From: Keith Henson (email@example.com)
Date: Thu 08 Apr 2004 - 03:08:23 GMT
Almost a year ago (http://cfpm.org/~majordom/memetics/2000/15011.html May
19, 2003) I mentioned a story by Charles Sheffield. Dr. Sheffield was a
scientist and an author of science fiction.
"In one of Charles Sheffield's stories (sorry can't remember which one) he
included page-long description of a race that was subject to periodic
destructive meme plagues. When the population built up to a critical level,
a meme inducing them to kill each other would spread. The spasm of killing
would reduce their numbers back to a very small population.
"I think humans are subject to something similar to Sheffield's imaginary
aliens. There are sound evolutionary reasons to believe this psychological
trait has roots all the way back to our common ancestor with the chimpanzees.
"The organized killing of one chimpanzee group by another would seem to be
meme based . . . . " (My goodness, I didn't realize I had been talking
about this for a *year*.)
I was in a library recently and found what I had been looking for last
year. The story is _Divergence_ 1991. This is more like two and a half
pages but since there hasn't been much traffic on the list lately, I
figured it was worth posting for amusement. It is 6.8k so should fit in
ENTRY 78: VARNIAN.
Distribution: The Varnian cladeworld, Evarnor, orbits an F-type star near
the center of the ellipsoidal gas cloud known in the Fourth Alliance as the
Swan of Hercules. The cloud lies approximately 1 70 light-years from Sol,
in a direction bisecting the angle between the galactic normal and the
vector to the galactic center.
Varnians spread from their original home via sublight-speed ships to
thirteen other planets prior to their discovery by human explorers. All
fourteen of these Varnian worlds lie within or on the boundaries of the
Swan of Hercules.
Subsequent to that first discovery (in E. 1983, by the members of the
Dmitriev Ark), small groups of Varnians have been spread by human contact
throughout the Fourth Alliance and the Cecropia Federation. Spiral-arm
regulations prohibit the formation of any colony of Varnians in excess of
four thousand members, except on Evarnor itself or on one of the original
thirteen Varnian colony worlds. Despite Varnian petition, this edict is
judged unlikely to change in the foreseeable future (see Culture, below).
The population of Varnians throughout the spiral arm is estimated at 220
million. Although in no danger of extinction, they represent one of the
rarer intelligences of the region.
Physical Characteristics: The Varnians are versatile metamorphs, capable of
extensive physical transformation. Since Evarnor is a low-temperature
planet, close to the limit for oxygen breathers, the Varnians who live
there adopt in repose a spherical configuration that maximizes heat
conservation. They extrude variable-width pseudopods as required, but they
rarely deviate far from the overall spheroid.
Varnians in warmer environments are less constrained in appearance. In the
presence of members of another species they will often mimic their main
features, from the basic elements of endoskeleton, limb structure, and
epidermal appearance, to such refinements as eye color, hair follicles, and
behavioral patterns. There are no known limits to such mimicry t"Don't
judge a Varman by the warmth of her smile").
History: The Varnian story appears as a constant battle with racial
insanity. If any species points up the distinction between intelligence and
rational behavior, this is it. Archeological records, obtained by human and
Cecropian workers, show that Varnian civilization went through at least
five sudden and total extinctions, with subsequent slow returns from
barbarism. Each collapse occurred without warning, following along stable
period of peaceful development. The estimated cycle time has been as short
as forty thousand years (Second Eclipse) and as long as seven hundred
thousand (Fourth Eclipse).
The loss of all but scanty records of those five disasters makes
reconstruction of past events difficult; however, the spread of Varnian
civilization across fourteen planets of twelve suns during three different
eras proves that an advanced technology was achieved in at least those cycles.
The continuous written history of the Varnians can be traced back for
twenty-two thousand years, to the time of the beginning of the Sixth Emergence.
Culture: Today's Varnian civilization is tranquil, unambitious, and
apparently stable. It has been so for thirty thousand years, with no sign
of an impending sixth species-wide disaster. However, the
Per'nathon-Magreeu symbiote (PM) suggested in E. 2731 that this is no cause
for complacency. It was PM's analysis of Varnian culture that finally led
to the restriction on colony size to four thousand members anywhere beyond
the original fourteen Varnian worlds.
PM, in a systematic analysis of Varnian languages, noted that although
there are over 140 semantic groups, languages, and local dialects in use
among Varnians, none of those possesses a word meaning cynicism,
self-criticism, or skepticism. They also pointed out that the basic
collapse of Varnian civilization took place only on Evarnor, with the
failure of other colonies arising from their material dependence on the
cladeworld. In addition, the several different collapses do not all appear
to have arisen for the same reason. Finally, PM remarked that the autopsies
of Varnian brains reveal no meme-inhibitor complex.
PM concluded that the Varnian collapses were a resonance phenomenon, the
consequence of positive feedback among large Varnian groups. Lacking the
necessary faculty of reasoned skepticism, the Varnians are uniquely
vulnerable to negative memetic influences. Destructive memes, spreading
unchecked through the whole population, feed on themselves, to the point
where individual Varnians become incapable of rational thought. The memetic
plagues are terminated only by a civilization's collapse, with the
associated loss of rapid communication among large groups.
PM set the absolute lower limit of interacting Varnians for such a
phenomenon at twenty thousand participants. The onset of instability will
not normally be seen until the number of individuals involved is in the
millions. The present maximum value of four thousand for general colony
size is extremely conservative.
-From the Universal Species Catalog (Subclass: Sapients).
Searching on "Charles Sheffield" meme OR memetics turns up a number of
pages but nothing jumped out as something else he did on the subject.
There is an obit giving a lot of detail about Dr. Sheffield life here:
" . . . born in England and graduated from Cambridge University's St.
John's College with double first-class honors in mathematics and physics.
He received a doctorate in theoretical physics from American University in
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