Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Source of Memes

Memes related to star travel have been pointed out as a key parameter for discussing possible alien civilizations. The various types of memes that support star travel are consistent with how the civilization values itself, or rather what aspects of itself it values. Memes represent the fundamental credos of the civilization, and are not subject to frequent modification.

If they are so important, where do they come from? Obviously the civilization on any solo planet starts without even understanding the nature of stars and the solar systems that accompany them. To the early citizens on the planet, they are points of light, and somehow the early culture there incorporates them into the view of the world or nature. Fast forward to the middle of the period of the rise in technology, and the basic nature of stars has been uncovered, and the existence of other planets around these stars is revealed by astronomical observations. At some time between that revelation and the achievement of asymptotic technology, the meme for star travel needs to be invented and the civilization has to accept it as their future, their objective, their mission, their purpose. How does that happen?

As noted before, the meme for space travel is a combination of the values that the civilization reveres about itself with the motivation for spreading those values. In the early days of the civilization, there is no unity; that is achieved either earlier or later, by conquest or by assimilation. In those early, pre-unification days, there could be a variety of values that different portions of the civilization hold dear. One source of the final star travel meme could be one of those of a faction, probably geographic, that was gradually accepted by the other factions. This does not address how the meme was created and survived within that dominant faction.

One possible source is from an individual or a small group of individuals, in some position of power or influence, who adopt the meme and it disperses from there. It might well be that it is a projection upon the whole civilization of a meme held by an individual; the individual is praised for some attribute, perhaps his prowess with technology, and this individual then seeks to have it become a universal value, not about himself, but about the civilization as a whole, perhaps starting with the faction to which he belongs. This requires a particular type of individual.

If the psychology of aliens is anything similar to that of humans, pre-adults and young adults might be praised for what they have done, but this might be generalized to some particular trait that is said to be specially present in the individual pre-adult or young adult. If the acceptance of the praise is comfortable, the praise does its work and the individual continues to train for improvement in those activities which led to the praise. However, if the acceptance of the praise is uncomfortable, but cannot be rejected by the individual because of custom or some quirk of personality, it might be simply transferred to be thought of as a generic trait of the civilization or the individuals of the civilization. Thus, if this individual rises to a position where he/she/it can influence large numbers of others, it might propagate. The members of the civilization will listen to the important personage tell them about their excellent quality. And thus the citizens of the civilization will start to think of this particular value as their value, the reason their civilization is worth something, and the reason why they should be the ones to propagate this value to other planets, via colonization or otherwise.

Certainly there must be other routes by which a combination of individual psychology and situation, coupled with that individual’s access to means of communication and personal persuasiveness, that could lead to a particular value being accepted as the hallmark of the civilization itself, or of the generic citizen. If many other young adults had heard this praise directed at themselves, they might readily accept it as a universal trait of the citizens of the civilization, perhaps keeping in mind that they were leading the count in possessing that trait, having more than the average in a faction that already had it.

It does not seem nearly so likely that the meme would be created by a committee. A committee might ratify a value which had arisen some generations before, and was now widely accepted. The approval of some governance committee or scholars union or other influential group could certainly help solidify the hallmark, and even to promote it as a justification for star travel.

If the civilization was still divided into factions at this time, some competitive process might take place, or less important or smaller groups might be simply absorbed by the larger faction, and as this occurred, might then accept the meme for their own. Thus there exists pathways that can be imagined that would lead to a universal meme, widely accepted, that dictated just how the civilization would travel to the stars, and why it would do so. It would do so because the meme, created by the pathway outlined above or by some other pathway, became part of the indoctrination or training that pre-adults or young adults all received. This would certainly serve to cement the meme into the foundational beliefs of the civilization, where it would reside along with the other rules for behavior, social norms, approved activities, and other parts of the beliefs of the civilization that might be labeled its culture.

Note the key points here. There has to be some originating individual, who rejects personal praise but subsumes it as part of his faction’s traits, then who achieves a position of influence and prominence and proceeds to make that trait or attribute recognized and accepted by a substantial subset of the citizens. In other words, a very unique combination of personality traits and career events has to add up to having a meme be established. This might be followed up generations later by translating the meme from a value that the society had about itself to a motivation for propagating the value beyond their own solar system.

This means that if we can come to understand the likelihood of particular traits being praised in pre-adults and young adults of unknown alien civilizations, we can form some impression of the likelihood of the different categories of alien civilizations.

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