Sunday, 4 August 2013

Memes and the Holocene extinction

The invasion of the biosphere by memes has had some rather negative consequences - as well as some positive ones. In particular, memes are primarily responsible for the ongoing Holocene extinction event. Without memes, humans would have remained minor players in the biosphere - and nobody would have obliterated the megafauna of South America and Australia.

If you look at the proximate causes of many of the extinctions you often find that a newly-introduced parasite or predator is involved. So: superficially, it looks like ordinary genetic evolution - and not to do with memes. However, appearances can be deceptive - and if you ask why the parasite or predator involved has recently appeared on the scene, the answer almost always involves human transportation technologies: planes, trains and automobiles. So, memes really are implicated.

The meme's eye view suggests that we ask: "what is in it for the memes?" There are several answers to this question. Sometimes memes just create a new environment, with different winners and losers. Some creatures can hitchhike on memetic creatures better than others can - and these get spread around, while the things they prey on or parasitize suffer. In such cases, extinction seems like an accidental byproduct of meme activity.

In other cases, competition is involved. Creatures with DNA genomes compete with memetic creatures for resources. Memes at first promote a human world - since humans can host memes better than other animals can. Then, after the development of computers, memes promote them instead - since computers are better hosts for memes than humans. Its not that the memes are out to get other forms of life - it is just that they need the same resources, and the memes are more viable forms of life - it is just that they need the same resources, and the memes are more viable forms of life.

One issue is whether the current extinction event will turn into a mass extinction - with most species dying out. This may depend on the scale of our conservation efforts - which are difficult to predict. However, it seems quite likely that most species will either die or be confined to much more restricted ranges.

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