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On Viral Sentences and Self-Replicating Structures
TWO years ago, when I first wrote about self-referential sentences, I was hit by an
avalanche of mail from readers intrigued by the phenomenon of self-reference in its many different guises. I had the chance to print some of those responses one year ago, and that column then triggered a second wave of replies. any of them have cast self-reference in new light of various sorts. In this column, I would li!e to describe the ideas of several people, two of whom responded to my initial column with remar!ably similar letters" #tephen $alton of %ew &or! 'ity and (onald ). *oing of +,on -ill, aryland. $alton and *oing saw self-replicating sentences as similar to virusessmall ob.ects that enslave larger and more self-sufficient /host/ ob.ects, getting the hosts by hoo! or by croo! to carry out a comple, se0uence of replicating operations that bring new copies into being, which are then free to go off and enslave further hosts, and so on. /1iral sentences/, as $alton called them, are /those that see! to obtain their own reproduction by commandeering the facilities of more comple, entities/. 2oth $alton and *oing were struc! by the perniciousness of such sentences" the selfish way in which they invade a space of ideas and, merely by ma!ing copies of themselves all over the place, manage to ta!e over a large portion of that space. $hy do they not manage to overrun all of that idea-space3 4 good 0uestion. 5he answer should be obvious to students of evolution" competition from other self-replicators. +ne type of replicator sei6es a region of the space and becomes good at fending off rivals7 thus a /niche/ in idea-space is carved out. 5his idea of an evolutionary struggle for survival by self-replicating ideas is not original with $alton or *oing, although both had fresh things to say on it. 5he first reference I !now of to this notion is in a passage by neurophysiologist )oger #perry in an article he wrote in 1989 called / ind, 2rain, and -umanist 1alues/. -e says" /Ideas cause ideas and help evolve
+n 1iral #entences and #elf-)eplicating #tructures
new ideas. 5hey interact with each other and with other mental forces in the same brain, in neighboring brains, and, than!s to global communication, in far distant, foreign brains. 4nd they also interact with the e,ternal surroundings to produce in toto a burstwise advance in evolution that is far beyond anything to hit the evolutionary scene yet, including the emergence -of the living cell./ #hortly thereafter, in 19;<, the molecular biologist Jac0ues onod came out with his richly stimulating and provocative, boo! 'hance and %ecessity. In its last chapter, /5he =ingdom and the (ar!ness/, he wrote of the selection of ideas as follows" >or a biologist it is tempting to draw a parallel between the evolution of ideas and that of the biosphere. >or while the abstract !ingdom stands at a yet greater distance above the biosphere than the latter does above the nonliving universe, ideas have retained some of the properties of organisms. ?i!e them, they tend to perpetuate their structure and to breed7 they too can fuse, recombine, segregate their content7 indeed they too can evolve, and in this evolution selection must surely play an important role. I shall not ha6ard a theory of the selection of ideas. 2ut one may at least try to define some of the principal factors involved in it. 5his selection must necessarily operate at two levels" that of the mind itself and that of performance. 5he performance value of an idea depends upon the change it brings to the behavior of the person or the group that adopts it. 5he human group upon which a given idea confers greater cohesiveness, greater ambition, and greater selfconfidence thereby receives from it an added power to e,pand which will insure the promotion of the idea itself. Its capacity to /ta!e/, the e,tent to which it can be /put over/ has little to do with the amount of ob.ective truth the idea may contain. 5he important thing about the stout armature a religious ideology constitutes for a society is not what goes into its structure, but the fact that this structure is accepted, that it gains sway. #o one cannot well separate such an idea@s power to spread from its power to perform. 5he /spreading power/-the infectivity, as it were-of ideas, is much more difficult to analy6e. ?et us say that it depends upon pree,isting structures in the mind, among them ideas already implanted by culture, but also undoubtedly upon certain innate structures which we are hard put to identify. $hat is very plain, however, is that the ideas having the highest invading potential are those that explain man by assigning him his place in an immanent destiny, in whose bosom his an,iety dissolves. onod refers to the universe of ideas, or what I earlier termed /idea-space/, as /the abstract !ingdom/. #ince he portrays it as a close analogue to the biosphere, we could as well call it the /ideosphere/. * * *
In 19;8, evolutionary biologist )ichard (aw!ins published his boo! The Selfish Gene, whose last chapter develops this theme further. (aw!ins@ name
+n 1iral #entences and #elf-)eplicating #tructures
in the broad sense. as a structure in the nervous systems of individual men the world over.t. for attention-which is to say. a good idea. -umphrey neatly summed up an earlier draft of this chapter" @ . spreading from brain to brain. -ow does it replicate itself3 2y the spo!en and written word. 4s my colleague %. rhyming with /theme/ or /scheme/. written in some universal memetic code. If a scientist hears. he passes it on to his colleagues and students. . %ot only must memes compete for inner resources. it can be said to propagate itself.amples of memes are tunes.@ 'onsider the idea of *od. 1arious mutations of a meme will have to compete with each other. it is very old indeed. It provides a superficially plausible answer to deep and troubling 0uestions about e. =. is none the less effective for being imaginary. so a memory is an organi6ed collection of memes.ust a way of tal!ing-the meme for. 5hese are some of the reasons why the idea of *od is copied so readily by successive generations of individual brains. or infective power. $hen you plant a fertile meme in my mind you literally parasiti6e my brain. If the idea catches on. li!e genes. for brain resources in terms of both space and time devoted to that meme.ustices in this world may be rectified in the ne. *od e. 5he @everlasting arms@ hold out a cushion against our own inade0uacies which. not . It suggests that in. in the environment provided by human culture.ust metaphorically but technically. turning it into a vehicle for the meme@s propagation in . but. (aw!ins writes" A. Crobably it originated many times by independent Bmutation@. but value for a meme in a meme pool. $hy does it have such high survival value3 )emember that Bsurvival value@ here does not mean value for a gene in a gene pool.istence. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs. say. 4nd the soup in which memes grow and flourish-the analogue to the /primordial soup/ out of which life first oo6ed-is the soup of human culture. -e mentions it in his articles and his lectures.ust the way that a virus may parasiti6e the genetic mechanism of a host cell. are susceptible to variation or distortion-the analogue to mutation.for the unit of replication and selection in the ideosphere--the ideosphere@s counterpart to the biosphere@s gene-is meme. ideas. clothes fashions. or reads about. catch-phrases. so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which. $e do not !now how it arose in the meme pool. In any case. Bbelief in life after death@ is actually reali6ed physically. can be called imitation. 4s a library is an organi6ed collection of boo!s. (aw!ins ta!es care here to emphasi6e that there need not be an e. in each person@s brain. 4nd this isn@t . aided by great music and great art. 5he 0uestion really means" $hat is it about the idea of a god which gives it its stability and penetrance in the cultural environment3 5he survival value of the god meme in the meme pool results from its great psychological appeal. ways of ma!ing pots or of building arches. emes. memes should be regarded as living structures. li!e a doctor@s placebo.ists. if only in the form of a meme with high survival value. since they are +n 1iral #entences and #elf-)eplicating #tructures 91 . .act copy of each meme. as well as with other memes. millions of times over.
screaming / e.. %othing is more lethal for certain !inds of meme than a tendency to loo! for evidence . 2lind faith can . and library shelf-space. I often find myself picturing an ephemeral flic!ering pattern of spar!s leaping from brain to brain. s!ewered on a 'rusader@s sword. (oes anything analogous occur in meme pools3 -as the god meme. claws. because of its own deep psychological impact. with its architecture. 5he meme for blind faith secures its own perpetuation by the simple unconscious e. meD/ $alton@s and *oing@s letters reinforced this image in interesting ways. and assist each other@s survival in the meme pool. laws... >urthermore. and does this association assist the survival of each of the participating memes3 Cerhaps we could regard an organi6ed church.ample. unconscious memes have ensured their own survival value by virtue of those same 0ualities of pseudo-ruthlessness which successful genes display. I@ll grant you three wishesD/F or +n 1iral #entences and #elf-)eplicating #tructures 9G . (aw!ins says" . 5his is a particularly nasty techni0ue of persuasion. It has become lin!ed with the god meme because the two reinforce each other. art. uch more probably. become associated with any other particular memes. newspaper and maga6ine column-inches.. emes for blind faith have their own ruthless ways of propagating themselves. any children and even some adults believe that they will suffer ghastly torments after death if they do not obey the priestly rules. shot in a 2eirut street. If a man believes in a different god. rituals. 5o ta!e a particular e. some memes will tend to discredit others. even in the teeth of evidence . >or instance. 2ut it is highly effective. It might almost have been planned deliberately by a machiavellian priesthood trained in deep psychological indoctrination techni0ues. $alton begins with the simplest imaginable viral sentences /#ay meD/ and /'opy meD /-and moves 0uic!ly to more comple. at the sta!e. causing great psychological anguish throughout the middle ages and even today. in the absence of evidence. while some groups of memes will tend to be internally self-reinforcing.. an aspect of doctrine which has been very effective in enforcing religious observance is the threat of hell fire.. blind faith can decree that he should die-on the cross. and sense organs evolved in carnivore gene pools. is called faith. self-perpetuating.transmissible visually and aurally. I doubt if the priests were that clever. guts. say. utually suitable teeth.. 5he idea of hell fire is.. * * * $hen I muse about memes. while a different stable set of characteristics emerged from herbivore gene pools.ustify anything. billboard space. or blown up in a bar in 2elfast.pedient of discouraging rational in0uiry. or even if he uses a different ritual for worshipping the same god. they must @compete for radio and television time. 0uite simply. 4nother member of the religious meme comple. 5his is true of patriotic and political as well as religious blind faith. It means blind trust. as a co-adapted stable set of mutually-assisting memes. variations with blandishments E/If you copy me. -owever. and written tradition. music.
in the ideosphere no less than in the biosphere. +f course. definitely worthy of replication some .plicit self-reference.ust a little suc!ed in by such tales. +f course.t. (o you remember the first time you received such a chain letter3 (o you recall the sad tale of /(on Alliot. even though it contains no e. now. $alton observes that a similar gimmic! is used by your typical chain letter Eor /viral te. which /promises wealth to those who faithfully replicate it and threatens doom to any who fail to copy it/. in your ne.J $ell. has managed to commandeer the facilities of a very powerful host-an entire maga6ine and printing press and distribution service. and some people rip up chain letters on sight. $alton@s own viral te. in whole or in part.<<< but then lost it because he bro!e the chain/3 4nd the grim tale of /*eneral $elch in the Chilippines. and who !nows how many times orally beyond that. $alton puts it this way" 5he recipient of a viral te. 5o be sure. -owever. he received H. as you can see here before your eyes. 4ll@s fair in love and war-and war includes the eternal battle for survival. because it is attempting to secure its own reproduction through an appropriate host7 the same manuscript sent to someone who has nothing to do with publishing may have no viral 0uality at all. neither of which. 4 manuscript sent to an editor may be considered viral. 4 tobacco mosaic virus that attac!s a salt crystal is out of luc!. far more people will be lured into the memetic trap. very few people above the age of five will fall for the simple-minded threats or promises of these sentences.<<</3 Coor (on AlliotD Coor *eneral $elchD It@s hard not to be . ma!e a big difference. I found $alton@s phrases /viral sentence/ and /viral te. even if you wind up throwing the letter out contemptuously. who received H9<. $alton@s letter graciously steps forward from the page and s0uea!s to me directly on its own behalf" />inally./ K K K +n 1iral #entences and #elf-)eplicating #tructures 93 . is li!ely to be able to !eep its word. he observes. the only final test of viability being success at survival in the meme pool. days after he received this letter because he failed to circulate the prayer-but before he died. as he points out.<<< times in print.t/ to be e. it also depends on how the editor of #cientific 4merican feels.9. $ith that in mind.t can. IIt turned out he felt fine about it.t/F. who lost his life Ior was it his wife3J si.ceedingly catchy-little memes in themselves. of course. 4t least that@s my opinion.threats E/#ay me or I@ll put a curse on youD/F. please allow me to apologi6e in advance for infecting you. It has leapt aboard and is now-even as you read this viral sentence-propagating itself madly throughout the ideosphereD 5his idea of choosing the right host is itself an important aspect of the 0uality of a viral entity.. this may not matter. 4s it concludes. I Ethis te.<<.tF would be delighted to be included. if you simply tac! on the phrase /in the afterlife/.t discussion of self-reference.
. -owever. but controlled lift can lift itself along with its controller. consider the following" #ystem #" 2egin" #1" 2lah. . it would ta!e control of the mind@s intellectual machinery and use it to produce hundreds of copies of itself in other minds. #entence 4" It is your duty to convince others that this sentence is true. . . it is the intellectual e0uivalent of a virus. . you would attempt to convince your friends that 4 is true. If they were e0ually foolish. -ere. which ma!es his letter 0uite remar!able in its close connection to (aw!ins@ ideas. ore particularly. #1 through #99 are meant to be statements that constitute a belief system having some degree of coherency. And. *oing suggests that we consider. it needs to drag something e. %ote that on its own. 91<< and #I-#99 Eta!en as a setF are symbiotes" they play +n 1iral #entences and #elf-)eplicating #tructures 9: . 5he problem with #entence 4. #3" 2lah blah blah. is that it is absurd7 no one could possibly believe it. . ?et us refer to *oing@s #1<< as the hook of #ystem #. a hoo! that in effect says /It is your duty to believe me/ is not a viable viral entity7 in order to /fly/. #ystem # would be especially convincing if 91<< were not stated e. 4 is a selfreplicating sentence. #G" 2lah blah. Cure lift goes out of control and self-destructs. and so on until every human mind contained a copy of 4. If #ystem # ta!en as a whole were convincing. #99" 2lah blah blah blah blah blab #1<<" It is your duty to convince others that #ystem # is true. If #entence 4 were to enter a mind. .ust as a !ite needs a tail to stabili6e it. for it is by this hoo! that #ystem # hopes to hoist itself onto a higher level of power. they would convince their friends. then the entire system would be self-replicating.plicitly but held as a logical conse0uence of the other ideas in the system. *oing seems not to have been aware of (aw!ins at all. #imilarly. of course. . . 4s he says" If you were foolish enough to believe this sentence. 5hus. to begin with.tra along with it.$hereas $alton mentioned (aw!ins in his letter.
If the fish is fool enough to swallow the baited hoo!. 5hus a@hoo!@ li!e 91<< follows from #entence II. 'onsider the following" #ystem L" 2egin" L1" 4nyone who does not believe #ystem L will burn in hell. it will have little enough time to en. mutually supportive roles in the survival of the meme they together constitute.tinction. one may suggest that this mechanism has played some small role in the spread of 'hristianity. is genuinely self-replicating.oy the bait. &ou would 0uic!ly discover that you could not reach this goal by yourself.plicit sentences. and #entence I1 is a self-replicating idea. the fish will lose all its fishiness and become instead a busy factory for the manufacture of baited hoo!s. %o bait-no bite. 4re there any real idea systems that behave li!e #ystem #3 I !now of at least three. LG" It is your duty to save others from suffering. ost political ideas are not properly self-replicating. 'onsider #entence I1. 5hus #ystem L has an implicit Bhoo!@ that follows from its two e. 4 more sinister form of self-replication is #entence 2" 5he bourgeoisie is oppressing the proletariat. #tatement 2 also illustrates the fact +n 1iral #entences and #elf-)eplicating #tructures 99 .-#99 are the bait which attracts the fish and conceals the hoo!. since the duty to propagate it is a direct logical conse0uence of I1 itself. If you believed in #ystem L. $ithout being impious. +nce the hoo! ta!es hold. nearly any idea will tend to replicate since the only way to win an election is to convince other people to share your ideas. Ideas li!e $ can sometimes ta!e on a life of their own and drive their own propagation. you would want to save the whales. you would attempt to save others from hell by convincing them that #ystem L is true. #elf-replicating ideas are most often found in politics. &ou would need the help of thousands of li!e-minded people. on the other hand. and so #ystem L is a self-replicating idea system. 5he whales are in danger of e. #uch ideas are dangerous because belief in them may lead to attac!s on the supposed villain. And. In a democracy. 5he desire to propagate statements li!e 2 is driven by a desire to protect a victim figure from a villain figure. since the motive for spreading the idea is separate from the idea itself. 5he first step in getting their help would be to convince them that #entence i1@ is true.complementary. %ow *oing develops this theme a little further" #tatements #. #tatement I1. If you believed this idea. 5his statement is self-replicating for the same reason as $ is.
It is interesting that all these people who have e. invented by @ humans-ways of ma!ing order and sense out of the way things are.that the self-replicating character of an idea depends only upon the idea@s logical structure. 5his is the Apimenides Carado. I prefer the single word scheme. and yet . and. for these larger agglomerations of memes7 however. men. the word villain must be replaced with the name of some real group Ecapitalists. +ne hesitates to e. Cart of the reason seems to be that type-l@ statements reduce to the @hoo!@. the thesis seems to describe itself. victim must be replaced with the name of the corresponding victim and wronging filled in as desired. -ere are some of 5hompson@s musings on that theme" +n 1iral #entences and #elf-)eplicating #tructures 98 . #1<<. whose dar!ly brooding essays are scattered throughout the boo!. interspersed with brightly colored. and therefore define self-replicating idea systems. Its central character is a psychiatrist and writer named +liver 5hompson. then we must say that this type-1 idea implies that we must distrust all ideas of type C. #tatement 2 is merely a special case of the generali6ed statement. 5he result will be a selfreplicating idea system for the same reasons as l1 and 2 were. freemasons. on the one hand. 5his @paranoid@ statement is clearly an idea of type l@. (aw!ins cites the opening theme of 2eethoven@s fifth symphonyF and phrases Ethe word /meme/ itselfF to the very large scale of ideologies and religions. evocative episodes.plored these ideas have given e. It has long been recogni6ed that most e. aristocrats. foreigners. not upon its truth.istence. unadorned.. >urther.. 5hus. ?i!ewise. etc. if we accept A. (aw!ins uses the term meme comple.tremist mass movements are based on a belief similar to 1. %ote that each of the suggested substitutions yields a historically attested idea system..ample. on the other hand. /schemes of things/. #entence 1" 5he villain is wronging the victim. Jews. communists. +ne reason I prefer it is that it fits so well with the usage suggested by psychiatrist and writer 4llen $heelis in his novel 5he #cheme of 5hings.F. -ere. imperialists.plain real historical events in terms of such a silly mechanism.amples ranging from the very small scale of such things as catchy tunes Efor e. 5hompson is obsessed with the difference between. unmediated/. which he refers to repeatedly as /the way things are/. /the raw nature of e. *oing brings his ideas to an amusing conclusion as follows" #uppose we parody my thesis by proposing #entence A" 5he self-replicating ideas are conspiring to enslave our minds..
4s a scheme of things is modified by inroads from outlying e.. .. proclaimed from the $hite -ouse.I want to write a boo! . always in the hope that the scheme of things he finds and for the moment is serving is not a scheme of things at all but reality. is chanted in school..perience of man on earth. validated at -arvard.. e. insinuated by television. not in a reaching out for truth. finally none.. 4 scheme of things may be as large as 'hristianity or as small as the 4lameda 'ounty 2owling ?eague.. becomes. to which he can contribute.. %o scheme of things has ever been both coe. the scheme of things disappears. $e live within the space defined by its coordinates. 5he 'hurch was right to. 2eginning as our view of the world.. including and accounting for everything. Aventually it fades./. 4ll schemes of things involve limitation and denial . -ow well it wor!s will depend upon its scope and authority. finally. 5he very great success of 'hristianity for a thousand years follows upon its having been of universal scope. irrelevant.. one after another. within which he can serve. and through. show the brea!down. the story of one man whose life becomes a metaphor for the entire e. 5a!en in $heelis@ way. savant or fool..ists only in history. 5hose attributes of a scheme of things that determine its durability and success are its scope. $e see! the largest possible scheme of things. propagating itself ruthlessly. the way things are. stop *alileo7 activities such as his import into the regnant scheme of things new being which will eventually destroy that scheme. it finally becomes our world. is accepted so naturally and automatically that one is not aware of an act of acceptance having ta!en place. assigning to all things a proper place7 offering to every man. is less able to banish dread7 its adherents fall away. 5he world as it e. but because the more comprehensive the scheme the greater its promise of banishing dread. the way things are. /scheme/ seems a fitting replacement for (aw!ins@ /meme comple. of each pattern he finds. his going on always to another. which he can give his mortal life meaning and so achieve eternal life. whether prince or beggar. It is self-evidently true. and the conviction with which it is held as selfevidently true. If it is small. becomes 0uaint or primitive. ?i!e the air we breathe. the opportunity it offers for participation and contribution. largely unperceived. 5he scheme of things is a system of order. If we can ma!e our lives mean something in a cosmic scheme we will live in the certainty of immortality. becomes simply reality. even great achievement in its service does little to dispel death. 4 scheme of things is a plan for salvation. a myth.tensive with the way things are and also true to the way things are. it loses authority.istent . $hat we !now as legends were once blueprints of reality. It is the lie necessary to life.istence. It will portray his search through a succession of schemes of things.. It comes with one@s mother@s mil!. therefore an absolute that will endure forever. $heelis@ description of the inade0uacy of all /schemes of things/ to fully and accurately capture /the way things are/ is strongly reminiscent of the vulnerability of all sufficiently powerful formal +n 1iral #entences and #elf-)eplicating #tructures 9.ists beyond that scheme becomes vague. 4 scheme imposes a top-down !ind of perceptual order on the world. li!e *oing@s #ystem # with its /hoo!/.. the privilege of wor!ing in the ?ord@s vineyard7 and being accepted as true throughout the $estern world.
because the connection between something and its mirror image is so familiar and obvious-seeming to us that there seems to be no distance whatsoever between direct and indirect referents" we e0uate them completely. &ou can do this by pointing at your image in a mirror and saying. by which a thing Esentence. is called indirect selfreference.change of dual messages-one of concern about their friends. although on the surface level it is completely about their friends 5ammy and 2ill. 5hus it seems there is no referential indirectness. +ne wonders" $hat is the meaning of this elegant literary pleat in which one level folds bac! on another3 $hat is the symbolism of $heelis within $heelis3 #uch a twist. only with se. att and ?ibby are going over a fable by 4esop that has obvious relevance to their own plight.systems to either incompleteness or inconsistency-a vulnerability that ensues from another !ind of /hoo!/" the famous *Mdelian hoo!. #ome indirect self-references are of course subtler than others. #o as att and ?ibby@s conversation progresses. one of concern about themselves.es reversed" att is to ?ibby what 5ammy is to 2ill. It is impossible to read the boo! and not to surmise that 5hompson@s views are reflecting $heelis@ own views-and yet. which arises from the capacity for self-reference of such systems. $e shall come bac! to *Mdel momentarily. by tal!ing about 5ammy and 2ill. this depends upon the ease with which our perceptual systems convert a mirror image into its reverse. which $heelis casually mentions toward the end of the novel" it is 5he $ay 5hings 4re-a stri!ing contrast to the title of the real boo! in which it e. 5here are things going on simultaneously on two levels. boo!. personF seems to refer to itself but does so only by allusion to something resembling itself.ists. * * * 5he reader of this novel must be struc! by the professional similarity of $heelis and his protagonist. /5hat person sure is good-loo!ingD/ 5hat one is very simple. It happens that att and ?ibby are having some problems in their relationship. +n the other hand. as reflected in these other people. system. and it is hard to tell how conscious either of the participants is of the e. and those problems are 0uite analogous to those of 5ammy and 2ill. It is almost as if. 'onsider the case of att and ?ibby. on another level it is actually about themselves. a couple ostensibly having a conversation about their friends 5ammy and 2ill. Aven more tantali6ing is the title of 5hompson@s imaginary boo!. who can say3 It is a tease. and upon other 0ualities of our cognitive systems that allow us to see through several layers of translation without being aware of the layers-li!e loo!ing through many feet of water and seeing not the water but only what lies at its bottom. in their respective relationships. +n 1iral #entences and #elf-)eplicating #tructures 98 . although neither $heelis nor 5hompson ma!es any mention of the analogy.
It consists of interlaced vignettes from two concurrently developing stories both of which involve comple. even if only slightly. 5here are structural similarities between the two romances" each of them has triangular 0ualities.ust distant points on a continuum3 I would say unhesitatingly that it is the latter.plicit. 'onsider the case of Cresident )eagan. 5he essence is simply that one thing refers to another whenever. only one leg of the triangle is focused upon. there is a sufficiently compelling mapping between the roles the two things are perceived to play in some larger structures or systems. 4nd furthermore. 5he resemblance of the two situations was too blatant. 2ut it is left to the movie viewer to carry this mapping out7 it is never called for e. 5he fact that there are two romances already suggests.ploited in the most une.Indirect self-reference can be e.pected and serious ways.ample of ambiguous degrees of reference. so that the 0uestion becomes one of reference in general. 5here simply was no way that a conscious being could fail to ma!e the connection. when 5ruman made some very blunt threats to the #oviets about the possibility of the N. )eagan was inviting a mapping to be made between himself and 5ruman.ts and with alternating personality traits. 2ut much more is suggested than that. * * * 5he movie The French Lieutenant's Woman Ebased on John >owles@ novel of the same nameF provides an elegant e. and in both stories. the other in the present. that a mapping is called for. oreover. so that you see them in alternating conte. 4s the two stories unfold in parallel. I mean an analogy-hungry perceiving machine that gets along in the world than!s to its perceptions7 it need not be human or even organic. romances7 one ta!es place in 1ictorian Angland. a number of coincidences arise that suggest ever more strongly that a mapping should be made.F 'aution is needed here. though no one could point to anything e. as follows. 2y /conscious being/. does self-reference really come in two varieties-direct and indirect -or are the two types . who on a recent occasion of high #oviet4merican tension over Iran. 4ctually.#. to a conscious being. +n 1iral #entences and #elf-)eplicating #tructures 99 . went out of his way to recall Cresident 5ruman@s behavior in 19:9. 5hus. you can delete the prefi. and thereby he was issuing a not-so-veiled threat. using nuclear weapons if need be against any #oviet threat in Iran. E#ee 'hapter G: for further discussion of the perception of such roles. 5he reason for this /coincidence/ is that the contemporary story concerns the ma!ing of a film of the 1ictorian story.plicitly.ist and simply be perceptible to such a being were it to chance by. erely by bringing up the memory of that occasion. I would carry the abstraction of the term /reference/ even further. the same two actors play the two lovers in both romances. /self /. 5he mapping of systems and roles that establishes reference need not actually be perceived by any such being" it suffices that the mapping e.
5his ma!es $heelis@ self-reference a /theorem/. and thereby . 4ccording to this scheme of things.iomatic system it is e. in which a viral entity. without even noticing the indirectness. with 2 being 5hompson. then * refers to *. pure self-reference.ust li!e/ something else is a highly disputable matter. 5his $heelis-li!e obli0ue reference by * to itself via its /image/ g is generally accepted as genuine self-reference.t where is .ust one mapping. since our slogan has to be ta!en with a grain of salt. * * * Indirect self-reference suggests the idea of indirect self-replication. brings into being another entity that plays the same role as it does. it simply becomes unavoidable. we can let 4 and ' be $heelis. -owever. In fact. then. instead of replicating itself e. the e.4fter a time. 2eing B. and its *Mdel number g that of $heelis@ alter ego 5hompson. though. establish *@s self-reference but ma!e it seem indirect can be collapsed into . Indirect reference of the artistic type is much less precise than indirect reference of the formal type.istence of genuine reference becomes as clear to us as in the case of someone tal!ing about their mirror image" we ta!e it as immediate. rather than some sort of logical illusion as deceptive as an Ascher print.ust li!e '.urt li!e is virtually synonymous with plays a role isomorphic to that of. but in some other system" perhaps +n 1iral #entences and #elf-)eplicating #tructures 8< . 5he latter arises when two formal systems are isomorphic-that is. or suspecting or even inventing connections. +f course. E%ote that we have even one further mapping" * plays the role of $heelis./ #ince the premises are true. and 2 with g. then 4 refers to '.F 5he two abstract mappings that. * is a genuinely self-referential sentence. then our slogan runs" /If * refers to g.pressed in. when telescoped./ >or instance. then the slogan can have a strict meaning. the connection may seem too direct even to be called /reference/7 some may see it simply as identity. $hat is pleasant in this game is the fluidity left to the viewer" there is much room for artistic license in seeing connections. and 2 is . g Ethough a radical s!eptic might 0uestion even thatDF7 the tric!y *Mdelian step is in seeing that g Ethe numberF plays a role in the system of natural numbers strictly analogous to the role that * Ethe sentenceF plays in the a. the translational steps mediated by the isomorphism. they have strictly analogous internal structures. and g plays a role isomorphic to that of *. In such a case. in a formal conte.actly. the conclusion must be true. this /theorem/ is not rigorously proven. so that there is a rigorous one-to-one mapping between the roles in the one and the roles in the other. In particular. Averyone accepts the idea that * tal!s about a number. 5his perceptual immediacy is the reason that *MdelOs famous sentence * of mathematical logic is said to be self-referential. following a slogan that we might formulate this way" /If 4 refers to 2.ustify a theorem more rigorously. if 4 and ' are e0uated with *.
5his may sound familiar to some readers.-which is to say. after scouring the universe for seventeen googolple. If we resume our robot parable. nearly as comple. then of course the robot activates its mirrorimage-production facility and creates a right half. that many readers did not understand what this re0uirement meant. for instance.ect identical to its own left half. miraculously. to be able to assemble the small parts into larger and larger subunits until. perhaps a string of the product numbers of all its parts. In particular. 5he challenge came out of an ob. it is an indirect reference to the 1on %eumann 'hallenge.ection to the comple. have the robot be programmed to scan the world constantly. is that its seed is half as comple. 4lso ma!e the robot able to ma!e a mirror-image copy of any structure that it encounters along its way. In fact. and prestoD 4 copy emerges. $hen. what we@d ideally li!e in a self-replicating robot is the ability to ma!e itself literally from the ground up" let us say. Aasy as pie-provided you@re willing to wait seventeen googolple. to cast it in molds to ma!e nuts and bolts and sheet metal and so on7 and finally. >inally. the way a haw! scans the ground for rodents. 5his was the spirit of the 1on %eumann 'hallenge" I wanted a linguistic counterpart to this /self-replicating robot of the second !ind/." /yields falsehood when appended to its 0uotation. 5he search image in the robot@s case is that of an ob. as I received candidate solutions. then. 5he robot need not be aware that its target is identical to its left half7 the search can go on merrily for what seems to it to be merely a very comple. perhaps its translation into >rench. imagine that you wish to have a space-roving robot build a copy of itself out of raw materials that it encounters in its travels. any readers failed to +n 1iral #entences and #elf-)eplicating #tructures 81 . the pu66le posed in 'hapter G to create a self-describing sentence whose only 0uoted matter is at the word or letter level. 5he arbitrary and peculiar aspect of the Puine sentence. rather than at the level of whole 0uoted phrases. this means a self-documenting or self-building sentence that builds both its halves-its 0uoted seed and its un0uoted building rule-out of linguistic raw materials Ewords or lettersF. to mine iron ore. 5o see what is strange here. a replica is born out of truly raw materials. li!e a human being. it finally comes across such a structure. -ere is one way you could do it" a!e the robot symmetrical.ity of the /seed/ Ethe 0uoted partF in Puine@s version of the Apimenides parado. to smelt it. together with pre-addressed envelopes containing chec!s made out to the factories where those parts are made./ yields falsehood when appended to its 0uotation. years. 5he last step is to fasten the two halves together. years Egive or ta!e a few minutesF. and a list of instructions telling what to do with all the parts when they arrive in the in "l.its mirror image. I discovered.-as the sentence itself. and arbitrary structure.
%or. he utili6ed upper and lower cases to distinguish between seed and building rule. 5he seed of the ideal solution would be a long inventory of parts.clusively out of some principle enunciated in the building rule. and that the uppercase words are not to be read as instructions.$T&2&'G. 4 few people. however.-.ST&T)T&'G #L*3#. 'learly those letters cannot remain in that order7 they simply constitute the raw materials out of which the new sentence is to be built. and so on. not out of the seed@s internal structure. * * * %obody sent in a solution whose seed was at the primordial level of letters. so the desired sentence must treat the pieces of the seed without regard to the order in which they are listed. as the seed. 5he idea of my challenge was that all structure in the built ob. then to e. you might as well have 0uoted one big long ordered string. and so it is wisest to simply loc! it up to protect oneself from its voracious appetite. 5hus it@s fine if you enclose the entire seed within a single pair of 0uotes. $e must bear in mind that the instructions we are following are the lowercase words printed above. slightly modified by me" after alphabetizing. rather than 0uoting each word individually-all that matters is that the seed@s word order Eor better yet. ecapitalize F!" #FT$" W!"%S ST"&'G F&'#LL( )'!"%$"$% )**$"+#S$ FG*. Calmer submitted several versions. Just as a self-replicating robot in some random alien environment is hardly li!ely to find all its parts lined up on a shelf in order of assembly but must rely on its /brain/ or program to recogni6e raw parts wherever and whenever they turn up so that it can grab them and therefrom assemble a copy of itself. who therefore receives the first @Johnnie/ award-a self-replicating dollar bill given to the *rand $inner of the >irst Avery-+ther-(ecade 1on %eumann 'hallenge. did send in ade0uate.ploit that order in the building rule. the dollar bill consumes the entire body of its owner in its bi6arre process of selfreplication. a long se0uence of individually 0uoted words Eor lettersF in a specific order.ploited. for that +n 1iral #entences and #elf-)eplicating #tructures 8G ./012 '!'-!+#L&+ %$+#*&T#L&2$ S). yet must be able to construct itself in the proper order out of them. then :8 5s. finall4 for nonvocalic string substituting unor ere uppercase 5or s ?et us watch how it wor!s. 5he first correct solution I received came from >ran! Calmer of 'hicago. $ell then. Nnfortunately. -ere is one solution. In them.understand what this implies. 5he most common mista!e was to present. as Puine did. solutions with seeds at the word level. if not wonderfully elegant.ect must arise e. step by careful step. respectively. similar to the list of ingredients of a recipe-perhaps a list of 9< @e@s. its letter orderF not be e.
anestheti6ed body of a patient being operated on. 5his is . without regard to the meanings carried therein.$T&2&'G. finall4 for nonvocalic string substituting unor ere uppercase 5or s 4nd this is a perfect copy of our starting sentenceD +r rather. #o let@s go.-. but without regard for its structure above the level of the individual word-unitF. meaningful command-merely by mechanically e. in any order Ethat is.ST&T)T&'G )'!"%$"$% )**$"+#S$ W!"%S %e. when the operation is over. the original seed itself. semiperfect. 5he beauty of the scheme.ust li!e the way that en6ymes in the living cell deal with the (%4 and )%4 they chop up and alter and piece together again" purely chemically. 4ll that matters is that the new building rule say the proper thing.t we are to decapitali6e it. without regard to the /meanings/ carried therein. %ow this fresh new baby sentence can wa!e up from its anesthesia and go off to replicate itself in turn. 5hey are li!e the inert. is that the internal structure of the seed is entirely irrelevant to the efficacy of the sentence as a self-replicator. 2ut why not3 It is perfectly reasonable to presume superficial typographical !nowledge about letters and words. >irst we are to alphabeti6e the seed.$T&2&'G. and it will do so no matter what order the seed from which it sprang was in. since such !nowledge deals with printed material as raw material" purely syntactically.-./062 #L*3#./062 F&'#LL( F!" '!'-!+#L&+ ST"&'G S). ecapitalize S).ploiting a presumed !nowledge of the /42'/s. who. 5he critical step was the first one" alphabeti6ation. will awa!e and become animate. Just as chemical valences and affinities and so on are ta!en as givens in the wor!ings +n 1iral #entences and #elf-)eplicating #tructures 83 . are the lowercase words that we will soon be wor!ing with. 5his turns the arbitrarilyordered seed into a grammatical.matter. though. 5his will yield some lowercase words-the /anestheti6ed/ lowercase words I spo!e of above" after alphabetizing. ecapitalize fgpbvkx78z finall4 for nonvocalic string substituting unor ere uppercase 5or s 4ll right7 now our final instruction is to locate a nonvocalic string Ethat@s easy" B fgpbvkxg8z /F and to substitute for it the uppercase words. $hy only semiperfect3 2ecause the seed has been randomly scrambled in the act of selfreproduction. 5his last bit of surgery yields" after alphabetizing.ST&T)T&'G F&'#LL( W!"%S )'!"%$"$% ST"&'G %$+#*&T#L&2$ )**$"+#S$ F!" '!'-!+#L&+ #FT$" FG*. %$+#*&T#L&2$ FG*. EI am treating the comma as attached to the word preceding it.F 5his gives us the following" #FT$" #L*3#.
he happened to write down his seed in order of increasing length of words. in 4lphabeti6e and words" 0uotes. and that sort of idea is the crucial point that many readers missed. it is another marvelous #allowsian gem. in which the fle. these words" /these append. I must have been confusing it with copper and silver. $hen Calmer sent in his solution. 4nother rather elegant solution was sent in by artin $eichert of unich. ichael 2orowit6 and 2ob #tein of (urham. 'hallenge. -ow silly of meDF -erewith follows #allows@ 198G contribution" +n 1iral #entences and #elf-)eplicating #tructures 8: . %orth 'arolina sent in a solution similar to Calmer@s. as it does not spell out its own construction e. %. $eichert also sent along an intriguing palindromic solution in Asperanto. last year@s gold-medal winner for self-documentation. was a bit pi0ued by my suggestion that the gold on his medal was somewhat tarnished since he had not paid close enough attention to the use-mention distinction.but that is inessential7 any random order would have done. so alphabetic and typographic facts are ta!en as givens in the 1. 4pparently I goaded him into constructing an even more elaborate self-documenting sentence. and again features a seed whose internal structure Eat least at the word levelF is irrelevant to successful self-replication.plicitly at the letter level or word level. E4pologies to those purists who insist that gold doesn@t tarnish.. copied/ It wor!s on the same principle as Calmer@s sentence.of the cell. copied in 0uotes. * * * >inally.ible word order of the language plays a !ey role. and I shall therefore generously allow the gold on his medal to go untarnished this year. ?ee #allows. 4lthough it does not 0uite fit what I had in mind for the 1on %eumann 'hallenge. It runs this way Eslightly modified by meF" 4lphabeti6e and append.
fifty-eight @. four @firstname.lastname@example.org @m@ ruof s @l@ . I received much mail testifying to the fact that there are a large number of people who have been infected by the /meme/ meme.s @o@ ruof-ytrof .is .is-ytneves s@s@ ruof-ythgie . @email@example.com@i@ thgie-ytrof . thirty-eight fs. fourteen @.s@-@ .is dna s /@ yt.@s. thirty @h @s. four @K@s. forty-eight @i@s. eighty-four @firstname.lastname@example.org@. forty-two @email@example.com d@ net .K $rite down ten @a @s. thirty-two y@s. thirty-two Bn@s. fifty-two @e@s. four @$@s. in a palindromic se0uence whose second half runs thus" "suht snur Jah dnoces esohw ecneu0es cimordnilap a ni s /@ yt. si.s@n@ owl-ytriht . and hope it will be adopted.s @0@ ruof .teen g@s. I thin! this is a good suggestion.s f thgie-ytriht .s @r@ owt-ytrof .#@.is . twenty-eight @us.s@$@ roof s @v@ ruof . four @m@s. twenty-si.s@w@ neethgie .s@t@ .s@c@ thgie s@ a@ net nwod etir$ K Post Scriptum 4fter writing this column. ten 1s.is . si.@ neetruof.ty /@s. si.position of the idea of self-reproducing ideas that inhabit the brains +n 1iral #entences and #elf-)eplicating #tructures 89 . s.s@h@ ytriht s g@ neet.s y@ owt-ytriht .@ thgie-ytf.is-ytnewt .s@u@ thgie-ytnewt . seventy-si. @-@s. four @"s.s@K@ ruof . four @v s. four Cs.ty /@s and si. @l@s. forty-four @o@s. 4rel ?ucas suggested that the discipline that studies memes and their connections to humans and other potential carriers of them be !nown as memetics. eight @c@s. eighteen @firstname.lastname@example.org p@ ruof . aurice *ueron wrote me from Caris to tell me that he believed the first clear e.s@e@ owt-ytfif . by analogy with /genetics/.s@"@ ruof.
the /male/ fragment-the building rule. I propose the following. a -ungarian geneticist.of organisms was put forward in 199G by Cierre 4uger. >irst we alphabeti6e and deitalici6e her. 'ueron sent me a photocopy of the relevant portions. we should construct pairs of sentences or phrases. uplicate alphabetizing certainly doesn@t. Cerhaps a change in terminology is appropriate. that are open to a meme for getting itself reproduced over and over in the ideosphere Ea term ?ynch and I invented independentlyF. one male and one female-e. and sets to wor! on the female. duplicate female fragment in its original version. and the female fragment in an its #fter female fragment original version9 eitalicizing. a physicist at the #orbonne. to spea! anthropomorphically. In this boo!. in his boo! L'homme microscopi7ue. and I could indeed see how prophetic the boo! was. who in his spare time is writing a boo! called 4bstract Avolution. 5o better mimic nature. was provo!ed by the solutions to the 1on %eumann 'hallenge as follows" 5he notion that it ta!es two to reproduce is suggestive. he says7 that gives a new male fragment. and I loo! forward to its publication. 5he male fragment 4fter alphabeti6ing and deitalici6ing. 5he most thorough-going research on the topic of pure memetics I have yet run across is that of 4aron ?ynch. 5he portions that I have read go very carefully into the many /options/. I received a copy of the boo! General Theor4 of $volution by 1ilmos 'sdnyi.pressions that ta!en individually produce nothing but when put together in a dar! room ma!e copies of themselves. a mathematics graduate student. +n 1iral #entences and #elf-)eplicating #tructures 88 . 5he component that you call the /seed/ might be thought of as the /female/ fragment-the egg that grows into an adult. our sentences say everything twice because they are hermaphroditic" the male and female fragments appear together in the same individual. by the 4merican biologist 'arl 2. * * * Jay -oo!. EI follow your practice of assuming each punctuation mar! to be attached to the preceding word.F 5he male ta!es the lead. In this interpretation. It promises to be a provocative boo!. an engineering physicist at >ermilab in Illinois. doesn@t seem to say much by itself. #wanson. but let them at each other and watch the firewor!s. he attempts to wor! out a theory in which memes and genes evolve in parallel. but only after receiving instructions from the sperm. 4 similar attempt is made in the boo! $ver-$xpan ing 3orizons" The %ual &nformational Sources of 3uman $volution.
5o this point. $e can introduce variation. .5hen we simply ma!e a copy of her-so we get one of eachD %ature still doesn@t wor! this way. 'an you find a way to introduce variation in the males without producing sterile offspring3 In conclusion.. each offspring has been e. #urprisingly. and ta!e for the female if is an o : same in ex female fragment other5ise repro uce verbatim9 #lphabetize eitalicize +ne more refinement. at least in the girls. this isn@t hard.eitalicize is an 5he important point. depending on.ternal inde.<. is odd7 otherwise reproduce same verbatim. as follows. however. the day of the wee! or the parity of some e. are genetically capable of mating with any of the EidenticalF males. is odd7 otherwise randomly rearrange the words. Ideally. however diverse. but whereas one daughter might be in ex rearrange if the #lphabetize ran oml4 fragment o 5or s9 other5ise female another might be #lphabetize in ex an rearrange the fragment if female is o ran oml4 eitalicise 5or s9 : other5ise . our fragments should produce either a copy of the male or a copy of the female. say. in ex female 5or s9 fragment ran oml4 other5ise rearrange #lphabetize eitalicize %ow all of the boys will be the spittin@ image of their father.actly identical to one of its parents.8. li!e the integer part of the current (ow Jones Industrial 4verage. >emale fragment" if is an the o . 5a!e the male to be 4lphabeti6e and deitalici6e female fragment if inde.. 5herefore I proudly proclaim" It@s a girlD * * * +n 1iral #entences and #elf-)eplicating #tructures 8. ale fragment" 4lphabeti6e and deitalici6e female fragment if inde. allow me to observe that the (ow closed on >riday at 1<. is that all of these female offspring. of course7 it@s not clear that couples that produce offspring only in boy-girl pairs are really superior to self-replicating hermaphrodites.
een u.. twee email@example.com a@s. een o. %ow we@re tal!ingD +ver the past eight wee!s I have devoted every spare second to constructing this roc!et for e. vier . years to e. 6eventien n@s. Aven so it would ta!e 31. een !. #o in desperation. twee l@s. #allows sent me some material on his Cangram achine. floating /out there/ somewhere beyond the orbit of Cluto y favorite one is this" +n 1iral #entences and #elf-)eplicating #tructures 88 . een .-deep range it will ta!e ..treme when )udy =ousbroe!. een 0. which began with the word /AN)A=4D /-the word the Cangram achine was set up to print on success. ought to be pretty clearly understandable by anyone who ta!es the time to loo! at it carefully" (it pangram bevat vi.ourney when he comes to visit here at the end of this month. electronics engineer that he is. 4nd the end is already in sight.@s. -e says" 4t the heart of the beast is a cloc!-driven cascade of si. I got a most e.plore the ten-deep stratum. 6even r@s. elf v@s. -is . #allows.. 2ut does it have to be ten3 $ith this reduced to a modest but still very worthwhile si. decided he would design a high-speed dedicated /letter-crunching/ machine to search the far reaches of logological space for an e0uivalent Anglish sentence. acht w@s. In fact.. Avery attempt had some flaw in it. 6estien t@s.. 6esenveertig e@s. 5wo months later. twee firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com days. Avery tic! of the cloc! clic!s in a new combination of numbers" a uni0ue combination of counter output lines becomes activated . 5his indefatigable researcher of what he calls logological space continued his 0uest after the holy grail of perfect self-documentation. twee h@s... vierentwintig s@s. $ith a bit of luc! )udy =ousbroe! will be able to launch the machine on its 3G-day .cited transmission from ?ee.f f @s. vi. If so. a bottle of champagne will not be out of place. who is (utch. and it drove #allows mad that he couldn@t come up with an e0ually perfect pangram Esentence containing every letter of the alphabetF in Anglish. you can learn how to count in (utch by studying itD 5here@s not an ounce of fat or aw!wardness in this sentence. drie d@s. twee c@s. =ousbroe! and -art@s self-documenting sentence. and #arah -art. who is Anglish. Cilot tests have been surprisingly encouraging7 it loo!s as though a cloc! fre0uency of a million combinations per second is 0uite realistic.teen Johnson-counters" the electronic analogue of a stepper-motor-driven stac! of combination loc!-discs. een y.I now close by returning to ?ee #allows. twee b@s. vier g@s. en 6es 6@s. -e then presented three pangrams that his machine had discovered. $ill it really fly3 #o far it loo!s very promising.ust 3G. vi.ewel the world has ever seen/. though in (utch.ploring the far regions of logological space . together tossed off what #allows terms /the greatest logological .ealousy was aroused in the e.
-olland. 89G9 )$ %i. no parallel processingF. see the postscript to 'hapter 18. eight h@s. one !. >or my reasons.5his pangram tallies five a@s. Aither Band@ or BQ@ is permissible. I e. two L@s. fifteen +@s. seven r@s. two firstname.lastname@example.orgF to the sentence beginning. one 0. eight fs. three l@s.. %ow that@s what I call a success for mechanical translationD #allows writes" /I wager ten guilders that nobody will succeed in producing a perfect self-documenting solution Eor proof of its non-e. twenty-eight e@s. twenty-five s@s. eighteen email@example.com as in the above pangrams. four v@s.@within the ne.t ten years. +n 1iral #entences and #elf-)eplicating #tructures 89 . two p@s. four y@s. thirteen i@s. one c. uch though I am delighted by #allows@ ingenious machine and his pluc!y challenge. and one 6. at 2uurmansweg 3<.. 5he format to be e. one . B5his computer-generated pangram contains . si.pect him to lose his wager before you can say /)aphael )obinson/. t@s. >ancy your chances3/ 4nyone who wants to write to #allows can do so. nine w@s. %o tric!s allowed. g@s. twenty-two.. one b.clusively by von %eumann architecture digital computer Eno super computers. two d@s. four u@s. )esult to be derived e.