Technology and the Memetic Self

Technology and the Memetic Self

Elizabeth J. Falck (The Coalition for Innovative Development, Education and Action, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6010-6.ch013
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This chapter provides an overview of current theories in philosophy of mind as they relate to cultural and technological evolution. The focus is to examine the influence of technology on identity formation by introducing the concept of “narrative consciousness,” the process of constructing a memetic self model, or “selfplex.” The human capacity to construct a “selfplex” evolved from an imitation-based system of memetic replication, enabled by and coevolved with technology over the last 50,000 years. The chapter examines the following four points: (1) an introduction of the idea of “narrative consciousness”; (2) a reframing of technology as “tools that enable imitation and sharing,” thereby facilitating the development of memes and the selfplex; (3) societal implications of narrative consciousness; and (4) the cultural influence of Human Enhancement Technologies (HET) on the selfplex and practical considerations for practitioners.
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Modern society is undergoing an unprecedented preferential shift toward the propagation of ideas and creative productivity over manual labor. Strong brands for individuals are a crucial component of the budding creative economy. “We are almost constantly engaged in presenting ourselves to others, and to ourselves, and hence representing ourselves – in language and gesture, external and internal” (Dennett, 1991, p. 417). This constant drive for representation overwhelms other forms of conscious experience. In a society progressing at an exponential pace, the act of balancing various “ways of being” has become overwhelmingly challenging. A comprehensive understanding of philosophy and historical context will elucidate why these various types of consciousness evolved, how they function, and the role technology has played in shaping human narrative over the past 50,000 years. This thorough historical basis can assist society in answering the increasingly salient questions: What should future humans be? and What are the technologies that will get us there?

Despite thousands of years of philosophical debate, the most daunting questions of consciousness remain unanswered. Today many philosophers reduce the self to an illusion constructed by the brain’s electrochemical interface. Of course, individual phenomenological experience would suggest that humans are more than three pounds of matter within a skull. As even staunch reductionist Daniel Dennett concedes, “Nothing could be less like an electron, or a molecule, or a neuron, than the way the sunset looks to me now” (1991, p. 65). In this chapter, “Human” (or narrative) consciousness will be defined as a system of memetic replication, enabled by and coevolved with technology over the last 50,000 years in accordance with life’s drive toward increasing complexity. In other words, the human self is a story constructed from a variety of experiences over time. That story exists in not just one brain, but in a global network of brains and other storage devices ranging from digital to analog to biological mediums. That is the narrative nature of the human’s memetic self.

To explore the above thesis, this chapter will examine the following four points: First, by outlining several working definitions for “consciousness” the chapter will explore the idea of “narrative consciousness” (often referred to as “human consciousness” or “self-consciousness”), which consists of a network of memes that spread between brains to take the form of a “selfplex.” The selfplex is the combined experience and expression of a Narrative Center of Gravity as a continuous story throughout time; it is the differentiating quality of “human” consciousness. Second, by definition, memes (including the selfplex) must be shared between individuals. From the invention of language to 4g cell service, technology are tools that enable imitation and sharing, thereby facilitating the development of memes and the selfplex/human self. By this reasoning, humans are inherently technological. Third, the chapter will consider the wide-reaching implications of narrative consciousness in several fields including economics, artificial intelligence (AI), ethics, familial structures, sustainability, health and longevity. Fourth and finally, the chapter will explore the concept of progress, its interaction with the selfplex, and how HET will play a crucial role in shaping the selfplex, and consequentially, humanity’s future.

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