The Darmok & Jalad at Tanagra meme may give us a clue as to the usefulness of macro images in evolving towards telepathic communication.
If there is anybody out there who has been as critical of memes – as in macro images and repetitive tropes shared online, and not the study of memetics, which I have also written about – then I have yet to meet them. There is an entire period of my writing where criticism of memes and the reductionism they are predicated on were central to everything.
However, at the same time as I was writing that, I was also fancying the notion that intelligence is itself intrinsically good and the central goal of humanity. Oh silly me!
Recently I have been more concerned with abstraction, a habit which seems to arise from language. Here I would differentiate language from communication. Language uses specific symbols and signals to communicate not just about objects, but ideas about objects, and even ideas about ideas. It goes beyond survival utility to create a framework of communication in which abstraction adds to the complexity and growth of the language itself. Language may have long surpassed being a mere tool and instead become a living system of its own.
Language seems particularly prone to deception as it is abstraction. Even outside of language, we can see that abstraction and deception often work together when communicating. The peacock raises its plumes to deceive a potential predator and convince it that the peacock is this abstractly large thing, and not just a frail little bird.
Our complex human languages excel in abstraction and deception for the very reason that they reference ideas about things and ideas, and not just things themselves. For this reason language is not only good at deceiving others, but deceiving ones self. And if language has become a living system, a memetic entity of its own right, it would be in its own best interest to have us in denial of the potential flaws and dangers contained in itself.
As a result in this turn of thinking, I have begun to speculate more and more on telepathic communication and what that would entail, as sort of a salvation from this mess of decepetion and compulsive abstraction. When I discuss telepathy I will be referring to the ability to transmit information, not to openly view all the contents of one another’s minds.
My intuition here is that any such form of communication would be relatively simple. Rather than the semantic and semiotic complexity of language, direct communication of thoughts would more likely involve the transmission of images, feelings and impressions. They would rely more heavily on references than on abstractions and be highly reductionist.
Enter the Darmok & Jalad at Tanagra meme.
The language of the Tamarians, from which that phrase is derived, is predicated entirely on communicating through references. Historical phenomena are reduced to a shared understanding of their meaning, and used as references points for communicating the state and intent of the communicator in the present.
This is exactly what memes do. You post an article in social media. In the comments a friend posts a picture. This picture shows a well-known actor from a popular movie making an expression which is supposed to communicate how the article makes them feel. It communicates their state and intent in reductionist manner
Tamarian language uses historical reference points. Memes use visual reference points mulled from popular culture. And both of them function a lot like how I imagine telepathic communication might.
So the question is, are memes a mean to an end, and is that end telepathy?
Will we one day cease communicative abstractions and transmit direct images, feelings and impressions through some mental process, perhaps facilitated through the appearance of a technology? And are memes part of that evolutionary process and not the terrible virus I have been warning about?
I don’t know.
However, in the meantime, just because they might have a function that leads to a worthwhile outcome, that doesn’t mean I have to like memes. I am still aesthetically opposed to them and other forms of communicative reductionism. Many crude human behaviors eventually left us for the better, but that doesn’t mean the behaviors themselves had positive value outside of those outcomes.
The ends justify the use of the means, not the means themselves.