Monday, 10 June 2013

The rush for the low-hanging fruit

Science typically proceeds by making the most important and significant discoveries first. In some fields, the low-hanging fruit have mostly already been taken. Other fields remain relatively under-studied. One of the attractions of memetics and cultural evolution is that these are very important fields, which have yet to receive much attention from science.

In 2004 Mesoudi, Whiten and Laland wrote:

By recognizing that our current understanding of culture is comparable to that attained by biology in 1859, perhaps some shortcuts can be taken by learning lessons from the succeeding 150 years of biological research.
This might have been a bit of an exaggeration - but it seems pretty clear that low hanging fruit still abound. There's a scientific lag for cultural evolution and an even bigger lag for memetics.

Cultural evolution and memetics are the key sciences we need to understand if we are interested in prediction or influencing the future of civilization. It's hard to overstate their significance as areas of science of importance to humans.

It takes little or no specialized equipment to enter the field. Raw data can be gathered using questionnaires, field observation - and vast quantities of relevant data are freely available on the internet. Most people will find that their life's experience furnishes them with sufficient data to easily test many relevant hypotheses in their heads, without doing any additional data collection work at all. The "bar to entry" is pretty minimal.

Everyone should learn some basic memetics, just to keep their minds free - and prevent themselves from being manipulated by cultural forces without their knowledge or consent. Disinfecting your mind is an essential part of basic mental hygene.

The combination of these factors mean that there are currently some rare opportunities to make a big difference with little effort available. If you're interested in the topic, I don't recommend hanging around. Now is an amazing time for the field - and it won't come again.

1 comment:

  1. And how "don't you recommend hanging around"?

    [good value hook, and this meta-meme requires well-formedness by inclusion of an Objective Point]