virus: The Discipline of Translation (fwd)

Tim Rhodes (
Mon, 30 Jun 1997 11:04:35 -0700 (PDT)

Date: Mon, 30 Jun 1997 11:04:35 -0700 (PDT)
From: Tim Rhodes <>
Subject: virus: The Discipline of Translation (fwd)

This was posted to another memetics mailing list and I think it is a
valuable way of visualizing meme-space and I'm sure Reed would want it
passed on to this group. I hope it is not too context dependent for those
not familiar with the debates on the Church of Virus list, but I believe
Reed goes on to make important points that are independent of the context.

-Tim Rhodes

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sat, 28 Jun 1997 18:27:28 -0400 (EDT)
From: Reed Konsler <>
Subject: virus: The Discipline of Translation

Warning! This is a long post. It is not something you will understand on
the first read (it certainly is not something I understood in the first
draft). You would do me a great honor by printing it out and considering
it at your leisure.

The first application of this complexification is the reanalysis of "The
Reed Principle" (which I did not invent and wish we could rename). This
application is detailed after the model at the end of this post. If you
always read the punchline before the joke, head there and then come back.

David, I also think the "T-grid" was an excellent idea. You've definitely
taken us a step up in terms
of complexity and opened up another sensorium
within which to compare our models. Great idea!
Great! Great! Great! You have demonstrated that
a moment of reflection opens up universes!

Just to keep us "on the same page" David's map
is at:


1) I personally don't like the bounded nature of the grid. I think if you
were to map an individual's position on a statistical sample of theses they
would tend to bunch around the middle and trail to the edges.

Or, since it's likely that being completely innocent
with respect to a position is impossible, a line radiating from the origin
at an arbitrary vector would tend to encounter thesis-points according to a
Boltzmann distribution. Just aesthetic, though. In my modified T-grid I
change the grid slightly to make the infinite distances between the origin
and the edges explicit.

2) You're engaging in a little circular reasoning. It is the definition of
the word "faith" about which we were arguing. By placing that definition
in the shaded ("insane") regions (even with the caveat "blind") you are
begging the question. I think we understand "your" position. Some of us,
however, do not share it. Similarly, your optimum line is defined as the
"skeptical" position. I loved Eric's redefinition of "skeptical" exactly
because it refuted
this. I know, David, that you want us to come to some intersubjective
definitions. But you are pushing us to accept your position.

Thus: In an attempt to strip away language which would be circular or
"value-laden" with respect to the current dialectic, among a great many
other agendas, I propose the following modified T-grid, which David has
been kind enough to include at:

This map is identical to David's original in that the X-axis represents an
arbitrary sum of evidence for or against a thesis while the Y-axis
represents a position held (in speech and/or action) with respect to the
thesis. I have altered it from a bounded grid to an explicitly infinite
space. The curves asymptotically approaching the axes are defined by the

y = -1/x

The T-grid represents a rationalist's approach to understanding behavior
and thus, as shown, is solidly a "Level-2" picture. I present it, as I'm
sure David presented the original, as a tool for understanding...not as an
attempt to exclude other visual representations.

I thought a while about how to exclude language which we were having
difficulty agreeing on. What follows is a lexicon of the words used in my
map. This is not intended to exclude alternate definitions of these words,
or to exclude alternate signifiers for their subjects:

The Preamble: Implicit Assumptions

The T-grid can be used a number of ways:

1) It can show the relationship of a single thesis within an entity with
respect to all other theses within that entity. In this case it is an
introspective tool.

2) It can show the relationship of a single thesis within an entity with
respect to all the other entities' evaluation of that same thesis. In this
case it is a sociological tool.

3) It can show the relationship between the meme-spheres of two-entities
through the relative evaluation of specific "marker" memes in the same way
genetics uses "marker" genes to show the relationship, or lack thereof,
between two organisms gene-spheres. In this case it is a translation and
communication tool.

It is important not to confuse the uses. I explain the definitions of the
words in terms of use 1), above. Thus these definitions apply most
accurately to a strictly introspective approach to the model's use. I will
expand upon the other uses, and the adjustments necessary to avoid
Cartesian and Platonic pitfalls when dealing with multi-entity
descriptions, after introducing the model.

The Lexicon:

THESIS: A statement to be evaluated. Examples: "God Exists." , "The Sun
will rise tomorrow." , "I like chocolate ice cream."

EVALUATION: A position, represented on the y-axis, with respect to the
thesis. A positive value represents the evaluation that the idea is "true"
or that an individual, as David suggested, would be willing to wager in
favor of the thesis.

AXIOM: An axiom is a thesis which is assigned an arbitrarily high truth
value; an infinitely positive value of evaluation. Axioms are "true" by

HERESY: A heresy is a thesis assigned an arbitrarily high negative truth
value; an infinitely negative value of evaluation. Heresies are "false" by

EVIDENCE: A weighted sum of the evaluation of all other theses with
respect to the thesis being considered. I know that's a mouthful, but I
want to make explicit that this axis is actually a simplified
representation of the y-axis for all other theses. In other words, every
thesis weighs in as "evidence" for or against every other thesis in a
self-supporting web. This avoids the creation of some arbitrary standard
of "absolute evidence" against which to evaluate all theses.

If you like, visualize it this way. Radiating from a point in space are an
arbitrary number of lines each extending an arbitrary distance following an
arbitrary vector. This is "meme-space". When we evaluate a specific
thesis, we compare it's magnitude and vector against the corresponding
values of all other theses. This web of influence can be thought of as a
sort of "meme-gravity" each idea influencing all the others.

With the T-grid we attempt to simplify this relationship of a single thesis
to the rest of "meme-space" by totaling all these effects and calling it
"evidence" in the same way that physical vectors of force can be summed to
give and overall "force" acting on a physical object.

TAUTOLOGIES: Believe them or not. Tautologies are those theses which, for
whatever reason, have an arbitrarily high level of positive evidence. In
other words a tautology is arbitrarily well supported by the "meme-sphere".

ABSURDITIES: Like, whatEVER! Absurdities are those things which one finds
hard to even grasp. These theses are so unsupported by the "meme-sphere"
that they often don't even make sense on even a grammatical level. If
you're an American, think Zen.

INNOCENCE: The origin. This is the position for theses for which you have
no beliefs and for which your meme-sphere gives you no evidence. This is a
common position for the young and inexperienced and becomes progressively
harder to maintain as the meme-sphere expands.

SANITY: Sanity is agreement between evaluation and evidence. A perfectly
sane thesis with respect to the meme sphere will lie on a line defined by
the equation y = x. Theses which deviate from this line will have a
tendency to drift towards it due to the influence of the meme-sphere. The
normative definition also comes into play, but more on this later.

INSANITY: These are the regions, defined by Eric as "credulity" (positive
y, negative x) and "skepticism" (negative y, positive x) in which
evaluation and evidence are in significant disagreement. Such theses tend
to be highly unstable and will tend to move rapidly around the T-grid under
the influence of the meme-sphere.

All theses will tend to approach the S-Line which represents agreement
between T ( "Truth" as evaluated) and E (evidence). This tendency will be
greatest for those theses in the insane regions. Often ideas which are
evaluated as true despite evidence,
like: "Our institutions are ALWAYS acting in our collective and individual
best interest." will slingshot across the grid or mutate into the
complementary idea which is then evaluated as true despite evidence, like:
"Our institutions are NEVER acting in our collective and individual best
interest." The trajectory will always be through the line orthogonal to
the S-line (y = -x), but, like a pendulum, the velocity is most rapid
through the central region around the S-line.

Meme-space would eventually reach equilibrium as the relationships between
theses begin to stabilize. However, since combinations of theses will
generate new theses and alternative theses will be absorbed from the
environment an individual's meme-space will almost never stabilize. Even
if an individual were able to completely shut themselves off from outside
influence and cease the generation of internal corollaries it is likely the
equilibrium reached would be a dynamic one in which ideas "orbit" one
another in a stable pattern. Such a meme-sphere would still probably
contain "insane" notions hurtling back and forth across the T-grid like
comets orbiting the Sun.

That is the model.


We have each developed, memetically, according to a more or less arbitrary
path. Our meme-spheres are each different. As introspectionists, we
conciously interrogate these memes in order to determine if they are on the
S-line of our internal meme-sphere. One of the most useful technologies
for this purpose was syllogism, which was invented (we believe) in Greece.
If/Then statements became a tool for the construction of self-consistent
paradigms of thought.

This process is described, visually, in the introspectionist use of the
T-grid. For instance, lets say every time you went to the grocery store
looking for a thirst-quenching drink you tended to purchase "Super-Cola!"
You might thus reflect: "I like Super-Cola!"

You might start to wonder about this thesis. Perhaps you do a blind taste
test on yourself and discover that you can't really tell the difference
between colas. Then you notice that "Super-Cola!" is more expensive than
the other brands. You read an article in The New Republic about how
"Super-Cola!" engages in unfair business pracitices and has subsidiaries in
foreign countries that purchase bottles manufactured with child-labor in
unsafe conditions.

Over time, these negative memes will begin to tug at your "I like
Super-cola!" thesis. With enough evidence this idea will begin to seem
more and more absurd. If it becomes enough of a conscious worry to you,
you may begin to propose an alternative theses
such as:

"I don't like Super-Cola!"

"Super-Cola has a very effective advertising department!"

Which agree better with the rest of your meme-space.
Many of these interrogations are subliminal. The process is something like:

Meme Sphere: "Evidence = +10"
Thesis: "Evaluated +5"
Meme Sphere: "New Vector, +5"
Thesis: "Evaluated +10"
Meme Sphere: "Agreed"

It should be noted, however, that this assumes that the "meme-sphere" is an
integrated whole operating on a single thesis. The actual process is
decentralized and, as a result, whole galaxies of ideas can drift around
with respect to one another in the mutual attraction of meme-gravity.

An actual negotiation might look something like this:

Meme Galaxy1: "Evidence for thesis x114d = +10"
Meme Galaxy2: "Evidence for thesis x114d = 0"
Thesis: "Evaluated +5"
Meme Galaxy1: "New Vector, +5"
Meme Galaxy2: "New Vector, -5"
Thesis: "Evaluated +5"
Meme Galaxy1: "New Vector, +5"
Meme Galaxy2: "New Vector, -5"
Thesis: "Evaluated +5"
.....and so on

Only infinitely more complicated.

This web of influences, especially as the meme-set becomes very
complicated, can lead the whole system to crash. As the number of
interconnections increases the entity reaches a crisis of processing power.
Hence the generation of the user-illusion
or desktop of the mind: "I"

I: "Evidence = +10"
Thesis: "Evaluated +5"
I: "New Vector, +5"
Thesis: "Evaluated +10"
I: "Agreed"

"I" is the executive created to make decisions on limited information. The
generation of any sort of "I" results in the formerly crystallized system
regaining some semblance of dynamic action. "I" assigns each thesis a more
or less accurate Evidence value based on a quick sampling of other theses
in a sort of Gallop-poll of the mind:

I: "Quick, what do you think about chocolate ice cream? Strawberry? We
have to order!"
I: "Um...we like chocolate!"
Thesis: "Evaluated -5"
I: "New Vector, +10"
Thesis: "Evaluated +5"
I: "Agreed"

That was good, wasn't it?

This kind of thing is going on in your head all the time. I is making snap
decisions here and there and dragging theses around in a desperate attempt
to keep the entity in motion.

Some "I"s become very sophisticated at this process such that they can
reach accurate conclusions and execute action in a timely fashion while
seeming almost non-existent. Usually this is done by following a
successful pattern, program, or algorithm. "Look before you leap!"
effectively silences the portion of the meme-sphere demanding instantaneous
action. The dilemma is that this aphorism is effective only half the time.



In conversation we ask questions like:

"Do you think Entropy is a good model to use in the analysis of living systems?"

And we then evaluate the respondent based upon our own meme sphere. If the
respondent's position and our meme-sphere disagree (Thesis location: -7,
5). We reply with something like:

"That's insane! All the evidence indicates the thesis is false yet you say
it is true!"

The problem, here as usual, is an inappropriate conflation of models. We
are evaluating the position of the other as if it were a component of our
meme-sphere and not an alien conjunction of memes.

In rhetorical exchanges it is important to remain conscious of the fact
that our counterparts possess meme-spheres as, if not more, complex than
our own. This does not mean we must adopt their position on the issue,
resolve to adopt the incommensurate stance of perpetual disagreement, or
make some halfway hack compromise.

Each of us possesses internal memes which are "insane" based upon our own
meme-sphere. If these ideas have been incorporated into our sense of "I"
they often find themselves held beyond the normal introspective
interrogation mechanisms. For individuals that Richard categorizes as
"Level-2" interrogation of "I" is incredibly difficult, in fact the process
itself, to them, is absurd. Thus, we assume, others must also hold such
absurd notions...and can't we help them by revealing this problem?

Rhetoric involves three major types of transmission:

1) Memes not possessed by the receiver.
This is "teaching" in the common sense of
transmitting facts and processes.

2) Direct deconstruction of the receiver's memes.
This is called "being brutally honest" and
is a common component of indoctrinations.

3) Emulation analysis of the receivers meme-sphere.
This process is known as "The Socratic
Method" and is characterized by the insensate positing of
questions designed to reveal the receivers apparent inconsistencies.
These inconsistencies are most often extant within the sense of "I"
as indicated above.

In a perfectly commensurate relationship both individuals would leave the
rhetorical exchange with a rectified meme-sphere and a groomed sense of
"I", presuming both were familiar with the techniques.

I will not, here, address the effect of power relationships on this
exchange, although I think the significance is obvious.



"Love your neighbor as yourself."
-Jesus Christ (attributed)

It is frustrating to engage in a dialectic with someone holding what, from
your perspective, is an obviously absurd notion or who denies something
which is obviously, from your perspective, tautological.

Scientists become incensed by the insinuation that reality is a figment of
our imagination; the concept of God represents an issue of great conflict
across the intellectual landscape. This frustration is felt especially
strongly by those individuals that stylize themselves as "teachers" or, to
put it more bluntly, prophets.

It is at these frustrating engagements when our patience, our rationality,
our very sense of self, is most sorely tested. This is exacerbated by the
impression that there are many individuals whose memespheres are so
different from ours that it appears impossible within a single human
lifetime, to reach synthesis. We have, in these cases, a tendency to end
the discussion and close ourselves to further input from the source of
perceived "evil" or, if you like, "wrong-headedness".

In circumstances were we cannot close ourselves to influence through civil
means, humans have and continue to, imprison and execute individuals
expressing "insane" notions. Worse, perhaps, is the fact that we will
often project our own internal unresolved dialectics onto external
discussions and make, as Freud and Focault described, scapegoats of
individuals who are perhaps not so extreme in their viewpoint as we
envision them to be.

It is thus, in my opinion, a test of our humanity, of our humanness, to
stand fast in the face of this tendency. We must continue the dialectic
even in the face of the most obstinate perceived disagreements in the hope
that there is, somewhere, a Hegelian synthesis to be found.

It is for this reason that I would propose renaming the so-called "Reed
Principle" the Discipline of Translation. This proposition is based
entirely upon a visual representation that I have in my head:

Imagine your memesphere and that of the person with whom you find yourself
in frustrating disagreement. Instead of trying to drag their memes,
individually, into line with yours my suggestion is to try to adopt their
way of thinking, to truly delve into the undiscovered country of an alien

It is my assertion, based upon some experience, that it is possible to say:

"Hey! If I translate every meme in my head by a few degrees we don't
disagree so much after all."

Imagine that other person's memesphere as a galaxy. All you have to do is
figure out how to move and rotate yours to match it. When you are done you
will have the memetic equivalent of an equation of translation.

Which is, of course, a bit of philosophy and also a meme. And if we create
enough such memes I suspect we may find our conceptions are not so
incommensurate as we suspect.

That's an assertion, of course. But, if you evaluate it as arbitrarily
true it does interesting things to your mind. ;-)


Reed Konsler

This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)