Re: virus: New Ideas

Dave Pape (
Mon, 26 May 1997 13:40:43 +0100 (BST)

At 05:10 24/05/97 +0100, Tony wrote:

>>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?.

Explosions are autocatalysis that isn't limited. The kind of out-of-control
feedback that I /think/ Robin was worried about when he posted about
self-referential consciousness causing feedback. What I'm saying is that,
when resources are limited and conditions are right, autocatalysis gives an
impression of reproduction.

>>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.

Yup, because an idea in isolation doesn't have anything to refer to, or to
be inferred from. To get an idea going in someone else's mind, you need
other ideas to explain it and trigger it. I think... (Napper melts)

>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.

The fun thing about this idea for me was, feeling the concept kind of
flicker around and then coalesce, provided me with evidence for how it feels
to watch ideas flicker around and coallesce. So the feedback from the
feedback helped the feedback of the system that produced the feedback. Oh,
and by the way, thanks for YOUR feedback.

> 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.

Ooo... this is... ADOPTING THE INTENTIONAL STANCE... erm... Daniel Dennett
would impact on this pretty heavily, I think. He's into the idea that human
beings attribute intentionality to things in order to model how they behave.
So rain "likes to flow into holes in the ground" and the car "keeps wanting
to stall". In your example, we use "the cell uses DNA to replicate itself"
as an explanatory shorthand, because otherwise you get into this raging
fountain of emergent levels, with DNA emerging as interactions of simpler
chemicals, those emerging from interactions of subatomic things, and so on.

Or maybe I'm chatting out of my chocolate starfish.

>> 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.

Exactly. It wasn't a case of chemistry, chemistry, chemistry.... BIOLOGY!

It's like, the chemistry got gradually more and more tightly
autocatalytic... presumably the tighter the system, the more efficient and
reliable and therefore self-servingly adaptive the reproductive element...
IE the DNA system is a better "reproducer" than the nucleotides-on-clay
system, and so on. The system bootstraps itself up... a kind of
metaselection, metaevolution of reproductive SYSTEMS, rather than just of
species or genes WITHIN a reproductive system. A-huffa-huffa.

>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"

In fact, in a way the two systems you describe there, are kind of part of
one metasystem! But you're right (in terms of my model, anyway) about the
tightening of the routes. This is again the analogue of the audio feedback
sounding more and more like the feedback tone, rather than that turd's
voice. 'Turdvoice + a bit of feedback' is a loose autocatalytic system,
'feedback tones + tiny bit of something else' is a tighter autocatalytic system.

> 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.


Of course! Shit!

Yeh, so the development of better and better comms technology is in effect
the tightening of memetic autocatalysis on a wide scale! Jeez!

The levels-of-replicators thing is something I've thought for a while, but
meshing it with the tightening-autocatalysis bit is new! Cheers sir!

> Where are you upto in GEB now?

Ironically I'm about a third of the way through the "Self-ref and Self-rep"
chapter, but to be honest when I left it at work, I got into my current
William Calvin effort and buzzed more off that. But then again, I've got no
idea what the rest of the SR&SR chapter holds- and, 'GEBchapter+myheadNOW'
may be more fun than 'Calvin+myheadLASTWEEK'. We'll see. Good shots of video
feedback. D'you reckon Hofstadter enjoys a bit of a toke, like?

> 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.

This is the 'feeding-back feedback' idea, the 'metabootstrap' thing that,
erm, I've never mentioned yet, so why's it in quotes?

>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

This is the bit I haven't quite worked out yet: the meta-concept has got to
become triggerable more or less on its own merits, rather than via the
sub-concepts it's made up from. Is it that the connections cut by the
meta-process have to be STRONGER than the ones cut for the subconcepts? Or
do you have to be REWARDED more for the metaconcept? Oof. I'll have a think
about this one. Any help would be nice. Tony, have a gander at the Calvin
thing I'm about to send. Or anyone... AlaVista search for Calvin, he's
lashed a couple of his books onto the Web. He's a good kidling.

>>The hallmark of an idea you ALMOST know is that you fleetingly get glimpses
>>of understanding, which fade away dead quickly.

> 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.

Again, that's the feeding-back-feedback motiff.

> Here is a thought. What process causes the brain electrical
>activity representing an emergent resonating idea to plateau and then
>fall off?

Neuarl impulses don't vary IN VOLTAGE, and Calvin thinks that ideas are
coded in spatiotemporal ways, like a tune played by a neural orchestra. The
fact that the code has a temporal element means that faster doesn't equate
to stronger, because effectively it turns the idea into ANOTHER IDEA. His
model works with patterns reproducing across little areas of cortex, and
literally competing for expression, as if it's a territorial battle. So the
plateau and fall-off would be the spreading neural pattern reaching a
boundary it can't cross, either because the neural structures beyond the
boundary won't allow it to replicate, or because there's other neural
patterns there which outcompete the spreading pattern. Falling away would
happen because another pattern started to outcompete the current pattern for
its territory. Which would be facilitated by... the thinker's environment
changing, meaning that opportunities and priorities and potential rewards
changed as well.

>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.

The ecology of other ideas already there, and the layout of the neural
landscape, which has in part been carved by neural activity (already-known

> Do our minds have an inertia for some high level concepts? I
>think so, I think it can explain our changing moods.

And... limbic system effects etc...

> 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.

Ah: nice.

Dave Pape
I am ready.

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