Re: virus: Memetic evolution
Tue, 19 Mar 96 15:52 EST

Hey all,

Recently, in a History of Thought course, I posed a kind of Borgesian
question to my students that I would like to extend to you, as well.

(in a nutshell)
Task: You are one of the caretakers of 20th century scientific knowledge,
and a severe budget crisis is forcing your program out of existence. You may
save the knowledge of only 5 twentieth century scientific ideas or
technologies for posterity. What ones do you choose and why?

Of course, this exercise is designed to be woefully incomplete and
hypothetical, and thus I've found it to be an excellent aid for drawing
attention to fluidity across disciplines and the transference of ideas
throughout time. It forces some economy in students' analyses of ideational
evolution (a comprehension of memes, basically).

After each student has completed the list of five, they get into groups of 5
students each and must agree upon five ideas from their total of 25. This is
typically a very boisterous affair as students lobby for the "most critical"
among the critical ideas. I watched one of my students get up and leave the
classroom enraged because his group refused to place DNA in their final list
of 5. "My God, they're all fucking idiots!" he muttered to me as he walked out.

Ah, maybe. Maybe not.

In the next session, I ask the students if they think it is a valid exercise
to attempt this manner of classification for ideas, and typically, they then
harbor some reservations about championing one idea over another. The
overlap becomes mindboggling. I then encourage them to establish flows
between various strata of knowledge and technologies from this century and
they write a paper illustrating the connectivity of at least two major
technological advances.

So... I'd be interested to hear what y'all would say if you had to save 5
ideas or technologies that emerged since 1900.