X-Message-Number: 11961
Date: Tue, 15 Jun 1999 00:57:38 -0700
From: Mike Perry <>
Subject: Re: Memes, Ants, Consciousness

I enjoyed Peter Merel's message #11952 on "memetics." I hadn't realized that
memes in the world at large are being compared to the genes in a single
organism that improves its "fitness." (Maybe that's what Dawkins implied,
but if so it's a subtlety that was lost on me.) I have generally thought of
memes as like individual organisms in their own right that compete, at least
against others in their same "niches," with the most viable or "fittest"
propagating and dominating over their competition. This is an idea I explore
briefly in my book, with the point that, in our hopefully immortal future,
we will cease being the evolution fodder we are today, but the memes we
generate will continue to participate in an evolutionary process, with a
form of "survival of the fittest."

As for ants and consciousness (see Thomas Donaldson, #11955) I'll concede
it's possible for such a species (or plants for that matter) to develop some
kind of spore that might somehow escape the earth's gravitational field and
be able to take root elsewhere in the universe, but that seems most
unlikely. I can't see any selection process that would push *that* sort of
strategy. So I would expect any species that left its earthly home to at
least give a good imitation of "knowing" things like physics, being able to
exchange complex and meaningful communication, and in short, imitating
intelligence and even consciousness and feeling. Of course, we don't know
that--we don't have any examples of creatures capable of space travel except
ourselves. But it seems that consciousness, or a very lifelike imitation, is
a good way to get things done efficiently, which is why it tended to evolve.
An ant-derived species, a billion years hence, could be capable of complex,
adaptive behavior that mimicked consciousness very well, and would probably
have this capability if it developed space travel. Would it be conscious?
(And here I will allow that something like an ant colony could be
intelligent while its individual components--the "ants"--were not.) This
begs the question of whether we can attribute consciousness where it seems
to reside, based on the behavior of a system and the way its components
function, or whether there are intrinsic properties at a deep level that are
important too. And we have already discussed this issue at length, so I'll
sign off for now.

Mike Perry

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