Letters with LaulPogan
Letters with another substack author interested in memetic competition
I recently have discovered the joy of finding someone else with similar niche interests. It’s like meeting an old friend for the first time; your relationship unfolds naturally from the fact that you’ve walked the same roads many times, and usually find yourself alone.
In this case, the niche interests would be unpacking the concept of ‘memetics’. I’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking about the notion of ideas spreading about like organisms. I met LaulPogan (aka Paul Logan) via one of his substack posts and started commenting right away.
We struck up an email correspondence and have been going, back and forth, for a few months. Paul shared the initial parts of our correspondence here.
This is the first in a series of back and forth exchange we’ve had with each other in that time. One of my beliefs is that ideas reproduce via something like sexual reproduction; two ideas line up next to each other, see which bits fit and which ones don’t, and then see what happens when you swap some of the bits around.
Response to LaulPogan
Note: original messages are in quotes
> Hey! Thanks for commenting on my post- you're definitely thinking in the same direction as me in terms of the shape of cultural evolution. I tend to think or large organizations- companys, countries, churches- as primitive informational life. Not intelligent in any way, but resourceful enough to utilize humanity as a resource, similar to how early eukaryotes harnessed mitochondria and chloroplasts.
Can you say more about why you think organizations aren't intelligent?
Would you consider something like 'a family' as being a kind of informational life?
> I'm still split on the parasitism thing, and have removed references to it as I do more research from the biological side. I'd be more inclined to call social organisms (governments etc) obligate symbionts of humanity, similar to ant species that farm aphids and fungus. Most of my current theory involves the idea that we look at species wrong, and thus look at selection wrong- species are actually cooperating groups of organisms that form "solidarity groups". For example, humans are a solidarity group of homo sapiens, their microbiomes, and the meta-aware informational organism that conceives of itself as you.
Would this be true among all species?
I had the impression that intense competition among members of a species was a big driver of natural selection.
> This is interesting to me in regards to hierarchical/multi level selection because it means that while competition is constantly occurring, it only has relevance on the highest operative level of solidarity- cancer is technically an adaptation of some cells in your body to outcompete others, but no matter how much more competitive that adaptation is it will always be limited by the success of its host (which it kills), and thus the adaptation never carries on. Again in regards to humans, it doesn't matter how adaptive an individual trait is if it doesn't ultimately help the group's survivability. I like to think of greek fire and roman concrete: even though the memes themselves were adaptive enough to become widespread, they vanished with their societies.
I think this is the part where we differ the most, although to be honest, I'm not sure I understand your perspective.
Which group has to be helped for a trait to work? Could there be traits that help me do better at work, and help my company perform better, but are bad for, say, America? I think I'll need to better understand what a 'solidarity group' is in your language.
I think I had used a similar concept, when thinking about r/K selection.
For example, I see an attitude coach on a weekly basis. And effectively what this guy is doing is transmitting a meme complex to me. The thing is, I've basically 'heard it all before', but the tricky part seems to be internalizing it and learning how to practice is. It's stuff you'd find in any standard self-help book, stuff like:
I make choices, in particular about what story to tell myself and how much effort to put into a situation
the stories I tell myself change how I feel in the short and long term
I focus on what I can control, and ignore the rest, while patiently moving not so much 'towards a goal' as 'in the right direction for me'
I see these techniques working so well for me, that i find myself transmitting these memes to, say, my kids and my wife. So it looks like these memes propagate specifically by helping individuals who adopt these memes thrive.
> It's for this reason that the majority of "people powered" movements get things wrong. We're past the stage in human history where we can effectively implement policy that centers human rights, because it will be outcompeted. Scott's "Meditations on Moloch" gives a good side of the story in how societies sacrifice values on a race to the bottom.
Let me know what you think about all this- and what you've been thinking! I'm very excited to talk with others who are curious about cultural evolution and memetics.
I'm not sure I understand this last part either. Do you think you can unpack it more? What do 'policy' and 'society' mean to you? From my perspective, the notion of policy and law are rituals around the socially sanctioned use of violence. From what I can tell, the biggest human superorganisms have always depended, at some level, on their ability to successfully deploy violence. I suspect that the advent of bitcoin changes the game completely for human superorganisms, because coercion is no longer workable as a mechanism for keeping a superorganism "fed". Once people start having the ability to opt of taxation ( and now, disinflation), I think the existing dominant superorganisms will start to struggle very heavily, much like the catholic church did when it lost its monopoly on information flows.
I read meditations on Moloch, and I've always felt like Moloch is fundamentally a good thing: it kills ecosystems full of agents that don't believe in some notion of 'good' that isn't defined in terms of "what's good for me or my immediate group."
Looking forward to hearing from you!
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