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  • I've been reading about memetics lately. We all know what memes are, now - bits of information, like a picture of a cat, that spread from screen to screen and mutate through different iterations and different meanings, changing slowly over time and branching off into new memes, or drowning in some forgotten eddy of the Internet. In the late 20th century, "meme" was a term floating around in a smaller, more academic circle, used by the likes of Richard Dawkins and Susan Blackmore, whose now-somewhat-dated book, The Meme Machine I picked up a few months ago. For them, a meme was a unit of cultural information, a song or maybe a behavior, that passed from brain to brain. The field of memetics languished from lack of solid evidence that memes, like the genes they got their name from, were a second replicator in human evolution, a kind of information life form. The claim was bold enough to get people interested, but ironically, as the Internet grew and the term "meme" entered popular culture, the scientists that had been its biggest proponents stopped using it, and memetics seemed to disappear in the murky waters of psuedoscience and philosophy.

    In the 2000s, science discovered the mirror neuron system, a part of the neocortex that mimics things you observe, generating empathy (the ability to understand others as extensions of self) and even enabling tool use (the ability to understand objects as extensions of self). This is the system that was missing from The Meme Machine. Information, indeed, can be a life form so long as environments like brains and computers exist to serve as a replication environment.


    A few weeks ago I was visiting my grandmother and she showed me an entire cupboard full of old slides. They largely depict a brief period of time, from 1950 to 1958, filled with family members, baby pictures, friends, scenery of Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Washington and California, dark photos of noon sunrises at the Arctic Circle, pastoral scenes of sunny days by a lake, and slide after slide with a classic powder-blue car somewhere in the background, their loyal steed for a hundred adventures.

    One day in 1958 my grandfather took his only son out sailing on the frigid waters of Puget Sound. They found his body a few days later, but never found my young uncle. My grandmother was left with an 18-month old girl (my mom) and cupboard full of memories.

    I took all the slides I could carry home with me and began to scan them, four by four, in the slide tray that came with my flatbed Epson. I am uploading them as fast I can.
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