Re: memetic engineering?

Ton Maas (
Thu, 26 Mar 1998 17:45:59 +0200

Message-Id: <v03102803b140199d3120@[]>
In-Reply-To: <>
Date: Thu, 26 Mar 1998 17:45:59 +0200
From: Ton Maas <>
Subject: Re: memetic engineering?

Scott wrote:
>While it may indeed come to pass that this orb is rendered unsuitable
>for our progeny, so what? It's not like Paranthropus or Neanderthalensis
>had a signed lease! Life comes and goes. Why should it be any different
>for us than for the previous tenants? New life forms emerge and some
>pass on. Homo sapiens s. has proven to be a tenuous life form and we are
>going to be hard to shake. We do problems extremely well. Even those
>resulting from our own actions.
>I tend to side with Kastytis on this one. I see genetic and
>bio-technologies as extensions of our living endowment. Evolution is not
>something that humans 'interfere' with. As cognitively sophisticated
>agents of life we cannot help but apply ourselves to the extension of
>life. Without waxing teleological, isn't this a valid observation on the
>general tendency of terrestrial evolution? Life swells to fill the place

Well, I'm with you when you say that technology is natural. I don't agree
with the dichotomy of nature versus culture at all. According to Wilden's
Context Theory (and Varela's Star Statement) culture is encompassed by
nature. There's no either-or, only both-and. The evolution of onsciousness
_does_ however give rise to problems of quite dramatic magnitude, because
it introduces purpose. This puts us in an "innocence lost" situation, where
we'll have to re-think ourselves in case things don't work out. "Smart"
won't help us here, only "wise" will. Now don't get me wrong: I don't think
that "Nature" has any immanent value per se, but as a human being I care
about my/our survival. Environmental awareness is therefore nothing but
self-interest, albeit long-term rather than short-term.

>The fact that our inquiry and production may prove catastrophic for the
>status quo is just the kind of stakes cognitively sophisticated beings
>have to deal with. Moving onward carefully and thoughtfully is a good
>idea but it is not going to eliminate the risk of destructive outcomes.

Not eliminate, but possibly reduce or postpone. Like you said yourself,
it's all relative, but that doesn't make it less relevant.

>Ritual is no further from us than it has ever been. We are steeped in a
>ritualistic broth...sort of like the 'primordial soup.' Whether I'm
>flailing in the mosh pit or interviewing for a job I am ritualistically
>engaged. This is the milieu of memetic exchange from which sociocultural
>life forms emerge. Unlike genetic engineering, where we work on systems
>of less overall complexity than ourselves, memetic engineering suggests
>the opposite orientation..sort of like Jonah trying to 'engineer' his
>way out of the belly of the whale. Can a single component of a larger
>system impact the evolutionary progress of that overlying system? How
>about when the overlying system swells to global proportions?
>Now there's a modern myth.

I'm not going to argue with you here. What I was trying to say, is not that
we lack ritual, but that we lack a coherent and shared mythology (or body
of art or dreamtime or what have you). To me it is quite obvious that parts
can influence wholes, but they cannot effectively _control_ the wholes of
which they are part. The process cannot be unilateral but relies on
ecological sensibility, which is something we desperately need to develop.
A good mythology emphasizes the importance of good relations between self
and environment, while bad mythologies preach domination and control.



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