virus: Rational Play

Ken Pantheists (
Tue, 23 Apr 1996 00:57:14 +0000

I just got my ish of WIRED in the mail this aft and there was an article
on mimetic engineering. (Memes are still very novel to me and I was
surprised to see it in an article)

BTW. Wired is, with greater frequencey, becoming the magazine of the 20
word article. Do they think we have absolutely NO attention span?????

Now what was I talking about..........................................


WIRED 4.05 James Gardner gives an overview (several opinions) on mimetic
engineering. The article is only about 250 words, so don't rush out and
spend the $6 or the one page. Better to read it in the store.

Gardner first gives us Daniel Dennet's ("Conciousness Explained")
cautionary view of a meme paradigm. Dennet is not "attracted to the idea
that his brain is a sort of dungheap in which the larvae of other
people's ideas renew themselves, before sending out copies of themselves
in an informational Diaspora.It...rob(s) (his) mind of its importance as
author and critic."

I think we have tackled this issue earlier in our discussions and come
to a general concensus (maybe?) that such a vision bankrupts us of our
humanity. (Maybe I'm making assumptions here, I'm extrapolating from
views I read in the Spirituality/art/reason thread.)

The article goes on to discuss the Santa Fe Institute's "The 2050
Project"- a computer generated environment- a kind of SIM History in
which "demographics, the transmission of culture, conflict, economics,
disease, the emergence of groups, (and) co-adaptation with the
environment" takes place and can be observed from the ground up.

In Gardner's opinion, by the 21st Century, computer based memetic
studies will either be an intellectual dry hole or a technology of
extraordinary power. (20 guage shotgun statement if ever there was

But the end of the article was what really caught my eye. I think it
encapsulates the views of the church of Virus (as I understand them).

Gardner quotes Robert Wright from "The Moral Animal":

"Understanding the often unconscius nature of genetic (read: memetic)
control is the first step toward understanding that we are all puppets,
and our best hope for even partial liberation is to try to decypher the
logic of the puppeteer."

Gardner goes on to state (in a quick-and easy conclusion to an article
that is too short) that a rigorous new science of memes may the the only
way to truly liberate ourselves from blindly replicating, destructive
memes that involve prejudice and tyranny.

The thing that really hit home was Robert Wright's statement about
decyphering the logic of the puppeteer. It speaks of the Human Condition
in a way that crosses over all forms of expression. From the plays of
Samuel Beckett to Darwin to the Balinese Ketchak (monkey chant).

What does this have to do with play? Hell. I don't know.....

How 'bout this? Play can serve two purposes. One: it trains us for
certain activities. (Children at play mimic adult behavior) Two: play
gives us an opportunity to explore the world from a different
perspective (Peeking behind the mirror- so to speak). Drugs or
intellectual fantasy stimulate our minds to perceive the world
differently- liberated from the ideal of an intellectual product.
Sensual experiences allow us to experience our bodies outside the realm
of physical labour. Thrilling experiences (like bungy jumping) allow us
to view the world from the point of view of someone who is about to die.
Such experiences promote the growth of the individual- the development
of wisdom. We may be able- through play- to get outside the rules of the
puppeteer- see the strings. Perhaps this is why the archetype of the
Trickster is so prevailent in the art and stories of so many cultures.

And.... getting back to art- my little obsession- the best art has the
effect of taking us all the way into the realm of play without just
leaving us there. ( if you get left there it's just fluffy art) Good art
has meaning. It must bring you back into the realm of not-play with a
new idea- a glimpse of the strings- an understanding of the forces that
manipulate you.

There was a guy who posted last week and spoke of art that seems like
pure stimulation- sounds, textures, colors. I can see a lot of that in
modern art, which is a kind of "insiders" dialogue on the principles and
elements of art. It looks at the strings of hegemonic art practices and
points them out to the viewer. (The sad thing about a lot of modern art
is that it is hard for non-artist to decypher this unless they are
"initiated") (Actually hard for artists too!)

ah well- it's late.