Genes, Memes, Fremes :
A darwinist cosmology
which explains consciousness.
This text was first written in French, then translated in English. Would you pardon me for the many translation errors ?
GenesFour billion and a half years ago, Life was born on the planet Earth, under the shape of a molecule which could copy itself, and which we name today DNA. Life is only that, by definition : The capacity of an entity to multiply itself by using the resources of its environment, and its capacity to change by mutation. Any entity having these two capacities is "alive".
Four billion and half years. Forty five million centuries ! Such a time extent gives the giddiness. Worse, it is unimaginable, forever out of reach from our daily experience. Unthinkable. How the hell could Life survive all this time ?
The first alive beings were so fragile ! Almost everything could destroy them. But they were programmed to multiply themselves. By the way They were only able to do that, multiply and, sometimes, mutate, change. Pitiless nature then selected those which were able to survive. And they multiplied. They evolved. And as they were fragile, they built machines. Survival machines. Kinds of carapaces in which they encapsulated themselves. Well protected inside these carapaces, they became almost immortal. They were then able to erect scaffolding of splendid strategies to multiply and perdurate still more. They were little concerned by the fact that their survival machines did last only a few weeks, a few years, a few decades at most. That were only machines, after all. When their carapace wore, they changed. They built new vehicles, each time more powerful because they learned from their past errors. And then thousands, millions, billions of years years even ran out, mountains set up and eroded, big empires built themselves and collapsed. Their survival machines became increasingly sophisticated, some of them reached even to the conscience. But them, the first alive beings, did not worry about it, because their single goal was to survive. And they survived. They are still there. They are everywhere. They are in us. They are our genes, and we are their survival machines.
What a derision ! Thus the human being, top of the
evolution, is only a carapace, a vehicle, a survival machine for our genes.
The only two goals of our genes are survival and multiplication. This is
why our sexual instinct is so strong. This is why we are so pleased to
make love. But after the age of the reproduction, the shells which we are
do not interest our genes any more. This is why we age. This is why we
are not immortal. Passed this age, we are not of any utility to our genes
and we die.
Yet, the human being did something very original. He invented language, and later he invented writing and civilization, which enabled him to transmit its knowledge. And then he created without knowing it a new kind of alive beings, of a kind that the first organisms, our genes, would have been quite unable to understand, dispite that these new beings were very similar to them.
Like our genes, they could reproduce, but much more quickly and effectively that them. Like them, they could evolve and mutate. Like them, they could propagate, oppose themselfves, fight among them and even commit suicide, but also link themselves and amalgamate. Like them, they could also die. But these new alive beings did not need a material support. They were unaware of the DNA and its constraints. They propagated much more quickly, at the speed of sound, then later at the speed of light. Like them, they had one goal : to survive and multiply. But they were thousand times more effective than our poor genes, and in a glance they were everywhere, even thought we still don't recognize them as alive beings. However they share all characteristics of alive beings, they are independent entities endowed with the capacity to reproduce and to change. We do not recognize them yet as alive. However, they are there. They live in our minds. They transmit from mind to mind. They are our thoughts, our ideas, our concepts.
Ideas are alive beings. They meet all conditions of the definition of alive beings. They propagate, link, fight, duplicate each time we communicate them to others, grow in mutual richness to form splendid symbioses, or well mutate and change. They can sleep during centuries, engraved onto fragile shelves of clay hidden under the drained ground of a desert, then take again life, resound again, blaze in thousands of consciences. They can also disappear, like the former Gods, forgotten by men. The complex ideas are sequences or associations of small primitive ideas: genes of ideas, memes , as they were baptized by zoologist Richard Dawkins, who discovered them in 1976 and coined the term, meme (say "meeme").
Memes are fragments of information or mental states, like ideas or behaviors, which can be transmitted between biological entities. In fact they are true alive beings that have existed for all time man has existed and maybe for longer : the memes of death, pain, hunger and pleasure, those also of alternation of days and nights, of existence of a world and of other beings similar to us, these primitive memes undoubtedly have existed for millions of years. The human beings are, par excellence, good propagators of memes. But animals can also transmit memes, for example when a group of animals of a same specie seeks to reassure one of them, or when an animal signals to others the presence of a predator, or when they yell to send others the meme "I'm the leader of the band, who dares to contest ?". Memes are at least as old as mammals, even as birds, and probably still older.
Since certain animals have been capable of imitation, memes could then be transmitted and evolve. Better, they could control the evolution of genes ! Indeed the animals which have a good capacity of imitation could imitate certain behaviors of their similars (for example alarm signals in the event of the presence of a predator) which increased their survival chances. And thus the evolution (of genes) will select genes that code brain capabilities of imitation, supporting therefore the transmission of this mèmes. The individuals who have the greatest capacities are those which can not only learn and transmit memes, but can modify them, creating by new memes, "launch fashions". These individuals very quickly become dominant, and profit from welfare of sexual benefits which will support their genes, therefore the genes which make it possible to create memes. It is the reason of the total tendency to the increase in size and capacity of the brain.
Be aware that, I do not say that the meme concept does explain all the genetic evolution. Almost all and every animals have innate behaviors of recognition of their predators, for example. But the individuals who are able to transmit the meme associated with the recognition of a new predator are favoured.
This process culminated in the human being, which is the animal having the greatest capacities for selective imitation. The human being invented a multitude of memes : How to light fire, how to announce to the others the presence of food, how to write marks on a bark to count animals of a herd. He invented sounds, songs, melodies, which are also memes. All memes are not useful. There are even viral memes , which are the analogue of the biological viruses. You know certainly these chains of messages which we regularly receive by post or e-mail, and that order us to recopy the message and to send it to our friends, under penalty of bad luck, or even personal disaster These are viral memes, just as are any instructions of the type "do this and tell others to do it too". In a sense, religious practices are also viral memes complexes, dispite the fact that thay might be usefull by allowing the social cohesion of a group.
ReplicatorsGenes and memes are examples of replicators. There are others and different ones, as we shall see it. But there is a characteristic shared by all replicators, which is their capacity to use the resources of their environment to be reinforced, by creating their own survival machines. As soon as the environment allows the creation of survival machines, the replicators build some, because that increase their capacity of reproduction. Very rapidly, the replicators which have survival machines, even simple, dominate the others.
It is thus quite natural that the memes have also created their survival machines, their carapaces. These survival machines do exist. What the survival machine of our memes is, we know that very well. You guessed it. They are our minds. In the same manner that our bodies are the hosts of our genes, our minds are the hosts of our memes. The meme did build our minds.
Thus, contrary to the generally accepted idea, the ideas, our memes, did have created our minds, and not the reverse. That seems a priori paradoxical. How could ideas and concepts exist in the absence of mind ? The solution of this apparent paradox is that the ideas preexist to the mind, in the same way that many our genes have one day preexisted to our bodies. The first genes were only fragments of DNA/RNA, i.e. molecules. They did not need then to be enchased in cells, but they were fragile, and this is why later they built survival machines. However, at the beginning, they needed only basic bricks provided by nature: atoms, molecules, chemical bonds. The first genes could have been born because they had a preexistent material substrate. It is the same for the memes. What makes us think of a paradox, is that we know that the ideas/concepts also have need for a substrate, which is true, but we believe that this substrate can only be the mind, which is false. The memes preexisted to the minds, because there existed right from the start a substrate for them, which was not a mind.
What is thus this original substrate which made it possible the first memes to exist? This substrate has been existing for the night of times, since the origin of the universe. It has been waiting for all this long to be recognized as the support of the first memes, the one which enabled them to be born, to length, and finally to create the mind which is their survival machine. This substrate is data processing. In the same way the molecule-genes had been able to use atoms, atomic bounds and chemical reactions, the first memes used information, semantics and the very concept of process.
Information plays for the memes the same role as atoms do for genes. Information is present everywhere in our universe, because the shape of material objects is nothing but but information on their relative position. But information preexists in a sense to the material objects, because without this concept of information they could simply not exist, whereas information preexists to matter : the concept of a number is an abstract concept, which exists with or without material support, and a number is information.
Semantics specifies how information can be organized between them to acquire meaning, in the same way chemical bonds make it possible for atoms to form molecules. An abstract concept such as the concept of a couple of numbers makes it possible to combine two vectors of information to create it a third, which adds to our two numbers an information on their ordering. Mathematics in general preexists to the matter, and this is why the universe can be described by mathematical laws. In philosophy, one says that the numbers supercome with the matter, which could not exist without them. This subtle concept of supecoming is more restrictive than the concept of preexistence which adds in the idea of a time ordering.
Finally the concept of process makes it possible to combine information having semantics to create new informations and semantics, in the same still way chemical reactions allow atoms and molecules to combine themselves. Chemical reactions are processes. To exist, genes needed chemical processes. To exist, memes needed just the abstract concept of process.
Those three concepts made it possible for memes to exist even in the absence of a brain or a mind. Admittedly, the brains allow of instancing memes and gave a material support to the minds, which are the survival machines of memes. But the capacity to propagate mèmes supercomes the propagation of genes. When a RNA molecule is duplicated, it transmits the meme which codes for its shape. Well on, it is only when the biological evolution created the neurons that the memes could start to build their survival machines, and it is only when the evolution (guided by the memes) produced a particular animal, the human being, which reached to conscience, that memes could give their full measurement and power.
One can wonder why, among all biological creatures, the human being is the only one being able to propagate memes so well. Good question. Very good question. But before answering it, it should be observed that memes and genes are not the only entities which use the concept of information and process. There are different kinds of réplicators.
FremesFor example our universe as a whole can be regarded as a gigantic process. In this process, matter-energy unceasingly reacts with other particles of matter-energy. Information, in our universe, is coded by the local configuration of these particles, by their form and shape : the shape of an object, a molecule, etc. In physical world, Not all shapes are possible. Some are impossible because they would violate laws like the law of energy conservation. Others are highly unstable, like the atoms of radioactive elements. Only certain forms can length in time. Certain forms or configurations, like the shape of the hydrogen atom, were created right at the begining of the universe, during the Big-bang according to the current standard theory. But not all possible shapes do exist in the universe. Gold atoms, for example, are so difficult to manufacture that the necessary nuclear reactions were not possible during the Big-bang, and even during the five or six billion following years. Gold atoms can be manufactured only under the unimaginable conditions of temperature and pressure which reign in the heart of an exploding star. Thus, Gold which frames the body of our ladies and makes them so beautiful only exists on Earth because, seven or eight billion years ago, a close star exploded in supernovæ and projected parts of the Gold which had just been synthetized in its heart into space, where these atoms derived slowly, some of them finally reaching the cloud of condensing dust which gave rise to our solar system.
Man himself creates new forms and shapes, using particle accelerators, or when it synthesizes new crystals. There exists besides on this subject a strange phenomenon, which has not been explained yet : In crystallography laboratories, one tries to create new crystals, for example to synthesize new materials. Very often, these synthesis are very difficult : calculations show that "it must work", but the lab does not manage to synthesize the new crystal. Very often, a heap of labs tried at the same time, especially if there is money to take ;-), but no one comes there. This can take years, and then one day, it suddenly works in one lab. And almost at once, the other labs also succeed, very easily, and the synthesis becomes a routine matter. To such a degree that one can wonder whether the creation of a new form in the universe does not print a kind of mark or furrow in a "shape space", that later synthesis have'nt anything more to do but to follow...
This idea is very interesting, because it can be explained by the concept of replicator. Indeed, it is clear that the laws of physics determine which forms are possible in the universe. But it is clear also that all possible forms do not exist at a given time: nature, or well the man, which is part of nature, invents new forms unceasingly. The creation of these new forms from old must follow a given sheme. My idea, it is that the forms and shapes are the survival machines which shelter more fundamental entities than I called fremes. Fremes are replicators: indeed the creation of a form in nature is only the eplication of its freme. A freme, is the essence of a form, a configuration. Continuity, Orientation, Finiteness, Presence of "holes" are fremes. The science which studies the fremes is called topology, for this reason I had called them initially topemes. But it seems that " freme " is more sympathetic, sexier to me, because of its resemblance to English frame.
Any shape has topological properties. But these properties are not always enough to define them. For example, let us consider the form of knot made with a shoestring. By putting this knot "flat", one can count the number of times where the string passes "above" or "below", and in which order, trying thus to characterize a particular kind of knot like the familiar windsor knot with these numbers. But it is a fact, that it is impossible to characterize this way all possibles knots by finding for each kind a succession of numbers which define this special kind and only this one. One comes there almost (the "Jones polynomial" characterizes almost all knots without error, but not all...) It is very strange. The major reason of that, is that shapes are not defined by their topological invariants, as do say the mathematicians, but by their fremes. The shape is only a phenotype, a bodyn coded and created by its fremes.
The new fremes do appear though symmetry cracks, a process which was modelled by the great French mathematician René Thom in his famous theory of catastrophes. A freme thus acquires an overhead bit of information, which determines whether it is "left-hand" or "right-hand side" after the symmetry crack. It is a concept difficult to seize, because we have only a partial theory of morphogenesis (the creation of shapes), also due to René Thom, and even less than one theory of the freme creation. I propose nevertheless the following ideas, foundations of a future science, say morphogenics (sob...), or fremétics (much better!) :
- Fremes are réplicators that code forms and shapes. They exist in an abstract space where they can be copied and mutated by symmetry cracks. Like memes, fremes have access to the substrate which consists of the concept of information and the concept of process.
- In the physical universe, fremes generate forms. To create a new form, one must spend an energy which is proportional to the number of fremes coding the form, and an entropy which is proportional to the difference in generations between the fremes coding the initial form and the final form.
- When a new freme is created, it tends to be duplicated, much facilitating therefore the creation of the new form. It is what occurs with the crystals in our crystallography labs.
- Memes have also a form, which is their semantic "grammar". Fremes can thus code physical forms as well as ideas. The world of the ideas is thus as rich as the material world, and even strictly equivalent, because the two worlds are only two points of view onto the forms in which the fremes can be expressed. These two worlds, the physical world and the mental world, are only two views of the same thing.
- The existence of biological entities in the material world is strictly equivalent to the existence of conscience in the mental world.
- Fremes and genes are able to be described, and thus can be coded by memes, which will describe them. The loop is thus looped, just because the conscious spirit tends to create new memes, therefore new fremes ! The appearing of the conscience is nothing but a strategy imagined by fremes to replicate themselves always more quickly, in a positive feeback loop.
- It is thus quite logical that fremes sought to create new conscious minds, i.e. to multiply human beingsby supporting the specific genes which code brains suited to conscience. Indeed the creation of a physical form such as that of a gene registered on a DNA molecule is easier if the number of fremes which code this structure is significant : We thus have a positive feedback, which supported the mutation which made the man reach with conscience.
ConscienceTherefore finally, here is why the man is the only animal which has conscience : it was simply the first, say by chance, but consequently it was much easier for the fremes to multiply ideas in this first man's mind than to create new conscious beings, which would have required to handle many genes.
Thus, the conscience, because it makes it possible to create new mèmes thus new fremes, is only one more strategy invented by fremes to multiply themselves ! Here is something which lowers us the cackle a little, and lowers our pretentious human superiority...
The preceding proposals are not pure philosophic ideas, but constitute the base of the new science, or fremetic. It is indeed a science, because one can make experiments to prove them or cancel them. For example it will be possible to try to create new molecular forms and to measure the difficulty of creation of this new form, then of its duplication. According to the frèmétique one, the difficulty should go decreasing with the number of frèmes coding this structure, existing in "the abstract space of the frèmes ": it is here that we will have to invent models which explain fremes genetics and determine which can be at a moment given the approximate number of fremes coding for a given form... There is a whole possible field of study here.
But the history does not stop there, because we should say what the conscience is. I do not claim to have found the solution of this problem which occupied many philosophers during generations, but fremetics makes it possible to find an elegant definition of the conscience, if not of an explanation : conscience is the symmetry crack which allows human being to believe that the mental world and the physical world are separated, whereas it is the same thing, namely the set of forms, or survival machines invented by fremes if one wants.
Lastly, the point 5) above deserves some explanations: I said that the existence of biological entities (thus of genes) is equivalent with the existence of conscious entities (thus of memes). Claiming that, is to say that life ineluctably leads to conscience. It is to also saying that the physical universe leads ineluctably to life. And that is possible because the conscience is the key which makes it possible the physical universe to really exist. Without the conscience, the universe is only virtual. With the conscience, it acquires reality, by symmetry crack. What does it mean ? Still another proofless assertion ? Not at all ! Here is why :
I wrote above than the universe as a whole could be compared with a gigantic process. As are knowing modern physicists, this is at the same time true and false. Yes, the physicists do think that the same physical laws apply everywhere in space and time. But modern physics, or quantum physics, admits that there are two kinds of process working in the universe.
The first process is deterministic, i.e. perfectly foreseeable, and can be clarified using a marvellous differential equation which is knows as the Schrödinger equation. This equation describes how a particular function, the wave function, evolves with time or during particles interactions. The wave function describes where and in which state can be a particle, an atom, any material object in fact has a wave function. The square of the module of the wave function (for non-mathematicians reader, no matter what that is supposed to mean) is a number ranging between zero and one, which gives the probability for the particle to have a given position, being a given state. That's why tquantum physics is often taken for a probabilistic physics. It may only give (with perfect precision) probabilities. Nevertheless, for macroscopic (big) objects, the wave function has a quasi null value everywhere, except in one point where it is equal to one, and this is why we can say that an ordinary material object is "here and not elsewhere". However, for microscopic objects like particles or even atoms, this is quite an other affair.
The second process is more mysterious: it specifies that if an observer observes that a particle (or any object, bis repetita) is at one given moment at a given place, its wave function will take instantaneously and everywhere a zero value, except at the point where it was observed. This strange phenomenon that one calls in erudite language " reduction of the wave packet" is the only plausible explanation which scientists found to explain a certain number of experimental results. It gave place to many and subtle interpretations. One of them, due to Hugh Everett, third of the name, bear the name of interpretation "in multiple worlds". According to this interpretation, at every moment the universe divides itself into innumerable parallel worlds, as much as there are possible values for the wave functions of all the objects which make it up. However, the act of observation selects to some extent one of these particular universes, the one in which the observed particle is right where it was observed. All other universes disappear immediately in the limbs. This magic role that the observer seems to play is very mysterious and has excited many philosophers. In particular, what is an observer ? As observers form part of the physical world, one does not see why certain parts of this world (human beings) should have a different physical statute from the others. Or well, would this be because the human being is conscious that it has this special characteristic to be able to select "the good" universe? I answer YES, and I prove it !
According to fremétics, conscience is nothing different but the aptitude to "take bladders for lanterns" or cats for dogs, i.e. to see two things (ideas and forms) where there is only one of them. And here the explanation : the reduction of the wave packet is just the simultaneous instanciation of a freme in a form and a meme. The form is the configuration of the observed particle. The meme, is the idea which spouts out in the spirit of the observer : " the particle is in this configuration ". Inevitably, since it is the same thing.
Thus the spirit creates the world. How beautiful, is'nt it ?
For more infos :
- Le livre de Dan Sperber "La contagion des idées"
- Darwinizing Culture : The Status of Memetics As a Science" Robert Aunger(Editor)
- "The Meme Machine" Susan Blackmore, Richard Dawkins; Paperback.
- The "journal of memetics" on the web: http://www.cpm.mmu.ac.uk/jom-emit
- Conscience et univers adimensionnels, A web page on this site, where I prove logically that our conscicience is not in our univers, in other words, we are not machines. (in french).
E-mail author :Serge Boisse
French version of this page