Meme Theory

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Memes and the Moon

One thing we need to do is change the tools we use to think about the Moon. There is a start on a science on how to do this called Meme Theory. The odd thing is that such changes are done all the time.

Examples of Memes, the long and the short of it

A Meme is a structure made of information in the human brain. It functions as a unit and can be passed from one person to another through communications, primarily language. A meme can exist in a society for a short time or for an amazingly long time.

Short lived meme include fads and fashions. Ideas, like Pet Rocks, that are all the rage one moment and gone the next. They feel real and people are in action on them; then they vanish. Clearly we can both generate and modify short-lived Memes.

Long-lived memes are another story altogether. These are data only structures that can last for a thousand years. The Jewish dietary laws, (what is kosher) are a meme that has been steady for at least four thousand years.

We must learn to identify these two very different types of memes so that we can apply our actions to what we can change and not waste time beating our heads against a wall unnecessarily.

Approaching the use of Memes

Looking at our great problems in space exploration, we can see that many of them have cultural elements that we will have to change to solve the problems. For example, the idea that Earth is our only proper home, or the idea that space exploration is an expensive waste. These types of cultural elements are memes. They may be analyzed as a unit of software running on the human brain. A meme is a pure data only structure and therefore a true construct of the Information Age.

A separate entry was about physical brain modules, Modular Brain Theory. That idea combined with memes set up a hardware and software model of how the human brain works. It turns out that looking at our brains as hardware/software combination is an effective, practical way to approach the much more complex reality. From an engineering standpoint, this hardware/software model is a good way to go even though, like all models, it is obviously a simplification.

Memes are now the subject of a major academic study in which their ability to change by evolution has been of most interest. They are all subject to change much more readily than are the hardware brain modules, but their time-constants-for-change vary greatly. We need to be very clear on what we can and cannot do with memes.

Changing Your Memes

It must be stressed that intentionally programming the human brain is really nothing new. People have been talking other people into doing things their way since the invention of language. Since the industrial revolution an entire industry, advertising, has developed to do this very thing. What I am proposing, then, is just a new model for a long-standing human activity. The open question is whether or not this hardware/software approach is effective for problem solving given the newness of this approach and the level of difficulty of our the challenge we have taken on.

We can further detail our hardware/software model by recognizing that the hardware modules have some software components with long time-constants that are not open for us to change, and they also have some software components with shorter time-constants-for-change that we can handle. We can learn a new face and learn to attach an emotional response to it in only a few minutes. We would be very hard put to forget our emotional response to our mothers even over years. Some of this software changes moment by moment and other blocks are stable for thousands of years.

In addition, the hardware modules are also interconnected in complex ways that may be affected by software. In the physical world these connections are actual nerve fibers. Some of these interconnections are fixed from birth, and some can be reprogrammed with workable time-constants by training. Many forms of learning involve forming new nerve connections. Any specific module and its interconnections may be naturally weak or strong in an individual, and over time may become strengthened by use or weakened by atrophy.

Hardware/Software in our Heads

This then establishes our model of the human head:

  • Hardware

A fixed hardware platform that is made up of many interconnected modules, most of which perform specific functions, and some of which interface with the outside world. This platform is comparable to a supercomputer made up of hundreds of PCs.

  • Software

The software consists of changeable parameters for the individual modules, programmable interconnections between hardware modules, and meme complexes defining complex rules of social conduct. Only part of the software is available for our modification in a timely manner.

Commercial Application

These ideas have been in use in the field of advertising for more than a decade. One good example is the raise for the Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV).

In the late 1980's the automobile manufacturers had a problem. They could not sell as many high prophet big cars as they liked because they had to meet fleet emissions standards under CAFE. However, they could sell as many small trucks as they liked because small trucks were exempted.

How do you get people who what to buy a large car to buy a small truck instead?

The answer was to change the way they think. Detailed analysis of the human thought process as applied to the problem by a leading academic and the SUV was born.

Problem Solving with Memes

All in all, the systems of the human brain are most impressive and they are the systems we must deal with to solve our problems. The physical problems of settling the Moon are actually simpler. The value of this hardware/software model lies solely in its effectiveness as a tool for solving problems. It is not the truth. To solve problems with it, we must control at least some of the programming.

This model is particularly powerful in letting us sort out those things that we can change in a short time and those things we cannot. We can change short-lived memes, like peoples attitudes. We cannot change long-time stable brain modules, like emotional attachment to faces.

Do we now know enough about it to program this complex system intentionally?

If we do not have this power now; we will have it soon.

Purpose as Meme

One of our purposes for Lunarpedia then is to build new memes to support the return of people to the Moon.

For an example of how this can be done, see Name Help.

There are a lot more ideas on the Purposes List.