Christian Long

Susan Blackmore: Memes and “Tremes”

In TED Talks on April 11, 2010 at 11:27 pm

Reflection by RYAN S.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Susan Blackmore:  Memes and “Temes”

In 1964 a Russian scientist by the name Nikolai Kardashev, proposed a theory using a logarithmic mathematical scale, a theory about a species size, population, and technological intelligence in relation to the amount of energy that species would need to consume. What resulted is now considered the three Types of a technological civilization:

  • Type 1 civilization – this is a species that has gained relativistic space travel, has explored their solar system, and has harnessed the power from the planets on those planets.
  • Type 2 civilization – this is a species that has advanced to the point of being able to harness energy from an entire sun. (most likely their own native sun.)
  • Type 3 civilization – a level three Civilization would be able to harness all the energy from a single galaxy.

Humanity has mapped its own genome, harnessed the atom, and broken the sound barriers, and yet, despite all this, we are still a level 0 society. In Susan Blackmore’s video, I believe she has defined the quality’s in a level 0 society. Susan Blackmore began her video talking about cultural evolution, and how we as a species brought this dangerous idea to our planet. She then continued onto Darwin, and his discovery on the Galapagos islands. She remarked that if there was a single idea that could be considered the most brilliant, it would be Charles Darwin’s explanation of evolution through the Galapagos islands. During her explanation of Darwin’s theories she showed an image that was the foundation for her entire speech.

(3:20 in the video)

In this image she proposes a radical idea. She says that as long as their is:

  • Variation – a large quantity of different sorts of something.
  • Selection – a way to weed out the worst of the variation, and bring out the best.
  • Heredity – the passing of traits to a next generation.

She said that if you had these three things then you must get an evolutionary process…

Now when we think of these three things our first thought is to think of genes and how we as a species evolved. However, Susan’s point was to say that no matter the situation if you have these three things then an evolution must take place. This led her to the point of cultural evolution, and how when sentience in our species was achieved we eventually developed language, this started the evolution of what we now refer to as memes,cultural trends that extenuate as far as mundane things… such as jewelery, that men wear pants, and women wear dresses… however (and as Susan mentioned) not all memes are meaningless, and in fact most are useful. To show an example washing hands before eating is a social meme that has survived mainly because it’s useful.

This has shown the evolution of the memes, cultural evolution, or as Susan called it the second generator. However there is a third generator that Susan mentioned, which hasn’t even been invented yet. Temes. What memes are was an evolutionary jump, a system that was based of the previous system, that used it as a foundation and then progressed from there. it started at genes, memes used genes as their stepping stone and then when there wee enough memes started to invent more memes. We now stand at the threshold f a new form of memes what, where referred to in the video as “Temes”. What Temes are, are a technological form of memes. Is a piece of technology that has the ability to produce Variation, that through some force can be Selected, and has the ability to Reproduce/produce itself and others…

Which brings me back to my original point, that through this analysis of genes, memes, and temes, we can identify the individualize stages of a class 0-1 civilization.

Type 0 civilization – non-existent.
Type I – a civilization that has came into existence through “genes”.
Type II – a civilization that has created “memes”, in our terms the beginning of a society.
Type III – a civilization that has successfully invented “temes”

The final thing that Susan tries to impress upon her audience, is that the creation of a replicator, is by no means either easy, or safe.

The reason that we have yet to find any life outside of earth is because replicators are so dangerous, and maybe the danger increases exponentially with each one, perhaps there is a fourth replicator already trying to be created, or a fifth or a sixth! With each new replicator the foundation on which they were based become more and more unstable, and more and more liable for destruction.

We are on the verge of a completely new replicator being able to function completely separate from its foundation. And as the foundation, in this scenario, I am more than worried.


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