Monday, 17 January 2011

Cultural evolutionary function of Twitter and Wikileaks and how it applies to Tunisia

Did wikileaks cause a revolution? Did Twitter? Did rain in LA a couple of weeks back cause a mild spell in the UK today? Probably not, but it is impossible to tell anyway.  They all aspects of non-linear complex systems sitting on the edge of chaos, a googol of tiny threads interacting in ways that produce unpredictable and sometimes emergent outcomes.

Complex systems have emergent properties, new phenomena that arise as a result of interactions in networks of enough nodes.  When humans began to settle, the network was at such a scale as to generate emergent properties; there were enough threads to create a tapestry.  Story, myth, nature… those that could decipher them to the level of believable knowledge of the time could command prominence in the system, conflating the religious authority with authority over humankind and monopolising the memetic content of the system.  Religious empires were the result of millions of nodes acting from, I would argue, a few simple axioms (1), an emergence that evolved along with communication technology into the state and then commerce, though all remain to varying degrees of power throughout the world.  Our culture represents a tapestry of countless links that interact in unpredictable, chaotic ways.

Wikileaks function is to introduce new material that can be woven into the tapestry.  It so happened that it’s colour didn’t match the colour that those with the most potential to weave were describing to us.  How much?  I couldn’t possibly claim to know what the picture is in reality, too much content I’m exposed to is manufactured, be it for power or profit or spin.  Some content is easier to trace, such as the blinding significance of Mohamed Bouazizi.  It shows that from what we each know as individuals we can only make subjective, if as well-informed as is possible, claims on the subject.  Besides, without prior prediction the claim leads to criticism of post-hoc reasoning, a rationalisation for western minds who, as is our curse, demand to see cause-and-effect according to our personal, wiki-saturated, schema.

Our societal system has an infrastructure that connects us.  It is our speech. It is our culture, our reality, accessible through sight and sound.  It is us.  And now we are intimately connected to Moore’s law.  Computer-based technology, whether in manufacturing or the final product, is accelerating at an exponential rate.  That means that an already significant proportion of our systems links are also increasing exponentially.  More than that, they are going global, pitting growth against the established order of the state, whose nodes are indoctrinated into a nationalistic mind-set as institutionally demanded by the democratic concept of the social-contract. 

That could all be about to change, and for me personally this is the most exciting prospect I have the optimism to believe in. 

Twitters function is to weave this new content via commenicating information in as close to real-time as possible in an auto-correcting, crowd-sourced system.  Try to see where this is going: imagine Twitter 2.0, as part of an advanced semantic web, when everyone’s connected most of the time, multi-sensory, multi-media communication controlled by speech and thought, mashable with any other function on the web (i.e. google earth).  What you could well see is its own emergent property, it's own artists and culture yet so diverse that the picture it weaves encompasses all humanity, a realised tapestry-within-a-tapestry, a fractal self-similarity that we will all be able to see free from the perverting conduit of self-interested, narrow-minded, nationalistic, corporate ‘protectors’. 

Wikileaks is a node.  Twitter is a network of links.  Yet they are but parts of a larger whole, the internet. This is itself but a part of a larger network, one that encompasses all of the culture and civilisation that each node experiences.  To give credit to one or the other for people taking to account the previously unaccountable would be glib to the extreme.  It would ignore the decades of suffering for a society who for the most part didn’t even have the internet. 

As long as technology continues to progress and the number of people who have access to it continues to increase, we will see the creation of a global scale memetic Hamilton’s rule that will finally eliminate the ‘other’ that for so long has been used against us.  Evolution is inevitable.  For that reason the onus for allowing this progression for humanity falls upon the politicians.  Yet it is the state, with their subjugated media, and corporations with their subjugated states, those hegemonic meme-producers, that have the most to lose. In these globally connected times, our collective sense of morality is raising the bar to a point that states and multi-nationals aren’t happy with. It’s not profitable and it makes no sense to them because they are simply doing their job as they should, as nationalists and profiteers. That reality is beginning to become untenable to todays youth due to their ability to sync with technology and the resulting dissonance.  Exposure to dissonance, be it wikileaks or the sight of a Palace, equals conclusions contrary to that which we are told by those in authority. It is the state’s resistance to this moral change which turns evolution into a revolution. 

So there you have it.  Ultimately it was the Tunisian government that was responsible for the revolution..

1. Axioms of human behaviour: All that is needed for this thesis is three axioms which I think you'll agree make both evolutionary and intuitive sense.

· Fear the unknown
· Do not waste energy fearing the known
· Defer to percieved authority


Jim Richardson said...

Enthralling post!

"As long as technology continues to progress and the number of people who have access to it continues to increase"...

Your italics indicate how problematic these preconditions may be:-)

..."we will see the creation of a global scale memetic Hamilton’s rule that will finally eliminate the ‘other’ that for so long has been used against us."

A desirable apotheosis indeed! But could you amplify on how Hamiltonian inclusive meme fitness may free us from fear of the Other? An alternate, dystopian outcome is re-closing of the net and co-option of the memes by the existing hierarchy, with youth and us all lapsing back into being brain-washed, for example via Interfluidity's endogenized ideology.

Ben King said...

I see elimination of the other as correlated with the spread of communication technology, through our need to rationalise the resulting dissonance to the 'official' narrative.

Would expand further but on mobile at work! You are right though, backward steps are possible (see 'dark ages') but earths geography at least for now makes such steps difficult to instigate universally (see Arabs during 'dark ages')

Anonymous said...

How will the 'other' be eliminated through the spread of technology when the differences in racial IQ make that spread near impossible?

Or do you believe that essentially all people are the same?

In which case you seem to have fallen victim to a classic form of memetic monopoly.

Or are some momopolies better than others?

Ben King said...

I'll save the aggressive riposte until I know for certain that I'm ot mistaking your argument...

Are you actually saying that some races have inferior IQs, and that that in turn make it 'near impossible' for them to use technology?

What, like this African who built a wind generator when he was 14 from nothing but scrap and a few electronics books written in a language he couldn't understand?

Are you suggesting that my 4 year old nephew, who knows his way around a iphone better than my dad would, is inherently more skilled than his racially different brethren?

I think we can forget such 19th century worries don't you?

The 'other' is an imaginary construct that is utilised by those in power because it is the easiest tactic to use. The only reason they can use it to such effect is precisely because the 'other' is unknown, a blank canvas on which to paint the demon.

If the 'other' becomes known, demonic representation of the 'other' becomes cognitive dissonance and the tactic backfires.

Burger Flipper said...

So you have a degree from a British university?

Spot the mistakes in this then: "Dont believe a word I say... check up on it first! Im not here to preach, im here to persuade."

Tax payers money well spent I'd say...

T H E   B E L L   C U R V E

Ben King said...

Ha! Thanks for pointing out the mistakes in that.

Personally, I feel that given that I didn't know Kant from Can't before I went to university, I'll take forming my own sociocultural evolution thesis over complete elimination of all spelling and grammar mistakes...

It does give me a bit of a warm feeling that after only three comments I have one ignoring the arguments and focusing on the spelling. Makes me feel like a Guardian writer.