Is posted in the “About” section of the website, if anybody visiting needs to see it.
The current draft of my antitrust review of the Copyright Alert System can be found on SSRN.
The final version will appear in the NYU Journal of Intellectual Property and Entertainment Law.
And bar prep is just around the corner. Starting next Wednesday, here is my schedule for the next two plus months, for six days a week (bar review class is only four days, so skip the commute to Baltimore and stuff for those days):
6:00 – Wake Up
6:15 – 6:45 – Exercise
6:45 – 7:10 – Shower/get dressed
7:15 – 7:40 – Breakfast
7:45 – 8:05 – Review Notes from Last Class
8:15 – 10:15 – Essay Practice and Debriefing (weekend MPT)
10:30 – 11:30 – MBE Question Practice and Debriefing
11:40 – 12:00 – QuickStudy Review
12:00 – 1:30 – Lunch
1:30 – 3:45 – Major Subject Study
3:50 – 4:00 – Flashcards
4:00 – Quickly eat and jump in the car to B’more
6:00 – 9:30/10:00 – Bar Review Class
9:30/10:00 – 10:30/11:00 – Commute Home
11:00 – Sleep
Sundays are off, no studying, nothing but rest.
So close I can see it…
Unfortunately, at 14 credit hours at school, I’m not going to be able to post much this semester. Between writing courses, practical skills courses, my one exam course and my internship, I’ll just be too busy.
I finished up with Judge Iscoe in mid-August and have taken a position with the Office of Commissioner Julie Brill at the FTC. I will be working there until I graduate in December.
While I still have the intent to update everything “web,” I’ve been sidetracked with a million other things going on this summer. Still working for Judge Iscoe, and love it. Otherwise I’ve been throwing myself into research to hopefully write an article before I graduate in December. It’s only five more short months until I’m done.
I’m planning a reorganization of my various web properties in the near future. This site I will be turning into my personal site (instead of for both Liz and I). I’ll be adding an additional site and seeing if I can get Liz to start generating more things for herself. I’m also committed to start making more regular blog posts, both here and on DJSatori.com.
Speaking of technology (about which I promise to continue my meme post from a week or two back), I thought I’d share the following with you. It’s an online chart of my weight as I’ve been dieting and exercising, as captured by my scale and transmitted via WiFi to the Web.
Right after I wrote that last bit, this was published in Smithsonian Magazine on memes…
One more exam to go and I’ll start to work in the second part of my series…
I have been reading a great deal recently on both the evolution of technology and cyberlaw, and am struck by a connection I noticed to some reading I did in the late 90’s regarding the field of memetics. I plan over the next few weeks to write a series of essays that discuss these connections I found between memetics, the evolution of technology with an emphasis on communications technology, and finally try to tie all of this to the law, including intellectual property, communications, and cyberlaw. For the purpose of this essay, I’m going to assume that the reader has some general familiarity with evolution (i.e. “survival of the fittest”) and genetics (i.e. genes, DNA, etc.). If not, I would suggest here for evolution and here for basic genetics.
For those who have not had exposure to the field before, memetics was first introduced by Richard Dawkins in 1976 in his book The Selfish Gene. Dawkins is a former professor of evolutionary biology at Oxford University. In The Selfish Gene, Dawkins proposed that evolution was best understood as a competition between genes of an individual organism to replicate. Dawkins explained that genes “want” to replicate themselves, and compete with other genes to utilize the mechanisms of the cell to reproduce. Genes that proved themselves useful contributed to the overall adaptability of the organism that carried them and crowded out other less useful genes which did not. To Dawkins, genes are basic units of information which developed into a system of “replicators,” which in turn allowed them to survive, propagate and adapt to the environment through natural selection.
Toward the end of the book, Dawkins asks whether there were any other replicators in the environment. Provocatively, his answer to this question is yes. Humans, like the organelles within their cells replicating DNA, also serve to replicate information and ideas from person to person. Just as DNA encodes a vast amount of information which can be replicated from cell to cell, the human brain holds a similarly vast amount of information which humans can replicate from one person to another. Dawkins coins the term “meme” to describe a discrete unit of information, useful or not, which may replicate from one human to another.
In 1995, Richard Brodie followed up on Dawkins’ idea with his book Virus of the Mind. This book was later followed by Thought Contagion: How Belief Spreads Through Society by Aaron Lynch and The Meme Machine by Susan Blackmore. It was in this last book that Blackmore applies Dawkins’ general theories regarding replicators to the human brain. According to Dawkins, successful replicators have fidelity, fecundity and longevity. High fidelity means that the copies made are relatively accurate, high fecundity means many copies are made, and longevity requires that the copies survive a long time. For genes, the mechanisms of the cell meet all three of these criteria. Genes are copied highly accurately, but not perfectly, with elaborate repair systems. They are duplicated as often as needed to create a new cell. Finally, DNA is a very stable molecule with a long lifespan.
Blackmore analogizes these criteria to the human brain. Humans are generally able through learning and imitation to learn and repeat memes, or discrete units of information, with a high degree, but not perfect, accuracy. In turn, through the use of demonstration and language, a person is able to replicate that information in a magnified fashion to new individuals. Finally, as long as we are able to repeat the information to others, the information lasts as long as we live and remember it. Indeed, the act of repetition or teaching the information to other people is in no small part responsible for our being able to remember accurately the more important and useful memes.
Over the years, humans have developed both abilities and technologies that assist with creating high-fidelity, long-lasting and widely-reproduced copies of information. We developed speech which in turn allowed us to communicate an idea without having to physically demonstrate to another the idea. Blackmore contends persuasively that the propagation of memes may actually be responsible for the rapid development of the human brain and the capacity for speech, having placed evolutionary pressure on humans to develop their brains further to allow us to communicate useful memes to one another. Later, the invention of writing improved the accuracy and longevity of information, as well as provided a means from reproducing that information at great distances and without reliance on a human having to be present to communicate it.
But what are memes? How do you define their boundaries? Blackmore explores this, arguing that language evolved as a useful meme that humans then used to improve their ability to serve as replicators. Blackmore notes that not every idea is a meme. Only items which humans pass on to other humans through imitation qualify. Additionally, Blackmore notes three major areas where people have criticized meme theory and discusses each.
First, many had complained that we cannot specify the unit of a meme. Unlike a gene, which codes for a single protein in a cell, memes can be both short, such as the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, or long, such as the whole of science of chemistry. However, one need not do more than define a meme as the smallest possible unit of information which is able to replicate itself reliably and often. A large meme such as chemistry can be thought of more as a “memeplex” or a large collection of individual but related memes that can be individually communicated to another over a period of time, say in a classroom or book. Other memeplexes would include such things as religion and the law.
Second, Blackmore notes that others complain that unlike genes, we do not understand the mechanism by which memes are stored and copied. She dismisses this complaint, however, noting that just because we don’t understand fully how human memory works does not mean that we cannot remember. Likewise, it is a simple observation that people learn through exposure to an idea, and thus copy the information they experience into their memory, which they then in turn can share with others.
Lastly, there are complaints that genes and memes cannot be similar because memes evolve in a Lamarckian manner. Lamarck was an evolutionary theorist who proposed that one could inherit characteristics acquired after birth, such as the ability to play the piano. Memes follow Lamarckian evolution because a child inherits memes, such as religion, after birth from its parents. However, genetics are set at the moment of birth, and thus genetic evolution is non-Lamarckian; one is not born with the ability to play a concerto. Blackmore dismisses this argument however, because there is no requirement that genes and memes work in an identical manner. Both are subject to the basic principles of evolution, and any characteristics one has versus another outside of their ability to replicate is irrelevant. The only thing that matters, asserts Blackmore, is the fact that a replicator is involved.
Blackmore also notes that human inventions themselves can be considered memes; a book is the physical embodiment of the idea of storing information that isn’t currently needed in a compact form. Farming is a meme that is transmitted from person to person which increases the ability of humans to survive. Just as memes evolve over time, technology similarly evolves as a subset of memes. Technology, in essence, are memes created by humans of how to change the environment reduced to physical form. In this sense, almost every creation of humanity could be considered as both memes and technology, including such things as the law.
Additionally, we’re continually improving on the basic ideas embodied by memes in technology. Take first the printing press, which increased the fecundity of the book, and later with audio recording and film, which increased the number of methods by which ideas could be passed along. Most recently of course, is the advent of digital technology, which has near perfect fidelity, the capability of being reproduced instantaneously and often, and high longevity if well maintained. In effect, much of the market value found in all modern methods of information technology are based in part on their utility in propagating memes. Digital technology has become the new DNA of memes.
Similarly to genes, memes compete with each other for copying. They face selective pressures in that useful memes are more likely to be copied than less useful ones. For example, some memes, such as farming discussed above, are useful to humans, and that utility serves as a basis for increasing the likelihood they will be copied. Other memes, such as the idea of going over Niagara Falls in a barrel, are obviously less useful, and happily are rarely imitated anymore.
Blackmore notes that memes can propagate in two forms. One she calls “copy-the-product,” meaning that one learns to copy the specific meme in its entirety and relatively unchanged. An example of this would be an artist being taught to make the duplicate of a portrait in a museum. The second, Blackmore calls “copy-the-instructions.” An example of this would be teaching someone to paint a portrait generally, which allows the artist to use their own creative judgment to form the composition of the painting.
Both forms of propagation are useful because they allow for memes to achieve various levels of fidelity. Perfect fidelity makes evolution impossible. There must be some rate of error, albeit a very small one, to allow a meme to evolve. For well-developed memes that serve useful purposes, one wants the fidelity to stay nearly perfect. For example, there is no use reinventing the wheel. For memes in the process of developing usefulness, however, one wants the interaction of the human being to bring change or mutation to the idea, for better or worse. The human is the catalyst of memetic evolution, both from imperfect copying and from their ability to combine two (or more) disparate memes into a new one or ones.
It’s my hope that this very general outline of the nature of memes will serve as a springboard into my next essay where I plan to discuss the history of technology, and its interrelationship (or indeed identity) with memes. Part of the discussion will focus on the advantage of digital technology from the perspective of increasing the longevity of memes. From there, my idea is to focus next on intellectual property, or what I like to think of as the “meme of protecting memes,” which serves a function for protecting the fidelity of valuable memes. Finally, I hope to move into communications law and its subset of cyberlaw as a regulator of the propagation of memes.
It’s possible that once the individual essays are written that I’ll come back and try to tie the whole thing up into one coherent piece, maybe even with some footnotes. But right now it’s finals season, so that’s a little too ambitious of a plan for the moment.