There has been a lot of talk about memes over the past few decades, especially using the metaphor of memes as a new form of virus. Richard Dawkins first spoke of memes as a new type of unexplored lifeform on this planet.
Biologically, we are all very similar. And we all seem to have this thing known as a personality.
But are we simply biological minds or do we have a mind outside of the biological hardware?
Biologically, our brains are only slightly more advanced than that of other advanced animals. But does that alone make us the only intelligent beings on this planet?
I think that such an answer sounds very juvenile.
I went to an electronics store which had a wide array of brand new hardware. I bought the most expensive equipment that money could buy, and I built a powerful beast of a computer with enough processing power to make what was the equivalent of a supercomputer not too long ago.
I assembled it perfectly at home, and powered it on. Nothing happened. No operating system was found.
A computer doesn’t work without software, and neither does biology.
DNA is the software of biology. It directs everything. But it has limitations. It can build a body and give it abilities. But that’s it. DNA is a one shot deal. It’s a single program that plays out at the cellular level. It’s complex enough to construct hearts, livers, spinal cords, and brains.
But is it complex enough to code artificial intelligence? The answer to this has to be a resounding no.
We have unlocked the DNA code, and there is no intelligent code there. There is simply a blueprint to the brain.
And we’ve studied the brain in depth. We know it’s major functions. Nowhere do we see a process by which intelligence exists, or in which our brain significantly differs from that of other animals except for size and complexity.
Some animals have the brains of pocket calculators while others, ours, are supercomputers.
Yet, the basic programming of animals comes in the form of instincts towards basic survival. Hunt, bite, attack, smell…
And as I discuss in the wilderness of affirmation, more advanced animals learn to mimic their parents.
In the case of humans, we learn more complex skills such as speech, dressing ourselves, and using a toilet.
One might think of this as a form of programming of a biological being, being raised by others. What the brain, both animal and human, is very good at is learning through rewards and mimicry.
One can look at this period of learning, which is particularly extended for humans, as a method for parents and society to program children. By the age of three, my son was showing logical reasoning on a very noticeable level, drawing conclusions far beyond that of the toddler easily fooled. By the age of seven, he was questioning reality and formulating philosophy on a level of a first year highschool student, unprompted by myself.
My son inherited great brain hardware, but I also programmed him with my choicest mental code.
But, there is another way of thinking about this programming. Programming is writing new code. But installing software is not the same as programming, because it’s moving code from one machine to another machine. When this is done voluntarily, this is indeed installation.
When it is done involuntarily or the software behaves in unintended ways, it's called a computer virus.
And this is the point where we move away from a metaphor into a real example. Computer virus infections were originally a metaphor as well to understand how malicious code acted.
However, when I call a meme a virus, I do not mean it in the way that Richard Dawkins used it, but as is used in describing a computer virus.
So, what is a meme and why did your parents infect you with it? Let’s start with simple memes that you were intentionally given.
Do you use a fork, spoon, chopsticks, or your fingers?
Do you wear shoes? Do you take them off before going into a home?
Do you wear sandals, boots, slip ons, or shoes with laces? Do you walk in public barefoot?
Do you wear pants, a skirt, a robe, or a dress? Do you wear underwear?
Do you wear socks? Are they black, white, or multiple colors?
What do you wear when going somewhere formal?
These decisions are not automatic. They are programmed. And they were programmed into your parents by their parents, going back generations.
Did your family come from Japan three generations ago? Do you now prefer a fork where your great grandfather used chopsticks as a child? Then it appears your family’s meme was overpowered by the meme of their new homes.
Is a fork the best way to eat? Are white socks better than black socks? Is it ok to wear shoes into the house? You may never question these memes, and assume their “rightness” because you learned them early and not of your own free will. As a child, you certainly tried to use your fingers instead.
Eating with a fork is certainly not a malicious activity, but it is clearly a meme passed from one generation to another and from one person to another within exposure in a culture.
If you move to Japan, for instance, you will stop using a fork through pure social pressure. While you might carry a fork with you, you will be the social outcast when you refuse chopsticks. The memes around methods of eating really emphasize social acceptance, and the desire to belong will override even the shame of your fumbling fingers.
This is a simple meme, and general demonstrates how they work. What’s interesting is when we classify this as a type of simple lifeform: Eating With Fork.
We might even give it a designation, EWF1. EWF1 is now traceable. An investigator can see traces of the meme through family history and through geographic migrations. They can also change, evolve, and compete with similar memes.
The meme acts like any other lifeform. It must compete and evolve to survive.
But we can teach apes to use a fork. This doesn’t mean that the meme will transmit to them and pass down through their generations.
And this is the way memes are generally categorized. Like the influenza, it may have variants. For instance, we might have an EWF2 for the eating with a piece of cutlery known as a spork.
We might have other memes, particularly in the area of beliefs. One does not generally believe in ghosts unless they contracted the belief from another. Other cultures have such beliefs, and they are found to be localized to specific cultures or to cross cultures, depending on the particular belief.
Belief in an afterlife might be a category of belief, for instance.
And on the whole, this is a fascinating area of discussion. But the real question for us at this moment is, whether intelligence arises from the machinery or from the programming.
Does a sufficiently sophisticated brain naturally create intelligent thought, or does intelligence require what we might think of as an operating system?
This is nearly impossible to test. If we drop a baby into a jungle, we don’t get a cute story like The Jungle Book, we get a child that dies quickly and humanely. But there are several documented cases of abandoned children being raised by animal packs. The humans take on the characteristics of the animals. Hissing like cats, barking like dogs, licking themselves, and suckling at the teet of a female.
The children in these situations mimicked animals. They were transformed into early humans, what we might call true savages, with what me might imagine the early cave man might be as Homoerectus.
And what we see very strikingly is lack of intelligence. Certainly, we know that these children are like any other. And when rescued, they have the potential to learn like any other human.
We don’t deny that the human brain has the potential for intelligence. But lacking interaction with other humans, they don’t learn language. Without language, they can’t form questions about their own own existence, a hallmark of intelligence. And they continue living with their animals, apparently not forming the thought to seek out other humans once they are integrated with animals.
They are like supercomputers being programmed to play pong. All of their amazing ability is handicapped, literally disabled, by lack of programming. The human brain is truly amazing.
Even when damaged, it remains quite conscious of itself and intelligent. Though the computer might be a bit slower, it still runs the artificial intelligence software.
Unfortunately for our animal friends, their brains lack the ability to exhibit most of the abilities of intelligence. Dogs have been integrated with humans for millennia. And yet, they can still only understand simple demands as our memes are too tough for their animal brains to integrate.
So we can see what happens when a human mind is left unprogrammed, and what happens when we try to program an animal’s mind. And in both cases, intelligence is lacking, and behaviour remains purely animalistic.
So, the human brain does have the capability to run artificial intelligence. And for all I know, the incredible computer that I built does, too. But without the right programming, intelligence doesn’t arise spontaneously.
But this begs the chicken and the egg. Does a human brain unprogrammed remain unintelligent forever? Well, no. Remember, memes infect, grow, change, and evolve.
Would a child left to being raised by animals ever gain intelligence? Possibly. The human mind grows in knowledge by observing the world. And given enough generations, “wild humans” will develop language, likely starting by mimicking the sounds of the world around them. And with communication learned, ideas will begin to be transmitted between people and through generations.
Intelligent would naturally arrive, just as it originally did for mankind. But without contact with intelligence outside of the group, they would remain at least several millennia away from doing physics and calculus. When we look at the information age surrounding us, we have to acknowledge that the memes we have are a far more sophisticated form of artificial intelligence than that of early mankind. And we must be grateful for the collective knowledge that took mankind millennia to compile and learn.
But once we blow out the candles of the cake on the party of the intelligence that we have, we must look at the mind we are left with.
For if the software is what makes intelligence, and the software runs on our brains, and this software is made up of a large collections of code that we individually call memes, then we are talking about the mind.
And in this sense, the mind is no longer a singular root word. In this case, the singular term is meme, and the plural collective of this is mind.
A group of bats is a colony. A group of fish is a school. A group of dogs is a pack. A group of cows is a herd. And a group of memes is a mind. And for posterity, a group of minds is a hive.
And it is a rather large number of memes, a massive mind, running on sufficiently powerful wetware (the biological equivalent of hardware) by which we have conscious intelligence.
And when a large enough hive of minds converges with significant scientific knowledge, you end up with a first world society