02 December 2007

"There aren't enough minds to house the population explosion of memes"

I invite you to take a look at philosopher Daniel Dennett's brief note in the book What is your dangerous idea?. No, this one isn't an essay about atheism; rather, it is a meditation on the continuous ramp-up of information that we're all swimming in, as most recently enabled by the WWW.

Perhaps you're already sensitized to this, as, for example, wubbahead describes nicely in the opening of his recent blog entry.

Anyhow, here's a snippet of paragraph three of eight from Dennett:

The human population is still growing, but at nowhere near the rate that the population of memes is growing. There is competition for the limited space in human brains for memes, and something has to give. Thanks to our incessant and often technically brilliant efforts, and our apparently insatiable appetites for novelty, we have created an explosively growing flood of information, in all media, on all topics, in every genre. Now either (1) we will drown in this flood of information, or (2) we won't drown in it. Both alternatives are deeply disturbing. What do I mean by drowning? I mean that we will become psychologically overwhelmed, unable to cope, victimized by the glut and unable to make life-enhancing decisions in the face of an unimaginable surfeit. (I recall the brilliant scene in the film of Evelyn Waugh's dark comedy The Loved One in which embalmer Mr. Joyboy's gluttonous mother is found sprawled on the kitchen floor, helplessly wallowing in the bounty that has spilled from a capsized refrigerator.) We will be lost in the maze, preyed upon by whatever clever forces find ways of pumping money–or simply further memetic replications–out of our situation. (In The War of the Worlds, H. G. Wells sees that it might well be our germs, not our high-tech military contraptions, that subdue our alien invaders. Similarly, might our own minds succumb not to the devious manipulations of evil brainwashers and propagandists, but to nothing more than a swarm of irresistible ditties, Nous nibbled to death by slogans and one-liners?)

(Get the whole thing here.)


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