Narrative and Metaverse, Pt. 2: Gain of Function

Narrative and Metaverse

Part 1: The Living Word

Part 2: Gain of Function

Part 3: The Luther Protocol

Part 4: Carrying the Fire

Why is it so difficult to see that there is an actual, physical world of thought where narratives live, and that these narratives can be diminished or enhanced by the metaverse-aware, just as viruses can be diminished or enhanced by the microverse-aware?


Narrative and Metaverse, Pt. 1: The Living Word

Luca Signorelli, The Deeds of Antichrist (1505)

Roy Lichtenstein, Ohhh ... Alright ... (1964)



Nothing influences people more than a recommendation from a trusted friend. Mark Zuckerberg


As regular readers of Epsilon Theory know, I'm a dilettante farmer, meaning that my primary farming goal is really just to avoid injury (well, severe injury) as I act out the timeworn middle-aged white guy fantasy of driving a tractor and "working the land". So, yes, we have horses and sheep and goats, but they're pets, not livestock. Their meaning to me is aesthetic, not utilitarian, and I think of our flock of sheep, for example, as a living, mobile art installation.

My grandfather and namesake, who was a non-dilettante dairy farmer in North Alabama, would find my attitude towards these animals entirely alien and more than a little comical. Every animal on my grandfather's farm had a utilitarian purpose and meaning. Every animal's survival, literally whether or not they would be killed or allowed to live another day, was the result of a constant, unceasing, utilitarian cost-benefit analysis. That Ben Hunt, unlike this Ben Hunt, was in the business of farming, which requires thinking about animals in a very different way than dilettante farming.

Farmers or not, I believe it's fair to say that most people in the 1930s shared my grandfather's utilitarian thinking about animals, and I believe it's fair to say that most people today share mine. It's interesting to me that our society-wide thinking about animals has changed so dramatically in less than 100 years, and I believe it's because on a society-wide basis we have hidden away all of the billions of poultry and livestock animals that used to live among us.

Did you know that there are 75 million pigs and hogs kept as livestock in the United States? 75 million! I've never seen one of them. I see the shrink-wrapped chops and bacon and roasts every time I go to the grocery store, but I have never seen ONE of the 75 million alive-only-until-a-utilitarian-calculus-determines-they-will-be-slaughtered pigs and hogs.

About 9 billion chickens will be killed for food in the United States this year. Another 400 million or so will lay eggs for us. There are about 100 million cows alive today in the United States, and less than 10% of that total are dairy cows. More than 100,000 cows are killed to be eaten in the United States every day.

Out of sight, out of mind.

An ocean of shrink-wrapped animal flesh becomes the water in which we swim, invisible to conscious thought, much less consternation. And what a vast and well-priced ocean of shrink-wrapped animal flesh it is! ... oh-so democratically available as befits this, the best of all possible worlds. So vast that I cannot remember a single day of my life where I did not eat the flesh of another animal. So invisible that I cannot remember a single day of my life where I thought of it as eating the flesh of another animal.

We no longer think of animal-as-food because we no longer have the story of animal-as-food.

We no longer have any personal experience or knowledge of the animals we eat, because those billions of animals (billions!) have been intentionally sequestered and hidden away from us. More importantly we have no mediated or socially-shared linguistic experience (none at all!) with how the food we eat comes to us. This is intentional, as well.

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  1. Out of sight, out of mind factory farming is, in my view, dishonorable at best and horrific at worst. Since I didn’t grow up living with the animals my family consumed, I never thought much about where my meat came from, either. But now, the more I think about it, the more it feels wrong to not consider that. Also, what is the life of a cow or a pig like? I certainly don’t know. Perhaps I can reclaim some of that lost honor by buying from local, ethically-run farms.

    Maybe I can also reclaim some of the lost honor (if you will) of my habitual consumption of engagement-driven content by interacting more locally. So far this week, I’ve spent hours thinking about arguments I’ve had with strangers on the internet and nearly zero hours thinking about or talking to anyone I know in real life, other than my wife.

    As a fellow chicken owner, I see that even dino-brained creatures that we deny freedom to at least deserve a life with dignity and some grace, and that they suffer in the absence of those things. Becoming aware of the narrative controls I’m swimming in online affords me a little more dignity and a little more grace that I can offer to my fellow man as well as an impetus to spend less time online.

    If you’ll indulge me, this poem captures what I’m getting at with the animals much better than I can say it:

    The Weight
    by Linda Gregg

    Two horses were put together in the same paddock.
    Night and day. In the night and in the day
    wet from heat and the chill of the wind
    on it. Muzzle to water, snorting, head swinging
    and the taste of bay in the shadowed air.
    The dignity of being. They slept that way,
    knowing each other always.
    Withers quivering for a moment,
    fetlock and the proud rise at the base of the tail,
    width of back. The volume of them, and each other’s weight.
    Fences were nothing compared to that.
    People were nothing. They slept standing,
    their throats curved against the other’s rump.
    They breathed against each other,
    whinnied and stomped.
    There are things they did that I do not know.
    The privacy of them had a river in it.
    Had our universe in it. And the way
    its border looks back at us with its light.
    This was finally their freedom.
    The freedom an oak tree knows.
    That is built at night by stars.

  2. Avatar for Tanya Tanya says:

    Wow. So – to use a popular culture reference – we’re Trill like Jadzia (from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), with language (Dax) as our symbiont?? To quote another sci-fi work, I see the truth of it. So looking forward to part 3.

  3. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    Thank you for this note, @vincevince, and Linda Gregg’s poem is a tour de force. Now if you’ll indulge me, here’s one by Jim Harrison …

    Up on the Ft. Peck Reservation
    (Assiniboine and Sioux)
    just as I passed two white crosses
    in the ditch I hit a fledgling meadowlark,
    the slightest thunk against the car’s grille.
    A mean minded God
    in a mean minded machine, offering
    another ghost to the void to join the two
    white crosses stabbing upward in the insufferable
    air. Wherever we go we do harm, forgiving
    ourselves as wheels do cement for wearing
    each other out. We set this house
    on fire forgetting that we live within.

    – Jim Harrison, To a Meadowlark (2008)

  4. I’m the chicken, language is the egg shells. Big Media, Big Tech and Big Politics construct the egg shells with the correct curvature for my chicken brain, but at speeds my chicken brain can’t handle today.

  5. Ben,

    It has been said, only poets and comics get closest to the truth, using the tool of language. I would add a few wordsmiths too, exposing the narratives in the metaverse in which we swim.

    If I could be so bold with a recent ditty.
    “The I in me is the same as the Thy in thee”

    Or, “The chicken (microbial organisms) in me are the same as the chicken (microbial organisms) in thee.”

    No man is an island, except in our artificial political narrative.

    Jim Handshaw

  6. One “foodie” show I really appreciated was Vivian Howard’s “A Chef’s Life,” shot in and around Eastern North Carolina.

    It did a great job of connecting what we eat to how it arrives on our table. Including a visit to a local hog farm during a slaughter.

  7. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    Thanks for that recommendation, @AndyCats, I will definitely check it out!

  8. I enjoyed this a great deal, Ben. I’ve long insisted that anybody who is against responsibly hunting for food and is not a vegetarian is an ignorant hypocrite. :slight_smile: It also reminded me of the many Canadian seal hunters vilified by so-called animal rights groups (through the use of photos from the hunt) make the point that ‘we are punished because we’re not working behind closed doors like a slaughterhouse.’ I also have long felt that, as we are carnivores who do eat meat, it’s particularly dangerous that our understanding of killing and death comes mostly from video games, Hollywood movies and television shows (all of which are mechanisms that rewire our brains).

    Modern society is so disconnected from the natural world that it has become easy to paint a false picture of what the natural world actually, in fact, is. Trying to get people see and know the truth about any mainstream topic (natural, political, scientific, whatever …) seems like a hopeless task, because you’re up against people and organizations who make a lot of money by convincing them of false notions and concepts that their human nature (fearful, unsure, seeking direction and comfort) makes them particularly vulnerable to absorbing even when it works directly against their own interests. It seems like the only way to compete with that with a model that enables making lots of money by promoting the actual truth. Is that possible?

    I certainly hope that these notes will help make everybody think more about what makes them think the way they do and what kinds of steps can be taken to increase our autonomy of mind. Nice work!

  9. I’ve hunted and fished since boyhood–and eaten what I’ve killed, so the connection between meat in the store and a formerly living creature has never been lost to me.
    I do think it is very interesting that you can watch any number of hunting and fishing shows on TV and you will NEVER see them butchering their kills. Film the shot: yes! Butcher the animal: never! So, again, even in that corner of the metaverse, the connection between the living animal and the “protein” on the plate is lost. I guess the gore doesn’t sell nylons.

  10. The other day, my youngest tried to ask me a question and threw me for a loop. He was trying to ask me a question related to why/how we think in language, but he didn’t have the right vocab set yet to formulate his question. I eventually teased out that he was trying to figure out how he “hears” his thoughts in his head without saying them. I thought that was cute and smart that he noticed. Then he hit me with one that stumped me. He asked how do animals think if they don’t have language.

  11. This post brought to mind a poem: “For the Hog Killing” by Wendell Berry – one of the more prophetic American voices articulating our disconnection from land, food and material reality. It also seemed interesting how this post – and in general Ben’s efforts to recognize and in some break way through the metaverse “water” we’re swimming in – brings poetry to mind. Is there something in art – linguistically, perhaps within poetry in particular – that holds some magical anti-mimetic skeleton key?

    For the Hog Killing, by Wendell Berry

    Let them stand still for the bullet, and stare the shooter in the
    let them die while the sound of the shot is in the air, let them die
    as they fall,
    let the jugular blood spring hot to the knife, let its freshet be full,
    let this day begin again the change of hogs into people, not the
    other way around,
    for today we celebrate again our lives’ wedding with the world,
    for by our hunger, by this provisioning, we renew the bond.

  12. Avatar for robh robh says:

    I wonder if this severing of the link between “animal” and “protein” is another manifestation of the differences between the coasts and Middle America, where farming and hunting are more prevalent.

  13. Avatar for Kip Kip says:

    So now the ‘snake.’ That’s different than the raccoons? The sheep? The coyotes? What’s the hierarchy?

    How do I explain these allegories to my friends with 30-second attention spans and partisan responses to everything? Without getting new friends…

  14. Avatar for 010101 010101 says:

    Gain of function, as a phrase, is a new addition to the common language.
    There are many words and phrases to describe what it
    means, but they somehow didn’t quite hit the mark in its migration from
    a clinical, laboratory or academic setting.
    I am talking about its use in the metaverse (natterverse).
    Words have the power to stir emotional connections, to stir up our spirits.
    Make better, improve, upgrade, enhance, none of them were suitable to describe it in the common speech. They are strongly associated with evident good.

    Gain of function describes an act that contains obvious evil.

  15. First- big +1 from me for getting microbiomes in there, @bhunt!

    Second - I have been marinating on this network structure question a bit, and it seems to me that the metaverse lives in a network of networks. By analogy, we think about microbiomes as being networks of individual cells of differing species, in which the nodes of that larger network are themselves networks. Within a cell, bounded from the world by lipid bilayer membranes, is a complex network of genes, their RNA and protein products, other structural components, and metabolites. However, the internal workings of one cell have limited points of contact with neighboring cells - that is to say, the components of a cell’s network that can influence a neighbor are merely a subset (that is, while both cells remain alive, to constrain the analogy). For this example, the membrane permits passage of nonpolar metabolites, but polar metabolites require a specific “in,” “out,” or “two-way” transporter to move them across. For proteins to go across requires a complicated secretion system. Suffice it to say, the internal workings of cell A only influence neighbor cell B through a limited number of contact points (mostly small metabolites). These are the edges in cellular networks.

    However - cellular responses to these molecules out in the milieu are predictable at scale. Meaning, when organisms’ sensory proteins bind molecule X, they turn on gene Y to extent Z. Work in bacterial individuality is showing that not all cells behave in this way (even within a single species), but that a bacterial strain’s responses tend to follow a normal distribution, with some cells responding strongly and others not at all, but a much more common population mean. What that means, in practice, is that intracellular networks are rewired fractally - each cell’s intracellular network becomes more similar, at least with respect to expression of gene Y. And because these networks are interconnected, the increase in protein Y’ (the product of expressing gene Y) affects the rest of the cell network in response. The point is that hard-wired similarity in response to the extracellular signal causes a similar pattern to emerge across all the interconnected cellular networks.

    If you’ve tolerated this nerdiness this long, thank you, here is the point - human brains are networks themselves, and the metaverse is therefore a network of networks. Language/narratives are the edges of this metaverse network, and individual linguistic patterns the mechanisms of interaction/exchange among brain networks (analogously to the metabolites exchanged above). What viral language does, then, is rewire human brains fractally, such that similar neural connection and interaction patterns emerge in otherwise dissimilar brains. Further, because the neurons are connected in networks, emergence of each similar pattern likely makes the next (neighboring?) pattern easier to cause to emerge. In the end, thinking becomes more and more similar across individuals. Ergo, the metaverse can’t make identical responses repeat across individuals, but it can make them rhyme. Given that identical linguistic patterns are now shared across wider scopes of the population than ever before…this rhyming becomes very concerning.

  16. Avatar for Zenzei Zenzei says:

    That was some deep stuff. Still processing!

    Probably a good time to repost this Youtube video on Pendulum synchronization and other similar effects in the real world. The unintended consequences of individuals coordinating rhythms through a shared medium are remarkable.
  17. Thank you Steve.

    I came to Epsilon Theory to figure out how to make my assets last longer than my life.

    We’ll get back to that shortly, I suppose. I totally enjoy this diversion…

    At 76 I’m happily realizing that the “I in me” never had any original thoughts. Anything I articulate comes through me not from me. My cell boundaries are the gate keepers that with a little nudging allow the rhyming metaverse through.

    How’s the water?

  18. Is that likely where the ‘gain of function’ part occurs?

  19. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    You’re gonna need some bigger friends.

  20. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    Take a look at the debate in microbiology over gain-of-function research, and I think you’ll find that it’s far from a settled view that GOF is a bad idea. Fauci at NIAID and Collins at NIH were dragged kicking and screaming into compliance with the Obama WH moratorium on GOF research in US facilities, which is why they pushed their GOF funding to places like Wuhan. Even today in a Covid world, you’ll still find (imo) a majority of genetic researchers who favor GOF.

  21. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    I think this is exactly right, and conceptualizing/visualizing the network of networks, which persists across time even as individual nodes die, is the challenge in writing about it.

  22. Avatar for 010101 010101 says:

    As they try to unpick the secrets of our soul, they must in their minds kill God.
    To them there is no higher power than their judgement, for they will create life as they see fit, to their image of perfection. In truth, to themselves, in their own very peculiar way, they are the lords of creation.

  23. Indeed - we almost always underestimate the number of potential mechanisms of interconnectedness. The non-linearity of emergent behaviors almost always throws us linear-thinking humans for a loop.

  24. Thanks, Jim - I wouldn’t go quite that far. I do think you do have ideas that are truly your own, though disparate outside influences converged in your mind to bring them into being. Each brain-node in the network is influenced by others, but much of its behavior emerges from “internal network dynamics” - AKA, you thinking.

  25. I am not really down with “gain-of-function” to describe this, and here is why - GOF work adds a function to an organism that it otherwise does not possess. However, in this case, the brain always had this capability, and therefore so did human networks - the fact is that it has simply not been realized on a scale anywhere near this before. If you think of the world in terms of interconnectivity among individuals, the internet has caused that to absolutely explode in terms of number of “edges” (that is, connections) and the “fluxes” along those edges (that is, the amount of interpersonal communication). For example and in context, to my knowledge we’ve never met in person and, in the absence of the internet and ET Forum, would likely never have discussed anything whatsoever. Yet, here we’ve had several conversations, and your thinking has influenced mine. Edge density FTW.

  26. Goals of this post (try to keep myself on point lol): 1. Counter-take on the office hours discussion of whether Ben’s characterization of language and narratives as living should remain literal or be softened to be more metaphorical (I vote keep it literal!), 2. Why gain of function is a good term, and 3. A couple of my fav pop culture references in this space.

    Last shall be first–> I sometimes hesitate to lean too much on Neal Stephenson as I’m prone to do but ICYMI Snowcrash is a definitive read, not just as pop cultural foundation for the metaverse, but for ‘the narratives are alive’ as the entire plot is based on the Kabbalistic idea that ‘neurolinguistics’ can be used to ‘hack’ the human brain. Good stuff about Sumerian mythology and Enki being a Snake who had the ability to use the Sumerian language for this ‘neurolinguistic hacking’ and how his linguistic powers of control were destroyed via the Tower of Babel story.

    Combining gain of function point with pop culture point → I really enjoyed Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival w/ Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner – lots of good content on linguistics and (no spoilers!) highly related to the idea that language and the ‘gain of function’ framing go hand in hand. Watch this if you haven’t yet (even my wife liked it).

    Counter-take → I vote that Ben sticks with the ‘narratives are alive’ framing rather than soften it by making it more metaphorical. @boilerlinde has a nice post up above about networks in cell biology. Ben mentioned in office hours last week the philosophical idea of relationalism…roughly speaking the idea that interactions are more fundamental than entities, is a fun idea I’ve been sympathetic to for many years. Weaving these types of threads together gives some context to why I agree with Ben’s framing of narratives as living: Complex networks give rise to behaviors that are indistinguishable from conventional definitions of what it is to be alive. I think perhaps it is only a small additional step to consider the possibility that network effects above a certain threshold of complexity are a more fundamental definition of what it is to be ‘alive’ than more comforting/traditional biological definitions.

  27. Perhaps let me put it another way - GOF is a type of experiment we perform in order to learn something about the world. For example, we add a gene to an organism to learn how that gene functions. I’ve literally done it hundreds of times in my life and, in reality, modern biological research is impossible without them. The vast majority of times, this has no negative impact whatsoever and/or it remains under control. In that rare case, however, GOF mutants can escape control…and sometimes the GOF experiment is not benign, after all. GOF experiments are a tool, and, like all tools, they can be used improperly and dangerously.

    GOF is also a key aspect of technologies that greatly improve human life. For example - European bans on GMO bananas (read: those that have GOF to resist disease) mean that third-world kids get doused with pesticides on the regular. Tweaking the Banana’s Genome Could Save the Lives of Thousands of Children in Uganda | Smart News | Smithsonian Magazine

    Thus, GOF should not be treated as a single monolith - some GOF experiments are entirely beneficial or benign, others are terribly risky. For this reason, work done with recombinant DNA is supposed to be carefully observed by Institutional Biosafety Committees, as is mandated by the NIH (and other granting agencies follow suit - and re: the NIH’s requirement, the irony is not lost on me…). As in financial markets, the problems come when risk assessment is done poorly (or not done at all). Or when individuals deliberately sidestep oversight to do whatever the hell they want.

    However, this isn’t really about GOF in biology, it’s about “GOF” in society. And, right now, there is no Institutional Sociosafety Committee for that.

    P.S. thanks for the reply @rechraum - you liberated me from too-many-replies jail :slight_smile:

  28. Avatar for 010101 010101 says:

    The overlay of ‘what about the children’ changes the nature of the discussion from language to corporate governance. Exposing innocent bystanders to the side effects
    of lack of empathy in pursuit of margin can only temporarily be mitigated by modifying the banana genome to better suit the particular circumstances. The forces that permit this amount of suffering must be addressed and not acquiesced.
    There is a balance that exists in nature and any increase in the function of a part thereof has an obvious gain for a specific easily definable microcosm. The language of better bananas does not fit because the gain is not universal. No, a borrowed term from engineering that would have been used alongside a specific pre-determined utility can also be used to obscure the risk of great potential harm under the banner of what are individually positive words, function and gain. In the Metaverse complexity of language is sleight of hand. If you can’t use words like better or improved to express gain of function in common usage you are hiding an evil behind over complex language. The attention of the crowd will move on, and the evil will remain, emboldened.

  29. Do you believe that non-human animals don’t have language?

  30. Thank you for this reply, much appreciated. I fully agree with everything you say above. Cheers.

  31. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    The way I’m thinking about the terminology here, Steve, is that the metaverse is a network of networks (as you say) and there are emergent properties that come out of the network effects. Also as you say, there is no ‘gain-of-function’ research that takes place ON the metaverse. That would be like saying that there are GOF experiments ON the microverse instead of on organisms IN the microverse.

    Words (ngrams), grammars (structures and relationships of ngrams), and narratives {application of grammar to specific subject) are IMO physically instantiated and alive in a virus-like, totally alien fashion within neural clusters focused on language. Meaning that there is a specific intercellular arrangement of neurons with specific intracellular characteristics of axons and dendrites and neurotransmitters that IS the Tribal-Othering grammar, and that this specific inter and intra cellular arrangement repeats itself across all human brains.

    What I mean by GOF research, then, are intentional efforts to stimulate/tweak these inter and intra cellular arrangements so that they take on new associations and connect with other neural clusters responsible for other behaviors and other linguistic structures. In a chicken, GOF research would be feeding them unground eggshells to stimulate their macro curve-recognizing neural clusters with their food recognition and pecking behaviors. In humans, GOF research would be presenting political parties with language using Tribal-Othering grammars.

  32. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    Yes! Arrival does a wonderful job of communicating both true alien-ness as well as the possibilities of language.

  33. As an example of what’s in a name and how it shapes thinking I would like to here refer to the popular usage of “tribe” which I see as less accurate than “gang” when discussing groupings of like minded individuals around a political/societal ideal or position. Tribe sounds better and lends some degree of respectability but the actual function and behavior of those groups seems closer to gangs. To me.

    Which group more commonly uses basic colors as identifiers?

  34. Avatar for 010101 010101 says:

    Should we roam in metaphysic maze
    Through fair built theories of former days
    In Twilight of the Idols Nietzsche says
    All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking
    Not according to Stephen Hawking

  35. I always learn new concepts better with examples.

    How does the ( in my view bewildering) advocated use of pronoun announcements like he/her or even neopronouns like Ze/Zir affect brain wiring , brain networking and Narrative evolvement?

    It seems like a direct attempt to radically change thought patterns

  36. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    All slang and all neologisms are an effort to find a more motivating neural impact.

    I think this is one of the major reasons why English is the dominant language in the world … it allows for more change and constant evolution more than any other major language I’m aware of.

    I also think this is why Orwell and Tolkien were able to create (imo) the two most persistent fictional fantasy worlds in human literature to date … they were both linguists who made language a central part of their story.

  37. “All slang and all neologisms are an effort to find a more motivating neural impact.”
    Ben Hunt

    I thought slang and neologisms were an attempt to create an identity by identifying one’s self with a specific tribe. What does “motivating neural impact” mean?

  38. Use of slang is how individuals or groups manage their respective cartoons. Once the use of slang is habitually adopted into one’s language then it becomes permanently part of one’s identity as perceived by the outside world. When the receiver of an external message containing slang associates it with a group or ideology frequently tied to that type/genre of slang, it may increase or decrease the credibility the receiver attaches to it, or it may significantly and materially influence the receiver’s interpretation of the message itself. In this manner it may become more effective in ‘motivating neural impact’ (i.e., the direction and magnitude of the [continuous] neural rewiring process influencing the receiver’s thinking and set of beliefs).

  39. I’m a newbie and latecomer to ET who spent the bulk of my career in communications. I came to learn more about investing, but find the breadth of topics fascinating (and somewhat overwhelming). I could wallow in this pool for days, but there are real world things to do.
    On the sender-receiver-credibility topic, in my world the bedrock of communications has been trust, for which credibility is the obverse of that coin. If I trust you, then I’m on the road to accepting what you say. If you are credible, I can trust what you say.
    But in the immortal words of Ronald Regan: “Trust but verify.”

    I didn’t realize before I asked my question that “motivating neural impact” was or is a kind of term of art in the AI world. My interpretation of the process in the context of the living metaverse discussion is that the selective use of language by a sender stimulates change at the receiver’s neuronal network level that regulates motivation" Does that sound about right?

  40. That sounds right to me. All else equal, the cluster of neurons created in response to the message would presumably have a greater influence on the receiver’s overall thoughts, actions and behaviors if the message’s credibility and effectiveness was boosted by the use of slang or some kind of nomenclature associated with a particular group.

    It sounds like your professional background is an excellent fit for this topic and this Pack, so hope you continue to find time for discussion on here. Thanks!

  41. Avatar for Zenzei Zenzei says:

    @bhunt I think it would be interesting to expand this idea to not just language but also to sound (and more…but for now I’ll stick with sound). As you know I’ve been learning bass. Being a nerd, I am not just learning the instrument but also how the sound interacts with the musician and the listener. Similar to the idea that narratives can be constructed with deliberate physiological impact sounds can be constructed with deliberate physiological impact. The key I choose, the quality of the intervals, the rhythmic structures and the BPMs can all be manipulated in ways that have a direct physical response of resonance or dissonance. A response that is shared across big groups. (You know, that is why ear worms exist).

    Which of course makes perfect sense because we all know that the sound quality of our voice has an impact on the other and we moderate it how we speak to strengthen the impact and meaning of what we are saying. I think this bleeds into the visual spectrum as well and is directly related to your view that the image that you choose for an article makes an enormous difference in engagement,

    @rguinn Your musical knowledge and experience eclipses mine. Any thoughts on this?

  42. I think the “cluster of neurons” already exists in the brain and is activated, not created by the message. Then, depending upon the message’s interpretaion, various other networks are activated and behavior results.

  43. Your suggestion to include sound occured to me earlier in relation to how people who are deaf and blind are taught to communicate. Helen Keller was taught by touch (Braille) to learn the alphabet, several languages, and how to speak, I don’t know if neuroscience of the brain has caught up with that yet.

  44. I’m not sure, maybe it’s how the word is defined. I do think it follows that the more advanced a species is that they communicate in more advanced and specific ways. I think almost all creatures convey extremely large concepts to each other (especially members of their own species) like fear, danger, sex drive, food, contentedness, etc. I’m not sure how it works much beyond that in terms of specificity. I don’t have a lot of experience with dolphins and primates, but have watched enough documentaries to know they can communicate to each other and more importantly to other species with great specificity. I don’t think rabbits, or even the wily fox, have that same capability though. On the other hand the hive-minds might; however, and that might be a good concrete example of this Metaverse that @bhunt is talking about.

  45. I don’t have anything intelligent to add about this great post (popular, I should add, amongst several people whom I know who are not ET people!) BUT, here’s another post that I think is adjacent to this idea as well: We Are the Aliens - Scientific American

    Edit: changed wording so I wouldn’t sound oddly passive-aggressive - I enjoyed this post quite a bit

  46. Avatar for Zenzei Zenzei says:

    I see this as a both/and. This build on @boilerlinde 's idea about network of networks.

    It is all about the host environment. Certain narratives find very accommodating host environments (ie the neural cluster for this idea is already built and strong with connections to other ideas). They survive thrive and resonate in that environment and, better yet, whatever “new information” they bring regarding this idea finds a resonant home (Trojan horse viruses anyone?).

    In musical terms, the idea is resonant with the overall harmony being sung in that neural cluster.

    Other narratives, find a cold environment - some germinate, some die - probably as a function of biology and randomness rather than attributing it to unicorn magical thinking like “good ideas thrive because they are on the side of good!”. The ones that germinate start new clusters (or help develop atrophied ones) creating the possibility of that narrative (virus) growing and creating an environment receptive to more of its kind.

    Weird? Yes. Resonant with so many other ideas I have in my head over time? Double and triple YES!. So in some sense, what I just described above is how the whole idea that *narratives are alive" has played out in my network of neural clusters. It is not just highly resonant - it is activating all sorts of related ideas that are resonant with it and opening up some new ways of thinking that feel like complete new clusters. Also, some ideas also feel like they are dying (scarily many of those relate to stable social order…but that is for another time).

  47. The “dataome” is an interesting concept. Thanks for sharing, I’d never heard of that.

  48. Avatar for Zenzei Zenzei says:

    That was an excellent article…this quote in particular I think speaks to how adjancent the author’s concepts are to the ET ideas. It is fascinating how, for example, the same kinds of ideas keep cropping up over and over in ancient works and how certain tomes persist for time immemorial in a form completely external to the host…(us!).

    A very simple example can be seen in any of the great works of human literature, from Lao Tzu to Shakespeare. These writings, these informational packages, have found a way to persist through time by attaching themselves to us. We eagerly read them, restructuring our brains to remember them, and we go to great lengths to copy and reproduce these works, again and again across the centuries and in many languages and forms. But these texts aren’t just memes; they’re more like parts of a budded-off extended human phenotype that has its own processes and its own capacity to pressure the world around it to try to ensure its survival.

  49. I’m working to actively sell them on reading the full articles by providing the link, asking them to set aside an hour of clear headed time, warning of the paywall, and offering to mail a pdf if necessary. Over time there will be encouragement, humor, shaming, all sorts of pressure if they insist on arguing without having read it. As a last resort - if somebody who really needs to read it, hasn’t, and continues to make ridiculous comments - well, life is too short.
    There will be, I predict, some success (I have a sales background) and some failure. Some friends have issues with their families so I send this to them as ammo.
    To help with understanding the motivation behind all the great stuff we’re learning here on ET, I recently read Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy plus the 2 follow ups. A fun read which helps to explain the Second Foundation Partners context.
    At age 57 it’s not too late to play catch-up!

  50. Avatar for Laura Laura says:

    I’m left thinking about Jung’s theories about archetypes and wondering how they may relate to what @bhunt is proposing here. Also thinking about how Jung’s theories are widely derided in the elite halls of academia.

    Is the metaverse essentially the same as the collective unconscious?

  51. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    Definitely talking about the same idea. I mentioned this in passing in pt. 1: The Living Word.

    As for why Jung is largely dismissed in academia, I think it’s because the metaverse has historically been the purview of mystical expressions of religion … kabbalah, sufism, etc. … and Jung embraces the mystical rather than deny it like a ‘good’ rationalist.

  52. Avatar for Zenzei Zenzei says:

    Which to me is part of the problem with duality and the binary, our need to resolve things into black and white. Is it “mystical” or is it “rational”? Is it “emotional” or is it “logical”? Is there an idea that is indepedent of the medium or is the idea changed and shaped by the medium?

    Arthur C. Clarke said it best:

    “Any sufficently advanced tecnhology is indistiguishable from magic”

    What seemed mystical then (Jung’s articulation of the collective unconscious) seems more rational now (a structured set of ideas that we have stored in our network of networks as some sort of shared hard drive).

  53. Avatar for 010101 010101 says:

    The young mind holds its own set of beliefs, unformed by experience. There is real magic until philosophy and public reason, science, narrows the possibilities of its appearance. Youth is unmetaversed.
    A State promulgated culture forces diverse opinion into the valley of death, canon to the left, canon to the right, volleyed and blundered. Novel beauty and fresh truth cannot foment a centrally planned, politically expedient metauniversal.

    Culture is an aggregate product of organic choices made by the members of a society. To attempt legislating it into existence is to destroy it.

  54. I think (believe) Shakespeare et. al. have endured without benefit of neuroscientific technology because their observations about human behavior struck a nerve of universal recognition among human beings everywhere.
    My take so far on these discussions is that while the AI world tries to reverse-engineer from human behavior back through human biology (brain science) to the reactions to external stimuli (language, music, etc.), the new frontier suggested in Narrative and the Metaverse Parts 1 and 2 proposes that the stimuli are alien physical invaders. If that is the case, doesn’t that open the can of worms that such aliens can be dealt with in the same way humanity deals with viruses – by elimination? Cancel culture or censorship that we already are experiencing?
    I am dismayed at how the addition of behavioral economics, behavioral marketing, and Big Data in the service of persuasive communications and propaganda via Big Tech with little to no regulation has disrupted and upended our world while making billions – even trillions – for the unscrupulous. Forget Shakespeare, we’re living in a Pandaora’s Box.

  55. Not sure where to jump in here because there is so much to unpack, so jump i will.
    First: gain of function- as with any concept, it is neutral until it is given a context. In the context of viruses, even there it can still be debatable, however if you are going to mess with a viral genome you had better damn keep that virus away from human populations. (If you go back and look at Wuhan lab’s protection scheme, these viruses were not bad enough to be kept under high security, and were only in a lower level scheme akin to influenza, or other common pathogens (hence giving them an easy escape route). Thus we get the bad context of a world pandemic from gain of function.

    Second, i am really enjoying this- not just Ben’s article, but the discussion that ensues. I am currently a surgeon (added a few degrees as well) however my interest and my undergraduate degree was in Psychology, and Biology, and a minor in Anthropology. The minor was obtained through my freedom to take a number of graduate courses in Anthro at U Penn, and one of the professors there, Anthony FC Wallace, was a major researcher and student of Culture and Personality. My honors thesis for biology was in fact the interaction of Culture, personality and Biology. If you look at culture, basically all it is is the internalized view of the interactions and responses of all the individuals in a society. As all of those views have to be maintained inside the brains of each individual, they are laid down in the brain through experience, education, etc. The functioning result of that is what Kuhn (Structure of Scientific Revolutions) called the paradigm, and what Wallace termed “the Mazeway”. It is highly interactive, and there is undoubtedly a neuronal mazeway in each individual that forms, and is maintained so long as it continues to function in that society (in times of social stress it breaks down and may need to be re-formatted) but it is a two way street- both for each individual as well as for the culture.
    It becomes a very complex discussion, and probably a bit too long to even start here, but i particularly like the mention of a probabilistic potential for any particular behavior. If you think about whether we have “free will” or not, as we are really nothing more than the sum total of our experience, programming, and biology, and the sum total resides in that sac of chemicals and cells floating in our brain, so what means this free will thing? And thus, the narrative metaverse that resides inside our brain, whether we got there by sitting around a cave campfire, or watching youtube videos. clearly is imprinted there. How we move away from that, and re-imprint our brains to a new narrative metaverse is another story. If anyone is interested, Wallace also spent a lot of time working with mazeway resynthesis, where in a stressed society, in a few individuals they fall apart, and some are merely described as crazy, but often one or more develop a new mazeway that works for the new conditions (a change of paradigm). Perhaps something to think about as the final chapter in this series is written Ben.
    Thanks for all your writing, he says as a long time fan and subscriber. Barry

  56. I suspect mystics and poets deliberately speak in metaphor to bypass the human cognitive bias of conflating our experience of reality for reality itself.

  57. Avatar for 010101 010101 says:

    The mystic exists as a known fact. An objective idea that is universally accepted to not exist.
    Conversely if we all knew the realm of spiritualism to exist in a scientifically repetitively demonstrable manner, it would cease to be mystical.
    It is a good example of something that has no definitive substance and yet is a metauniversal, In the realm of absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
    A non-provable belief set can cause human action in the material world and can thus be both a real thing and not a real thing.
    Denial of unknowns is a default position until they become widespread as fact.
    The power to disseminate facts (whether true or false) become a power to form truth.
    The subtleties of this are shown by the language used i.e. Author, Authoritative, Authentic, Authority &c

  58. Avatar for robh robh says:

    The Medium is the Message
    -Marshall McLuhan (1964)

    Zuck et al understand this all to well.

  59. No argument that 'Zuck et al" understand McLuhan or with Barry Newman"s cogent comments, either.
    However, if I remember my McLuhan right, he was addressing the ability of mass media to promote messages (ideas) through repetition, an effect which concerned him as it was a two-edged sword that could be used for good (education, information) or evil (propaganda).
    As to the question of whether or not an idea is independent of a medium or possibly changed and shaped by a medium, if that medium is the brain the answer is both. Maybe Dr. Newman can weigh back in with a cognitive dissonance refresher as to how that happens.

  60. McCluan correction: “multiplication effect” not repetition.

  61. Avatar for Zenzei Zenzei says:

    My thinking on this is that if McLuhan could get a do-over on that quote he might write something like:

    “The medium changes the message” or “The medium + content = message”.

    I don’t think of the brain as the medium, I think of the brain as the target. The medium (to me) is all about the envelope for that content. In other words, a simple piece of content like:

    “Inflation is coming”

    Will have a significantly different impact on different people based not only on their ex-ante predispositions (ie how receptive their network is to this kind of message already) but also how its presented, in what format (video, audio, etc), by whom, in what timbre and tone, and with what frequency.

  62. I just found this in my file of quotes from Marshall McLuhan. An example of Carl Jung’s “synchronicity’ to show up now……

    Jim Handshaw

    Marshall McLuhan wrote an article for the New York Times in 1974 called “A Media Approach to Inflation”.

    Here are some quotes:

    “Until now there have been many equilibrium theories Of inflation. I am going to propose a disequilibrium theory based on the discontinuous nature of the electric information of today.”

    “For the dominant environment of our age has itself become information or “software.” Since at electric speed any figure tends to become ground, and anything, however trivial, can acquire infinite mass, the temptation and the desire to gamble with everything and anything becomes obsessive**.** One dollar at the speed of light can do as many transactions as a million at pre‐electric speeds. Quantitative projections and rational critiques cannot cope here.”

    “Again, it is the speed and “replay” of information movement which creates a new kind of pattern recognition which, in turn; makes it possible to see innumerable “software” gaps (information gaps) the old “hardware” situation of goods and services.”

    "The fact that our economy is now constituted In large degree by information structures of pulsating data (like. that of the TV image) means that there are innumerable new intervals in every social ,situation which provide opportunities for new involvements arid obsessions, endless games with futures in antiques, in horoscopes, fashions, and commodities.

    Such opportunities are nowhere thicker than the old commodity markets of supply and demand, especially when they move at the speed of light. It is here that it is possible to buy up “futures” in oil, or meat, or grain, or real estate, or antiques, using the time intervals between supply and demand as the point of intervention and gambling. At electric speed it is possible to play Russian roulette with whole economies, with entire educational systems and with political regimes."

    Source:Marshall McLuhan - A Media Approach To Inflation | PDF | Economic Equilibrium | Money

  63. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    This is so cool, Jim! Thanks for finding this. SO on point.

  64. Avatar for Laura Laura says:

    That’s what I suspect too. I’ve read a number of his books though and have wondered if he was onto something we might validate empirically one day with archetypes and synchronicity.

      1. Ben. I don’t remember ever having seen or heard this before, but the words that jumped out at me were:

    “at electric speed . . . the desire to gamble with everything and anything becomes obsessive,” and

    “innumerable new intervals [are created] which provide opportunities for new involvements arid obsessions, endless games…”{Edits mine}

    And the conclusion of the article:
    “As neuroscientists uncover more secrets about the brain (increasingly aided by the use of computers), engineers can take more inspiration from the working of the brain to further improve the architecture and performance of computers. Whichever emerges as the winner for particular tasks, these interdisciplinary cross-fertilizations will undoubtedly advance both neuroscience and computer engineering.”

    So far, I’m fascinated by the ET speculation taking things to the granular (or sub-granular) Metaverse level. As a explanatory metaphor, I think the ET speculation about Narrative and the Metaverse is brilliant, but as to “life itself” (my term, for your sugestion) I’m in the open-minded but suspended decision ranks until I learn more.

  65. <<My thinking on this is that if McLuhan could get a do-over on that quote he might write something like:
    “The medium changes the message” or “The medium + content = message”.>>

    No, imo, the medium is the water we swim in. Much more important than the content.

    McLuhan’s original quote: The Medium is the Message

    In 1967 he published a much smaller trade book titled The Medium is the Massage (The printer got the spelling wrong. McLuhan said, ‘leave it in”)

    The Medium is the Massage demonstrates the ways the mainstream media are extensions of human senses; they ground us in physicality, but expand our ability to perceive our world to an extent impossible without them. These extensions of perception contribute to McLuhan’s theory of the global village, which would bring humanity full-circle to an industrial analogue of tribal mentality."

    Source: The Medium Is the Massage - Wikipedia

  66. Avatar for 010101 010101 says:

    The descendants of the supercomputer Deep Thought’s creators are doing gain of function research and inserted a few extra strands into pre-historic tribal humans’ DNA, to run a shell program inside our macro, with extra brain tissue.
    Who is in control, the alien neurons or the natives? Or should that be what is in control?

  67. Here’s an OpEd piece from today’s Wall Street Journal to add to our discussion. It specifically addresses Silicon Valley’s approach to the Metaverse.

  68. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    The relevant paras of Peter Rex’s op-ed in the clear below. I think his central claim, that “religious tradition” provides “guardrails” against the use of tech “to censor and suppress” is ludicrous, but whatever.

    The hostility [to religion] extends to how tech operates. A recent report by the Napa Legal Institute found that social-media platforms increasingly censor religious believers who oppose abortion, assisted suicide and transgender ideology. And the lack of faith guides tech innovation. Some of the industry’s leading lights—from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to Google’s Sergey Brin and Larry Page —are pursuing “transhumanism,” meaning immortality through tech-enabled enhancements. Absent an orthodox belief in God, tech leaders are striving to become gods themselves.

    Worst of all, the lack of faith encourages a moral vacuum in which tech itself is held up as a god. Absent the guardrails that come from religious tradition, is it any wonder tech is used to censor and suppress? Is it any surprise that many tech companies are responsible for violations of privacy, value extraction, and the promotion of vice?

    The approach taken with the “metaverse” is a case in point. Rather than using tech to empower people to lead better and fuller lives in the real world, the biggest names in the business are obsessed with creating an alternate reality. Tech should be solving society’s biggest problems—something religious belief tends to demand and drive—not avoiding them or creating new ones.

    Tech needs an infusion of faith. It could make the industry more humane and enlightened and morally grounded, helping lift up those it currently pushes down. This transformation may already be under way, thanks to the swarm of tech companies moving from the West Coast to Texas, Florida, Tennessee and other states where religious belief still runs high. Yet with most of tech still centered in Silicon Valley and Seattle, this trend needs to accelerate. Tech isn’t a god, nor are tech leaders, but they do need God.

  69. If a significant percentage of the “guardrails from religious tradition” bring us those who believe The Trumpster’s cultish transgressions are infinitely excusable, then……whatever.

  70. Avatar for DaHoj DaHoj says:

    “Tech isn’t a god, nor are tech leaders…”

    Can’t get Technology Boy’s rant from American Gods out of my head:

    ““Tell him that we have fucking reprogrammed reality. Tell him that language is a virus and that religion is an operating system and that prayers are just so much fucking spam.”

  71. Avatar for naiguy naiguy says:

    New subscriber/first time poster after having read part 1 but have been following and reading the free articles for a few years now.

    I don’t recall anyone bringing up Cybernetics -a subject I have no real knowledge of other than a recent 1h internet search; which resulted due to my curiosity after an unrelated Amazon book search on ‘market microstructure’ recommended the book “Cybernetics” by Norbert Wiener- but just from this quick search I feel some kind of possible relation to this highly interesting subject being told here about language and narrative. Was curious if anyone else had noticed any potential similarities between the two as well? Below are just definitions and out of context quotes that stood out during my search on Cybernetics. This is obviously lacking any kind of real research or comparison and is simply meant to engage others thoughts vs convince others of any relation between the two.

    Definition(s) of Cybernetics:

    The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition

    • noun The theoretical study of communication and control processes in biological, mechanical, and electronic systems, especially the comparison of these processes in biological and artificial systems.

    Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

    • noun The theory/science of communication and control in the animal and the machine.
    • noun The art/study of governing, controlling automatic processes and communication.
    • noun Technology related to computers and Internet.

    WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved

    • noun (biology) the field of science concerned with processes of communication and control (especially the comparison of these processes in biological and artificial systems)

    “Only a few books stand as landmarks in social and scientific upheaval. Norbert Wiener’s classic is one in that small company. Founder of the science of cybernetics—the study of the relationship between computers and the human nervous system—Wiener was widely misunderstood as one who advocated the automation of human life. As this book reveals, his vision was much more complex and interesting. He hoped that machines would release people from relentless and repetitive drudgery in order to achieve more creative pursuits. At the same time he realized the danger of dehumanizing and displacement. His book examines the implications of cybernetics for education, law, language, science, technology, as he anticipates the enormous impact—in effect, a third industrial revolution—that the computer has had on our lives.”

    • Amazon Summary of “The Human Use Of Human Beings” by Norbert Weirner:

    "In the 1970s, new cyberneticians emerged in multiple fields, but especially in biology. The ideas of Maturana, Varela and Atlan, according to Jean-Pierre Dupuy (1986) “realized that the cybernetic metaphors of the program upon which molecular biology had been based rendered a conception of the autonomy of the living being impossible.”

    I’ve always found the articles here at Epsilon Theory to provide pretty unique perspectives but feel this recent? language/narrative topic has really drawn my attention and I look forward to the development of this idea over the coming articles.


  72. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    Norbert Wiener is a bit of a hero of mine.

    He received his Ph.D. in mathematics from Harvard at age 17, volunteered to fight in World War I as an enlisted man, but after the war couldn’t get a teaching job at Harvard because he was a Jew.

    Wiener found a home at MIT, where he became the father of cybernetic theory, aka the mathematics of machine behavior.

    Mathematics, which most of us see as the most factual of all sciences, constitutes the most colossal metaphor imaginable.

    It is easy to make a simple machine which will run toward the light or away from it, and if such machines also contain lights of their own, a number of them together will show complicated forms of social behavior.

    Norbert Wiener (1894 – 1964)

  73. Avatar for naiguy naiguy says:

    Which makes a bit more sense that his book would be recommended by Amazon since I had some searches on a few mathematics topics prior to my market micro-structure search. Thanks for sharing.

  74. Well of course we don’t have butchering competitions on TV, Ben, that would be horrible. Everyone would be put off to see the Top Chef contestants pluck a chicken before they cook it. To which I say … yes, exactly. The story of transforming a sentient creature into food – the act of plucking a chicken or gutting a fish or butchering a cow – is not a ‘fun’ story. Every consumption of animal-as-food is a story of sacrifice. It’s why we used to give thanks and “say grace” before a big meal with a big cooked animal. We used to have the words for this. I know my grandfather did.

    Counterexample: There is a show on Netflix called Meat Eater. It is kind of a red-state travel and cooking show where cameras follow the host and a guide or partner on a hunting expedition. They stalk and kill the animal (usually - the hunts are not always successful), then they butcher and prepare the animal and eat it.

  75. When presented with viral language or concepts ,the conscious mind must passively allow in or actively filter it. in or out. The latter requires mental labor and without an association with, or of potential harm, why bother? The passive acceptance of information that has been extensively preordained as useful and safe for mental consumption (main stream news etc.) triggers a dopamine reward response, and has no cost at first glance, which is as shallow as the train of thought must remain to avoid doubt and potential harm scenario non-happy neuron responses.
    Ignorance is bliss, please tell me a story about stuff that I like.

    I had to get up in the morning at ten o’clock at night, half an hour before I went to bed, eat a lump of cold poison, work twenty-nine hours a day down mill, and pay mill owner for permission to come to work, and when we got home, our Dad would kill us, and dance about on our graves singing “Hallelujah.”

    But you try and tell the young people of today that…and they won’t believe ya.

    Nope, nope.

  76. Glad to see Kuhn mentioned. I hadn’t considered his use of ‘paradigm (shift)’ to be related to a meta verse, but I can see that now.
    Meanwhile, I believe the ‘free-will thing’ is a trick question. Reductionists claim that if enough initial information is known, an outcome can be predicted, given enough computational power. We know from the three-body problem that this is not possible in closed form, and barely possible using analysis. Therefore, likely there can only be a near-zero probability of refutation and falsification, and so imo the reductionist argument is not even wrong.

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