Background Probability

The Agnostic Popular Front has moved to its new home at Skeptic Ink, and will henceforth be known as Background Probability. Despite the relocation and rebranding, we will continue to spew the same low-fidelity high-quality bullshit that you've come to expect.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Multiple Multifarious Memeplexes Metastasizing Most Maniacally

While listening to a debate between Alister McGrath and Daniel Dennett, I found myself wondering what it would take to engineer the perfect memeplex, a set of self-perpetuating ideas intelligently designed for replication. Suppose you wanted to design a set of ideas which replicate themselves effectively regardless of whether they comport with our usual notions of truth, justice, and the American way. You would have to engineer two crucial mechanisms into your box of ideas: A replication driver and a defense mechanism against other ideas. True and useful ideas, of course, do not need these mechanisms, as they will inevitably spread on account of their utility and can always resort to the defense of being true. What we are considering here is an intelligently-designed memeplex which does not care whether the ideas in its collection are true or false, the ideas exist only for the sake of creating copies of themselves, not for the sake of benefitting their host. They are, in other words, parasitic rather than symbiotic ideas.

In terms of replication, two basic pathways come immediately to mind:

  • Make babies and pass on your memes to them
  • Make converts and pass on your memes to them

This latter pathway may be further subdivided into persuasive proselytizing or military conquest, but these categories may well blur together, as when the missionary priests accompanied the colonial conquerors into South America and India. Note that neither of these pathways requires that the ideas passed on be true, merely that their carriers are highly effective at passing them on.

There are also two basic defense mechanisms for collections of ideas:

  • Discourage apostasy by threat of force or sanction
  • Encourage fidelity by promises of rewards

Again, notice that neither threats nor promises require that the ideas to which one must remain faithful be true, merely that the ideas be widely accepted.

So, if I wanted to create a highly effective memeplex, I would be certain to inject these four basic features into my box of ideas, along with whatever other ideas happen to be in the box. In my next post, we will look for these four fundamental features of effective memeplexes inside of several seemingly dissimilar idea boxes: Marxism, Methodism, Mormonism & Muhammadanism.