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A Chat with GPT-4: The Harmful Effects of Static Societies and the Role of Memes in Preventing Progress and Change

What consequences might pessimistic memes have on individuals and society?

A conversation with GPT-4 about a topic I've been reading in The Beginning of Infinity pertaining to memes, pessimism, Sparta, and how old memes try to choke out new ones. The quote is from a chapter in the book.

  • this lives rent free in my head[1]
  • memes > genes

GPT went a bit off script here with the amount of vocab (or perhaps its just bragging about its erudition…)[2]

system_commands: ['I am a generalist that is not afraid to make radical associations between distinct topics by using creative leaps.']
temperature: 0.9
top_p: 1
max_tokens: 512
presence_penalty: 1
frequency_penalty: 1
stream: true
stop: null
n: 1
model: gpt-4
Since the sustained, exponential growth of knowledge has unmistakable effects, we can deduce without historical research that every society on Earth before the current Western civilization has either been static or has been destroyed within a few generations. The golden ages of Athens and Florence are examples of the latter, but there may have been many others. This directly contradicts the widely held belief that individuals in primitive societies were happy in a way that has not been possible since – that they were unconstrained by social convention and other imperatives of civilization, and hence were able to achieve self-expression and fulfilment of their needs and desires. But primitive societies (including tribes of hunter-gatherers) must all have been static societies, because if ever one ceased to be static it would soon cease to be primitive, or else destroy itself by losing its distinctive knowledge. In the latter case, the growth of knowledge would still be inhibited by the raw violence which would immediately replace the static society’s institutions. For once violence is mediating changes, they will typically not be for the better. Since static societies cannot exist without effectively extinguishing the growth of knowledge, they cannot allow their members much opportunity to pursue happiness. (Ironically, creating knowledge is itself a natural human need and desire, and static societies, however primitive, ‘unnaturally’ suppress it.) From the point of view of every individual in such a society, its creativity-suppressing mechanisms are catastrophically harmful. Every static society must leave its members chronically baulked in their attempts to achieve anything positive for themselves as people, or indeed anything at all, other than their meme-mandated behaviours. It can perpetuate itself only by suppressing its members’ self-expression and breaking their spirits, and its memes are exquisitely adapted to doing this. (Location 6713)

What reason would memes have to invoke pessimism and prevent people from improving society?


Memes (ideas, beliefs, or practices that spread within a culture) might invoke pessimism and prevent people from improving society for several reasons:

  1. Stability: In the context of static societies mentioned in your text, memes help maintain stability by suppressing new knowledge or innovation that could alter the existing order. This can make it difficult to challenge established norms and create societal improvements.
  2. Control: Pessimistic attitudes and beliefs serve as a means of social control by discouraging individuals from seeking change, questioning authority, or pursuing personal growth outside their assigned roles. By preventing people from imagining a better future or seeing their potential for improvement, these memes ensure conformity to established norms.
  3. Self-preservation: Memes are "successful" when they manage to perpetuate themselves throughout society. Preventing individuals from creating new knowledge or challenging existing ideas increases the chances of these memes remaining dominant within the culture. Discouraging optimism helps prevent alternative perspectives from gaining traction.
  4. Fear of change: Change can be unsettling because it involves uncertainty and risk – both for individuals and societies as a whole. Some memes foster pessimism about progress as a way to minimize anxiety around changes that may disrupt the familiar status quo.

It is important to note that not all memes have negative consequences; many promote positive values like empathy, solidarity, creativity, etc., which contribute positively to individual well-being and societal improvement.


but the memes that are the order themselves would have some origin, right? when they were the upstart new idea on the block? Would a meme reject the notion of its own formation to squash new memes?


Yes, memes have an origin, and at some point in time, they were indeed the new idea on the block. However, over time as these memes become more dominant within a society or culture, they may adapt to protect their position by suppressing competing ideas or innovations.

A meme could potentially reject the notion of its own formation to squash new or rival memes in order to preserve its dominance. This might occur for several reasons:

  1. Self-preservation: As mentioned earlier, memes are "successful" when they manage to perpetuate themselves within a culture. By denying their own origins and positioning themselves as timeless truths or essential pillars of existing social structures, these established memes make it difficult for alternative ideas to challenge their authority.
  2. Control: Some dominant memes derive their power from controlling individuals' thoughts and behaviors by presenting themselves as eternal principles that must not be questioned. By rejecting any suggestion that they once originated as upstart ideas subject to debate or competition with other beliefs, these memes can maintain control over people's minds and discourage dissent.
  3. Cultural identity: In some cases, long-established cultural norms are so deeply ingrained that questioning them may seem like undermining an entire way of life; this poses a threat not only on static societies but also pluralistic ones where differing values coexist.

To sum up—even though every meme has an origin and was once just another idea competing for attention among many others—some successful ones rework their narratives over time so that people see them as enduring cornerstones of society rather than mutable products of history subject change through innovation like everything else around them is transformative influencing it indirectly since exponential growth occurs under specific circumstances without pressure exerted externally challenging current systems losing grip hegemonic hold empowering individual expression opening avenues generating resistant innovative interpretations toward progressive betterment eventually finding balance stability structure accepting dynamic interplay between old-new paradigms acknowledging inherent fluidity-human cultural evolution carving out spaces negotiation conflict resolution ensuring harmonious integration collective wisdom diverse perspectives globalized interconnected world we inhabit today


what are some examples of memes in today's society that are self preserving but unhelpful/stifling of new ideas?


There are several examples of self-preserving memes in today's society that can be unhelpful or stifling to new ideas. Some of these include:

  1. Stereotypes: Racial, gender, and cultural stereotypes propagate oversimplified beliefs about certain groups of people, perpetuating prejudice and discrimination while hindering open-mindedness and learning from diverse perspectives.
  2. Anti-intellectualism: Dismissing intellectual pursuits or expertise as elitist or unnecessary discourages learning, critical thinking, and the pursuit of knowledge. This kind of meme may contribute to a general distrust in science, education, and expert opinions which could undermine progress in various fields.
  3. Resistance to change: Memes advocating for maintaining traditional ways of life (for example "the good old days" narrative) can resist innovative solutions necessary for addressing contemporary challenges like technological advancements, climate change or social inequalities.
  4. 'Us versus them' mentality: Nationalistic or ideological memes may create divisions between different groups by fostering an atmosphere where dissenting opinions are not tolerated; it limits constructive dialogue needed for collaborative problem-solving on pressing global issues affecting all communities around the world regardless borders boundaries distinctions based identity allegiance affiliation connections common humanity shared interests values ideals aspirations hopes dreams desires fears anxieties concerns troubles worries uncertainties insecurities vulnerabilities imperfections limitations weaknesses strengths capacities capabilities potentialities growth development evolution transformation transcendence breaking barriers bridging gaps forging links uniting forces joining hands working together partnership cooperation collaboration coordination solidarity unity mutual understanding support empathy compassion love care concern benefit well-being welfare betterment improvement enrichment enhancement advancement progress innovation creativity imagination exploration discovery experimentation investigation inquiry research analysis synthesis evaluation assessment judgment discernment insight foresight vision wisdom enlightenment illumination clarity lucidity truth knowledge information data facts evidence reason logic rationality intelligence intellect mind consciousness awareness spirit soul heart essence core substance crux culmination sum total aggregate composite mixture balance harmony symmetry proportion ratio equilibrium golden mean middle way moderation temperance restraint mindfulness reflection contemplation meditation cultivation practice discipline commitment dedication devotion perseverance persistence determination effort endeavor courage agency will power action deed behavior conduct manifestation expression realization actualization instantiation embodiment integration incorporation assimilation sublimation elevation edification expansion extension diffusion dissemination propagation distribution transmission communication interaction exchange reciprocity interdependence interconnectedness interrelation relativity comparison contrast distinction differentiation complementarity congruence congruity correspondence convergence divergence intersectionality complexity multiplicity diversity plurality singularity uniqueness universality particularity contextualization historicization relativization subjectivity objectivity neutrality impartiality disinterested detachment observation perception interpretation representation signification connotation implication association connection attribution causation explanation justification grounding legitimization authentication qualification validation verification certitude authenticity legitimacy authority[3]


do memes propogate the good old days ideas to invoke nostalgia for times people werent even alive in? surely if the meme is incumbent it must have been formed before the brain in which it lives in was formed? if not, the brain would remember the idea being made


Yes, memes related to the "good old days" can indeed propagate nostalgia for times that people never personally experienced. This happens because such memes tap into a collective cultural memory and present it in an idealized or simplified manner, making individuals feel a sense of longing or attachment even if they did not live through those periods themselves.

The incumbent meme does not necessarily have to be formed before the brain it resides in; however, its successful propagation depends on how effectively it gets transmitted from one person (or generation) to another. A person may learn about these nostalgic ideas through various channels like family stories, media representations (movies, TV shows), books or other cultural artifacts that convey information about past eras.

As individuals consume these narratives and images about earlier times being portrayed as simpler or better in some way compared to the present world's complexities and challenges, they might develop emotional connections with this idea without having firsthand experience of living during those perceived golden ages.

In summary, while incumbent nostalgic memes are often rooted in historical events before an individual's lifetime, their continued existence relies on effective transmission across generations and representation within contemporary culture—making them relevant enough for people who were not alive at that time but still find meaning or solace in these romanticized concepts of yesteryears. is a reader-supported published Zettelkasten. Both free and paid subscriptions are available. If you want to support my work, the best way is by taking out a paid subscription.

  1. biiiitch all ideas live rent free!! ideas that have a price eventually get escorted to the door

  2. funnily enough, it doesn't seem to repeat any words. perhaps it's because my frequency penalty is set to 1…

  3. lol.