Tuesday, August 26, 2008

There's no "I" in Teme....

A local group that I attend called The Doubters Club was recently asked to review a video from the TED website in which Susan Blackmore discusses Genes, Memes and her freshly coined term, Temes, and be prepared to discuss it at the next meeting. Shortly before the meeting was to occur, I sat down with my fellow atheist friend Aaron and discussed the logistics of the video. I strongly encourage you to watch the video before continuing on with this blog post, however, I hope you do not take that as me advocating the message in anyway.

Alright, so you've watched it? I'm sorry for having wasted your time. Now I'm not here to argue with or hate on memetics at all, this has already been accomplished other places on the net much more eloquently than I ever could have put it. I'm here to discuss the idea of the 3rd replicator that Blackmore has proposed - the teme, or techno-meme, as that was our task for the Doubters Club meeting. From what I can gather, she has not fully identified what a teme is beyond that it is a meme in technology that replicates itself. She gives no specific examples, though she mentions several times that we're closer than she realized to reaching temes. I keep wondering if Skynet is the closest thing we have seen imagined to a teme.

My notes from the 20 minute segment are about a page long, though I'm not sure I even wrote anything of relevance down. Terms like Pandoran species and evolutionary algorithm are thrown around like buzz words in a corporate meeting. SYNERGY! (I hate that word so much). Dennet is quoted with his statement of "design out of chaos without the aid of mind." Language is called a parasite and the Drake Equation is evoked for no good reason. It almost seems as though Blackmore is struggling with keeping memetics as a plausible field of study and is trying to build up toward a term that she herself came up with in hopes to further a stalling idea.

To me it seems that a teme is nothing more than a meme that a piece of technology has come up with instead of a human. Well, as she said, we're not quite there, so it'll be when we've created a computer that can simulate human thought processes on a scale well enough to come up with a meme - something that will happen in the future. However, if it's a piece of technology mimicking the process of the human mind, then we can foresee it as something we should have been able to come up with ourselves, given enough time to take into account the speed at which a computer can "think" versus a human. So to me it doesn't seem like that would be a teme at all.

So is a teme a robot that can construct a robot much like itself with slight improvements? Well that doesn't seem like a techno-meme - it just seems like an invention and surely we are 50+ years away from a robot with such an ability. Instead, the only real plausible idea from a teme is for a gathering of something such as software programs that simultaneously running begin to develop a consciousness beyond that of what the programs were programmed to do and then that have the ability to replicate itself. This would not be unlike how DNA strands come together and form genes or how our neurons come together and form conscious thought.

If this is of which she is referring, it still confuses me as to why she invoked the Drake Equation and rewrote it. In her new equation, she uses the levels of replicators to help determine the probability of finding intelligent life on other planets. Twice in the equation is a variable based off the 3rd replicator - F-r3 (the fraction of planets with a 3rd level replicator) and L (the fraction of a planet's life for which R3 survives). Well currently here on Earth, the F-R3 is 0 as we have not yet created our first teme. Thus we are not represented in 2 of the 5 factors in her equation and I'm sure anyone who you talk to will not refute that there is intelligent life on Earth (maybe not in politics, but at least on some parts of the planet). The equation, much like the Drake Equation, is there as a guesstimate device, not an accurate means of predicting life in our galaxy for sure. the variables are so unknown that to seriously consider any numbers to come out of them would be utterly absurd. Yet, Blackmore stresses this as a main point in her presentation, so obviously to her it has some sort of significance.

Even after having contemplated this for the past few days, I'm still struggling to understand how someone with so little information on a subject (temes) has been able to spread the meme of temes throughout the internet and have people write in favor or support of the subject. Many of the criticisms of memes, if not all of them, are already transferable over to that of the teme. TEMES DON'T EVEN EXIST YET! How are we supposed to study them? We can predict all we want, but it's a waste of time. We' be better of using our energy in a more productive manner than worrying about saving the world from terminators that haven't even been invented yet.

Plus, we can always just call on John Conner to save us in that case.

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