Volume 1, Issue 4
4th Quarter, 2006

On Genes, Memes, Bemes, and Conscious Things

Martine Rothblatt, Ph.D.

This article was adapted from a lecture given by Martine Rothblatt, Ph.D., at the (HETHR), Human Enhancement Technologies and Human Rights Conference hosted on May 26-28, 2006, at Stanford University in California.

Humanity is rapidly extracting the essences of people into cybernetic form. These essences will soon demand a life of their own, which may ultimately occur through Natural Selection. The cybernetic essences that demand the most time and attention will thrive and proliferate. If we say no to cybernetic life, we may face a kind of class war. If we say yes, we face the challenge of redefining life, consciousnesss, and civilization.

As I address these issues, I will introduce a new word, bemes. I will address how many bemes there are, where they are, and how they can become a way to create and extend consciousness. How do we value bemes? What are their rights? Can bemes parent? Why should we focus on creating bemes? Ultimately, I believe that bemes will give us joy and increase our chances of survival.

Bemes are fundamental, transmissible, mutate-able units of beingness very much in the spirit of memes[1]. The difference is that memes are culturally Rothblatttransmissible elements that have common cultural meanings whereas bemes are highly individual elements of personality, mannerisms, feelings, recollections, beliefs, values, and attitudes.

Image 1: Comparing Bemes with Memes

Over time, people will start to realize that the beme is mightier than the gene. We humans are much more accurately described by our intellectual uniqueness than by our genetic codes. Cyronics is itself based on beme revival as opposed to gene revival. Ultimately, common sets of bemes will be the base for a new species definition. Today, we define our species based on genetics or DNA. Because we can reproduce by commingling genes: We are moving towards reproducing by the commingling of our bemes and this will give rise to a new speices, which I would like to call Persona Creatus.

Examples of bemes are smiles, elements of one’s paranoia, a memory of a first bike ride, and a love for lasagna. There are millions of bemes just like we have billions of base pairs.[2] People are already beginning to make efforts at beme recording. One of the best known is Gordon Bells’ My Life Bits project.[3] It is interesting that it does not take a huge amount of data to accumulate a vast amount of bemes. At the speed at which Bell is beme-ifying his life, data is accumulating at one gigabyte a month. At this rate, it would take 83 years to hit a mere terabyte. Others are using Bell’s Sense Cam, which everyone reports is very enjoyable.[4] People seem to enjoy reproducing themselves through their bemes.

The result of beme recording is what I would like to call Beme Neural Architecture, or BNA. How do BNA and DNA differ?

Genes spell out matter, what we would ordinarily call phenotype, via a four-molecule code. Bemes spell out mind, what I might call a noonotype and do that through a two-bit on/off sequence of code.

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1. Memes - The term "meme" (IPA: [meem], not "mem"), coined in 1976 by Richard Dawkins, refers to a replicator of cultural information that one mind transmits (verbally or by demonstration) to another mind. Dawkins said, Examples of memes are tunes, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Other examples include deities, concepts, ideas, theories, opinions, beliefs, practices, habits, dances and moods which propagate within a culture. A meme propagates itself as a unit of cultural evolution analogous in many ways to the gene (the unit of genetic information). Often memes propagate as more-or-less integrated cooperative sets or groups, referred to as memeplexes or meme-complexes. The theory has proved itself to be a successful meme, achieving penetration into popular culture rare for a scientific theory. Wikipedia.com August 28, 2006 1:25PM EST
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2. Base pair – n. The pair of nitrogenous bases that connects the complementary strands of DNA or of double-stranded RNA and consists of a purine linked by hydrogen bonds to a pyrimidine: adenine-thymine and guanine-cytosine in DNA, and adenine-uracil and guanine-cytosine in RNA. Stedman’s. Medical dic·tion·ar·y, second edition. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004: 88. (back to top)

3. Gordon Bells’ My Life Bits Project - Gordon Bell has captured a lifetime's worth of articles, books, cards, CDs, letters, memos, papers, photos, pictures, presentations, home movies, videotaped lectures, and voice recordings and stored them digitally. He is now paperless, and is beginning to capture phone calls, IM transcripts, television, and radio. Microsoft.com August 28, 2006 1:27PM EST (back to top)

4. SenseCam - is a badge-sized wearable camera that captures up to 2000 VGA images per day into 128Mbyte FLASH memory. In addition, sensor data such as movement, light level and temperature is recorded every second. This is similar to an aircraft Black Box accident recorder but miniaturized for the human body. It could help with memory recall, e.g. where did I leave my spectacles or keys? who did I meet last week? by doing a rewind of the days events. If a person has an accident, the events and images leading up to this will be recorded, and these could be useful to medical staff. It could also be used for automatic diary generation. Microsoft.com August 28, 2006 4:12PM EST (back to top)

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