Re: virus: New Ideas

Tony Hindle (
Sat, 24 May 1997 05:10:38 +0100

In message <>, Dave Pape
<> writes

>Still talking about ideas and feedback and self-reference and self-replication.
>Bunch of reactions in which one or more of the products catalyse/speed up
>their own production. Looks like the more of this stuff you have, the more
>you get. Proposed as a mechanism that preceeded DNA "self-replication".

An explosion would be an example of an autocatalytic process.
The heat being a catalyst (in that it speeds up heat production). The
limit to explosions are when the output destroys the system that created
it. Could the analogy of "population explosion" be a tighter one than we
might have thought?.

>If you've got a test tube full of DNA, suspended in pure water- no RNA, no
>enzymes, no proteins, no phosphate- it won't make any more DNA. DNA doesn't
>just "replicate /itself/". It's always needed loads of other chemicals to
>help. There's a /system which replicates DNA/. The system's the cell, or
>maybe the organism.

I am trying to think of a memetic equivalent to ensure we are
thinking along the same lines. An idea can not make copies of itself
without sub-ideas (words at a basic level) being used to biuld the
copies in other minds. I think we share a lot of concepts so I hope I
can get to understand this idea you are ranting about to the same
autocatalytic tightness as you.

>And I don't think cells self-replicate either. They need a wider ecological

Interesting that my concept of cell replication can either be
one of cells "using biulding blocks to replicate" or "emerging as
holistic phenomena from a lower level of replication" (DNA at a basic
Ideas can be thought of in both ways as well. Do they use
biulding blocks to biuld copies of themselves or do they emerge as
holistic properties of lower level replicators. Although both ways of
looking are talking about the same thing, one attributes intent to the
high level structure and the other doesnt.

> This isn't me just being a raging holist, I'm trying to break down
>the conceptual barrier between autocatalysis and self-replication. Cos I
>think "self-replication" is actually a very intimate form of autocatalysis,
>not a qualitatively different phenomenon.

Mmm I see what you mean. Also its easier to imagine
autocatalytic structures emerging by chance and then competing against
one another. Some products might be the result of one identifiable
autocatalytic process and a fuel in another autocatalytic process. Such
"pulling in both directions " interactions could settle on tighter and
tighter autocatalytic routes until eventually they were "replicators"

>Point is, there's this class of systems, AUTOCATALYTIC systems, in which
>bits interact, and more copies of some of those bits get made. The systems
>are self-referential, in that processes within the systems act on other bits
>of the system. DNA's NOT a pure self-replicator, it's a component of a
>neatly packaged autocatalytic system: a cell. RNA acts on proteins, enzymes
>act on DNA, and more, and the rolling effect is more DNA.

Yes, this is a mechanism for biulding up complexity bit by bit.
A battle of autocatalytic processes at level one inevitably ends up with
a self replicator (and its minimum baggage) being ubiquitous. Now a new
level of structures emerge and some are autocatalytic leading to the
next level of replicators. This makes sense for fundamental particles to
atoms to amino acids to DNA to cells to organisms to societies.
>And before cells, before DNA "replication", there was a gradual tendency
>towards tightening up of self-reference/autocatalysis in the Earth's
>chemical systems. EG growing nucleotide chains hanging onto clay crystals
>and bathed in primeval soup- a proposed chemical mechanism that DNA
>replication may have evolved from.

>What we call self-replication is, IMO, very tight autocatalytic
>self-reference. The cell is a serious fucking tightening of /chemical/

The cell was an outright winner as a replicator emerging from
the lower level DNA replicating champion. (actually there was organelles
as a level in between..lyn margelis etc.)
>Went to a pub this week when it was Quiz Night. Seethe: the geezer doing the
>quiz had a shite PA system, and his tinny, patronising,
>loves-the-sound-of-his-own-voice voice rang a bit because there was slight
>feedback in the speaker system.
>"To the nearest 5 centimetres, what's the average yearly rainfall... in
>Moscow?" ...wanker.
>The feedback is his voice amplified by the speaker and his mic sending some
>of that signal back to the speaker. The system takes part of its output as
>part of its input. Refers to itself. Doug Hofstadter, we worship you.

Where are you upto in GEB now?

>Firstly, as far as I'm concerned a new idea emerges from interaction of
>known ideas. The /known/ ideas are ones you'd use to explain or define the
>/new/ idea. These known ideas are related, in that to learn a new concept
>they have to activate together. So to teach memetics you hype up people's
>known ideas about evolution, replication, Mind, culture, viruses etc, hoping
>to get them interacting in the way they interact in YOUR head, and then get
>your victim to label the emergent stuff... "memetics".
>As the known ideas become associated together, activating one will activate
>(some of) the others- and soon you get a feedback system set up cos idea A
>activates B, which activates C, which activates A.
>This feedback itself would, I think, have the effect of tightening itself
>up. Because, neural-substrate-wise, ideas get associated together when
>they're activated together, and associated ideas activate each other more.
>The two tendencies tickle each other.
>The more the interacting system of known ideas tightens up, and as mutual
>activation gets more intimate, you get stronger emergent feedback, you get
>it with weaker input to the system, and the feedback lasts longer before it
>Like if Pubquizman stood closer to his loudspeaker, the ringing tone after
>his voice would get louder, go on for longer, and he wouldn't have had to
>talk so loud for the feedback to boot off, but his accent would still be
>I think any new concept (meta-concept) IS such an emergent feedback signal.
>Remember, we're talking crazy parallel neural systems here: the feedback's
>not just an amorphous whiney noise, it'll be a complex neural activity
>pattern, probably patterned in time as well as across cortex.

And once an autocatalytic set of concepts resonate a new
metaconcept into our consciousness it has increased electrical synaptic
activity which strengthens all the associations between the concepts. In
other words it strengthens the implantation of the metaconcept. I
imagine that over a period of time the metaconcept becomes just a
concept itself, consisting of the outlines of it's subconcepts and their
relationship. As usual recursive process leads to ever more complex
emergent phenomena without a growing electrical activity level of the

>The hallmark of an idea you ALMOST know is that you fleetingly get glimpses
>of understanding, which fade away dead quickly. Partial feedback which isn't
>strong enough to be perpetuated in time for very long, because the input
>wasn't loud enough, or the self-referential system it emerges from wasn't
>tight enough. Like the fading ringing tones after Pubquizman's voice, right
>about just before I KICKED his bleating hamster-like low-dignity-balding
>head through the speaker grill, and stuffed the mic up his blinkered
>suburban nose.

Almost getting it does leave a slightly increased chance of you
getting it the next time. With the acoustic feedback analogy it would be
as though the emergent feedback tone increased the gain of the amplifier
for that tones frequency whenever it next apeared.
Here is a thought. What process causes the brain electrical
activity representing an emergent resonating idea to plateau and then
fall off? And whatis it about some resonances that really snowball and
can excite us whereas some others cant even get our attention for long
enough to take off. Also what is it about our own states of mind that
can cause a time variation in our tendency to receive such resonances?
Do our minds have an inertia for some high level concepts? I
think so, I think it can explain our changing moods.

>Which is when I found out that, if you put a mic right up against a speaker
>it's wired into, it makes feedback that'll keep going by itself. The TONE
>comes out the speaker, goes into the mic and back round the loop again.
>That's what we call self-replication. The tone perpetuates itself- WITH THE
>SYSTEM'S HELP (and remember, the signal's never utterly pure feedback).
>...And that's the hallmark of an idea that you /know/: given a trigger
>input, you get a cognitive activity pattern forming from very tight
>self-reference in terms of ideas, and emerging from this you get what
>appears to be self-replicating activity patterns.

I think your input has been sufficient for my mind to resonate
to the extent where I feel reasonably confident about declaring I /know/
what you are talking about.

>When you join a team: to start with you need lots of help and advice, so
>decisions about your job are effectively made by several minds. Over time
>the interaction of job-related ideas tightens up, until eventually you
>become, INTERNALLY, an autocatalytic system of "expert" ideas. Meaning,
>you're an opinionated git, and seeing a situation provokes long streams of
>thought about how to deal with it.

Definately. Interesting to think that some jobs are imposible
for any individual to understand (e.g, how to biuld the channel tunnel)
these processes resonate across many interconected minds.

>And more generally, I think bootstrapping a mature human consciousness
>involves (not entirely, but importantly) generating an autocatalytic set of
>very high-level ideas, which interact as a system with perceptual input to
>produce the apparently self-replicating Self. Which isn't really a
>self-replicator, but is the feedback bubbling out the top of the
>memetic/conceptual interaction in your mind/brain.

I think by this model there must always be a higher level of
consciousness to be reached after consolidating a full set of the
concepts necessary for it to resonate into existence. Artificially
increasing the brain electrical activity then pondering some of these
thoughts would probably allow gelling of high level metaconcepts and
after a period of recovery to normal electrical activity (probably via a
"payback low") the process of resonating back to those places with
normal electrical activity can begin.
>Okay. I'm after comments. I know it's argument-by-analogy, but what the
>fuck. It kind of deals with my former problems with ideas being defined in
>terms of other ideas, so how can you think of AN IDEA? -I'd now say that the
>criterion for saying "that's one idea" rather than "that's several ideas all
>interacting" is this perpetuating feedback, maybe in terms of neural
>activity patterns.

Yes. and an important balance will exist between amount of brain
electrical activity and number and detail of concepts resonating. I
picture as a very very simple model one of those electrical discharge
sparks between the two arms of a "v" shape. As the spark breaksdown the
air across a low part of the v it prepares paths it can easily take
which allow leaps across places higher up in the v . Its just a process
of later processes biulding on earlier ones that have consolidated.
>Whatever, please have a go cos it's all a bit vague and plastic still,
>though the fact that I've been thinking about it all week and am sending it
>to all my people must mean that I now "know" it- cos it's autocatalytic, see?

Ok I am off to bed now so I will be reflecting on how the
resonance dies down. I look foreward to the next time it resonates up
and hopefully beyond its present level.

Tony Hindle.