Subgenres of weird real science

io9 has published a list, titled: 11 Emerging Scientific Fields That Everyone Should Know About, which is, like, crazy interesting.  My favorite one was number 7:

7. Recombinant Memetics

This one's quite speculative, and it's technically speaking still in the proto-science phase. But it'll only be a matter of time before scientists get a better handle on the human noosphere (the collective body of all human information) and how the proliferation of information within it impacts upon virtually all aspects of human life.

Similar to recombinant DNA (in which different genetic sequences are brought together to create something new), recombinant memetics is the study of how memes (ideas that spread from person to person) can be adjusted and merged with other memes and memeplexes (a cohesive collection of memes, like a religion) for beneficial or ‘socially therapeutic' purposes (such as combating the spread of radical and violent ideologies). This is similar to the idea of 'memetic engineering' — which philosopher Daniel Dennett suggested could be used to maintain cultural health. Or what DARPA is currently doing via their ‘narrative control' program.

General disappointment

I'm more than usually annoyed at civilization's failures today. According to, the average American spends 25.2 minutes a day commuting.  That's 2 hours a week.  probably enough time to keep up with an online class.  (Especially a class organized for commuters.)  If we had comprehensive public transportation, people could spend the time going to and from work on buses and trains, with their laptops or tablets, learning.

Or they could keep up with another reality TV show.  Or they could get in a nap.  Or they could listen to music and meditate.

Commutes would probably be longer in this paradigm, but that's fine.  That's more free time.  Time blocked out cleanly in everyone's day.

(I mean, ideally our cities would be built in a way that placed everyone close enough to their workplace that their commutes wouldn't take that long.)

I'm sure there are enough people willing to drive for a living to overcome the sudden absence of hundreds of thousands of amateur drivers.  It would reduce carbon emissions.  It would make the roads safer -- by reducing the number of cars, and by having only professional drivers on the road.

And, obviously, when I remember about this particular civilizational failure, I'm reminded of many of the other ones:  the continued existence of the penny, the horrible structure of student loans, the failures of education systems worldwide, the DMCA, American internet speeds, the war on drugs, etc.

We're suffering, in the United States, from a failure to optimize several societal institutions, because the optimization reduces the number of people who can profit from a reformed system.  Our internet isn't being reformed because our ISPs can charge us enough as it is.  Our entertainment industry is fighting against freedom of expression because it maximizes their ability to make billion-dollar, broad-appeal action movies.  Our education system is nearly a method for converting optimistic young adults into revenue streams for loan companies.  Our drug policies primarily benefit private prison owners farming nonviolent offenders for government money.

And our transportation systems are fatally crippled because all the obvious solutions would result in fewer people driving, fewer people buying gas, fewer people living in suburbs and fewer people owning cars.

There are two separate intersections on my commute to school where, no matter how wide a gap I wait for, I'm always terrified that someone is going to crash into me.  Part of it is that the roads are poorly designed, but a bigger part is that the roads are crowded with people who have no place operating a motor vehicle -- including me.  The fact that we expect everyone to do it means we've lowered our standards for who should be allowed to drive.  It's incredibly dangerous, and you really should have to be a lot better at it before they let you do it every day, whenever you want.

I'm pissed about this, because (a.) my life is daily put at needless risk because I happen to live in a country with a fetish for motor vehicles, (b.) I have to pay for this privilege because despite an infrastructure that makes them a necessity our society doesn't treat access to cars as a right, and (c.) it means I start and end every day with stress.  I spend about an hour every day being made anxious and irritated, time I could spend studying, or working, or napping, or listening to fracking music.  Really, anything other than being the person operating the vehicle would be awesome.

I'm more conflicted than I thought

Yesterday I wrote that I wasn't sure whether analyzing Paul Ryan's suit was frivolous. It turns out, that conflict runs a lot deeper than I realized:  This article started out with the headline, "I'm NOT conflicted about whether this is important," and featured two articles that popped up on my Google newsfeed this morning:

Don't get me wrong, these publications' coverage is horrible, in the case of the E! Online article, it's super fracking[1. BTW, does anyone else feel like it's sort of perfect that the main curse word from Battlestar Galactica is being used to describe a natural gas extraction process that causes air pollution, radioactive water, and earthquakes?] creepy.  But the basic premise, that the style decisions of the super-scrutinized are worthy of analysis, is the same.

There are three major areas of conflict, in my mind:

  • These are all people asking for our attention.  Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates, to prove they're capable of doing a massive job at the top of our government; super-celebrities, to make themselves sufficiently marketable that their mere name is enough of an asset to any creative work with which they're involved that they get bigger paychecks.  In both cases, it's awful that this is our relationship to those roles in society.  But in both cases, it's also a feature of our society.
  • The style decisions of the super-scrutinized have resonating influences throughout the whole of our culture.  By this point, the amount of attention we pay to them is good and important, though it's also self-reinforcing.  These people are building the narratives of our culture, and their stylistic choices establish the costumes of those narratives.
  • Directly adjacent to that point, the way we pay attention to the style decisions of the super-scrutinized reinforces the harmful cultural norms of our society.  The Paul Ryan and Robert Pattinson articles are about sexiness and relatability, stemming from their conformity to the norm, and the Miley Cyrus article is about the remarkable fact that at least one person is standing up for a super-scrutinized person trying to resist that norm.

The first bullet-point reminds me of an article I read yesterday about rape culture, called The missing stair.  While I wrote that bullet point, I felt the end of that article itching at me:

This isn't just about individuals, either.  Everyone who says "I don't want to be a victim-blamer, but girls should know frat parties aren't safe places" is treating rape culture like a missing stair.  Everyone who says "it's an ugly fact, but only women who don't make trouble make it in this business" is treating sexual harassment like a missing stair.  Everyone who says "I don't like it either, but that's the way things are," and makes no move to question the way things are, is jumping over a missing stair somewhere. [Emphasis mine.]

And while I wrote the last one, I remembered a Ze Frank video, in his 2006 series, "The Show."

We need these narratives, and these people giving us touchstones to build these narratives.  Life, it turns out, is way too big and complicated for anyone to handle working out entirely from scratch.  But it also seriously hurts a lot of people when we don't question them, or think about whether the narratives we're using tell the truth about the people who fit into them.

This was always a problem for the people moving within the narratives, but I think it didn't used to be such a problem for the people setting the trends -- those people where characters in books, plays, poems and mythologies.  We don't have to worry, for example, about how Romeo feels that everyone on earth imagines him as a hopeless romantic, or whether it hurts Darth Vader's feelings that people only ever see him as the bad guy.

As every child star grows up this generation, it seems like they have to face the impression that their transition from child to teenager to adult is a symbolic struggle on behalf of all culture, whether between innocence and corruption, or childhood and maturity, or stagnation and fluidity.

I know very little about Miley Cyrus and Robert Pattinson, so I can't speak to the nature of their struggles.  But I will say that I'm not 100% certain that it's not important, and shouldn't be noticed.