, as vivid, as to-the-point as you remember? In this case you're either victim of your own rose-tinted view on your youth, or victim of memory decay, coupled with a bit of old memory interference (something us humans are quite prone to doing).

I once put this to a friend as "the paths leading towards a work of art, and away from a work of art, are potentially far more beautiful than the work itself", but in this instance, it's the work's primal form that actually is instantly more appealing as it invites you to complete it, to engage with it, for you to bring life to it. "Finished" works, with their colours filled-in, their details finely sculpted, their mixes deeper than Mariana Trench, just sit there, expecting admiration, expecting someone to cast their eye over it, declare it beautiful in its craftsmanship and for you to move on. Unfinished works, by contrast, want you, need you to gaze on its incompleteness, its hidden complexities, the complexities that could be

For me, as far as aesthetic experience, these unfinished pieces, these sketches, these beautiful, naked ideas, are far more satisfying to behold, and far more beautiful. 

Bjork, Black Boned Angel & Nadja, Wife


Last night I had a dream. I'm not really going to talk about the content of the dream, because as anyone'll attest to, talking about your dreams to someone who is entirely incapable of experiencing it is utterly tedious for the receiver.

No, we're going to talk about dreaming. Psychologists are slowly coming to a consensus that dreaming in general is a fairly random thing. What happens in your brain as you dream is that your neurons - the things your brain's made up of and what makes you work - basically just let off electrical charges in a random-ish way. I say random-ish because it's not precisely random, mathematically speaking, and it's theorised that there's a higher chance of neurons that have been fairly recently active have a higher chance of firing. This last bit is important.

Your brainbits talk to one another via electrical firing from neuron-to-neuron - your language centre, your muscle control centre, the bits where your vision is processed and sent on for translation into meaning. Not only that, but processing in these brainbits themselves are also conducted by neurons firing electricity in the form of chemical shit at one another. Now imagine that, because of how electricity conductors work, and chemicals, too, these things are kinda excitable and ready to go again once they've recovered a bit. This is the state your brain is in when you're asleep. Yeah, you've got some really weird (and cool) systems to stop you from suddenly going for a jog while you're dreaming (although as we know these things aren't always effective - I'm looking at you, sleepwalkers), but by and large, it's mostly your noggin going off and doing its own thing for a bit based on what you've done that day.

Which is why you're likely to dream about 1) stuff that's preying on your mind, and/or 2) completely bizarre shit. It's also why your dreams don't really matter at all, in all likelihood, and furthermore why no-one actually gives a shit about what you dreamt about.

Because in the end, dreaming is mostly just your brain farting in your sleep.