Monday, November 2, 2015

The Erosion of Memes

Specifically, if an alien society has a meme which dictates to it that it should do interstellar travel, it will, and if it has one that says the opposite, it will not. We can only expect to see the former ones. Thus, both the creation of such a meme and its insertion into the training of young aliens is important in figuring out why we have not seen alien ships hovering over us, and also the preservation of it for the very long times, measured in generations of aliens, that the meme has to say operational.

To recall, around the time of the genetic grand transition, long-term memes for an alien civilization are likely to be created, if they are at all. This would include the ones which relate to dispersal of the civilization, or of life itself, or of intelligent life specifically, among the stars. These are the three top level choices, with the alternative being no star adventuring at all. Since the cost of such adventuring is high, there is a good reason for any alien society to simply decide to live as long as possible in their own solar system, and then go extinct. There are even reasons why the extinction decision might be made before it was absolutely necessary.

Memes are recorded pieces of information, and can be transformed by any generation of aliens that decides to do so. The originators of the memes would seek to have them preserved by the only means possible, which is the use of the training curriculum for young aliens to embed this is their associative memories. If done well, and if accompanied by the subgoal to preserve this curriculum, the memes would go on for the duration of the civilization.

This particular subgoal is the heart of the self-replication over generations of the meme. Like any equilibrium point, it is likely to be unstable. The originators would seek to have some type of optimality about their installation of it in the curriculum, so that there is no better way, approximately, to make it any more secure against the ages that it must endure. By approximately, we mean that asymptotic does not mean final, it means on the approach to final, with small discrete changes still possible. If, by some chance, in some generation, the subgoal’s fulfillment is weakened, this would be the start of a decay of the meme, unless there were backup mechanisms in place in the society to notice and rectify this situation.

A fall from equilibrium in an unstable situation goes like this. A small departure from equilibrium means that the next generation has slightly less impetus to maintain the equilibrium, and so another small departure, in the same direction, happens. Now the departure from equilibrium is larger, and another small departure happens, adding to the first two, and it may be a bit larger. This downward motion simply accelerates, and the erosion of the meme would be completed. No star travel, and all because of small changes in the curriculum leading to slightly less interest in maintaining it.
This type of departure is the essence of a positive feedback loop. A small change in such a loop will only magnify.

To colonize another solar system, there would be a long period of observations, even prior to selecting a target. Then there would be a long delay while one or more probes were sent to the selected exo-planet. If the distance to such a world, perhaps a sweet spot world, was in the hundreds of light years, and the speed was taken to be economical, more exactly a tradeoff between very long-term reliability issues and propulsion mass, perhaps at 0.01 c, this is ten thousand years of travel.

During that period, the star travel meme has to be preserved, and preserved intensely, as the largest expense, the star ship for colonization, has to be afforded. The alien civilization would be nothing like our own civilization, having achieved stability, unification, omniscience, and other attributes that would contribute to an environment where a star travel meme could be preserved. Still, to the human imagination, it is a difficult concept to accept, that for ten thousand years, a set of beliefs is not tampered with.

The time scale for longevity of beliefs on Earth is measured in centuries, in other words, a few generations is what our experience has been. For longer periods, there is a gradual evolution or even some revolutions in beliefs. So, a factor of ten to a hundred more exists between what we can imagine and what has to happen in order for an alien civilization to engage in star travel.

On Earth, various personal ambitions interact with belief systems, and cause the erosion. On an advanced alien planet, such personal ambitions would be of a different character. Greed and the lust for power, two strong human emotions, would not necessarily exist on an alien planet, once it passed the neurological grand transition, where the alien brain was understood and any pathological aspects quickly detected and diagnosed, and then treated, much the same as we treat an infection when the initial symptoms are noticed. And similar to how we perform preventive measures to avoid infection, the alien society would be able to use strongly effective preventive measures to ensure that such meme-changing, and dangerous to society, features would not arise in any citizen.

Another aspect that tends to help us imaging how a meme could persist over such a long stretch of time is the universality of intelligence and education. There are no masses of people waiting to be led by an inspirational leader. Everyone is capable of critical thinking, as it is taught and it is well-understood just what it is and how to teach it. It would be impossible to have any type of popular movement other than intellectual discussion on the changing of a meme or the curriculum which is used to preserve it between generations.

There may be other aspects of such a society that we have not yet imagined, as we are unfamiliar with anything like it, and have to rely on deductions and other methods of investigation, based on what we now know is reasonable. However, the bottom line is that the alien civilization will have had plenty of time to find these out and fix them. If the alien civilization undergoes three different types of revolutionary changes on its way to asymptotic technology, so be it. The end result is the same.

Thus, the only failure mode that appears to be subject to a positive feedback loop is the gradual departure from equilibrium. All the others are subject to society imposing a negative feedback loop, such as for neurological disorders. Thus, it is not at all obvious that the alien civilization will suffer meme failure and not do star travel, as long as they have built into their societal infrastructure some means of verifying that each generation of young aliens has the proper training in this area.

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