This was the first draft of what eventually became Introductory Antimemetics. This dates from March 2015.
I ditched this draft for one major reason: having someone just explain the concept of the asynchronous research loop is much less interesting than showing a real, scared human being experience it in a live scenario. I never considered this draft properly "finished"... it clearly needs some fine-tuning.
Some of this draft is, I guess, technically canon. Most of the factual (anti)memetics-related information here is still "correct" and relevant to the actual published stories. I wanted to bring the anomalously forgettable rubber duck back but never succeeded. And, the Antimemetics Division does indeed have a strict rule against joking about memory loss, which for them is akin to releasing almond extract in a chemistry laboratory. However, not everything here is canon. In the actual chapter, neither Geoff Ijk nor Alex Gauss appear. Alex Gauss eventually appears in Where Have You Been All My Life as a Mobile Task Force lead, not a research chief. I never used the name "Geoff Ijk" and maybe never will.
I said, good morning.
Hey! Shut up! God. Welcome to the Antimemetics division, I'm Alex Gauss, I've been research chief of this department for the last six years. Also in the room is Geoff Ijk who's been our operations and task force lead for the last ten years. Do not ask me to spell his name, it is written out in block capitals on his site pass which you can clearly see from where you're sitting. In general terms, if it takes place inside this building, I'm in charge of it, if it takes place outside this building, Ijk is in charge of it. All of us answer to the mythical Wheeler, of course, but you already knew that. If you have questions during this session, please put your hand up immediately, do *not* hold your question until the end of the session, you will forget it. Yes?
Yes, that's hilarious.
Here's what you already know.
A meme is an idea with properties which make it more likely to be shared. It is an idea with viral properties, an idea with an in-built mechanism which causes people who possess this idea to spread the idea to other people. A meme is an idea which replicates.
All of you were born outside of the Foundation, in the blissfully ignorant "free world", where you will have encountered and contracted numerous wholly non-anomalous memes of varying infectious power. I'll give you some examples of memes. Christianity. Islam. Atheism. Democracy. Capitalism. Communism. Pyramid schemes. Ponzi schemes. Multi-level marketing schemes. Fads. Fashions. Catchy tunes. Gossip.
Most intangible aspects of human society are memes. Agriculture, the practice, is a meme. Urbanization, the idea of cities, is a meme. Human civilisation itself is a meme — it is an idea which has engulfed the whole world, because it is a good idea and it is more effective than its competitors. Language itself, the transmission vector for all memes, is a meme. Speech. Writing. English, Swahili. ASL.
A meme is an idea. A meme is never a physical object. A meme can inspire the construction of physical objects, and physical objects are necessary to propagate memes. This is not the same thing.
An antimeme is an idea with properties which make it less likely to be shared. It is an idea with self-censoring properties, an idea with a built-in mechanism which causes people who possess this idea not to spread it.
Non-anomalous antimemes, also, exist. The simplest antimemes are ideas which are simply impossible for humans to remember, such as long sequences of random numbers, or the precise shape of snow on a CRT screen. More complex antimemes are coherent ideas which are too boring to be memorable: complex passwords, obscure details, large volumes of tax law. After this come the memorable but repulsive ideas. Dirty secrets. Conspiracies. Terrible thoughts. Things which if you spoke about them, you'd be ostracised, or locked away, or attacked.
Welcome to the Foundation. You already work inside the world's largest non-anomalous antimeme.
Memes and antimemes exist at opposite ends of a long sliding scale which is extremely subjective. One person's antimeme is another's meme. An idea which one person desperately wants to keep a secret may be an idea which, for the same reason, another person desperately wants to share with as many others as possible.
All of this remains true and straightforward if we stay on the blissfully ignorant side of the curtain, the half of the world which respects what I call "schoolroom science". Unfortunately, this is not the half of the world where you are employed. Now let's talk about the barbed stuff.
An anomalous meme is a meme with anomalous properties, such as being anomalously difficult for a host to get rid of, creating anomalous effects in the real world including in the host, spreading anomalously quickly, or spreading by anomalous i.e. undetectable vectors.
Yes, we in the Foundation store anomalous memes. Hundreds of them, some of them also cognitohazardous.
Those are different things, by the way. A meme is an idea which is virulent. A cognitohazard is an idea which is dangerous. Most memes are not cognitohazardous; most cognitohazards are not memetic. Memetic cognitohazards are really God-damned dangerous and fortunately almost none of these exist. I can't give you any examples, of course, without hurting you.
Yes, you can go to the database and search by dangerous keywords. Fortunately, you won't have the clearance to view those files, because none of you have passed the relevant training. This is good, because in the case of some cognitohazards, reading the files hurts you, and in the case of some memes, reading the files causes the meme to infect you.
An anomalous antimeme is an antimeme with anomalous properties, such as being anomalously difficult to record, remember or transmit, creating anomalous effects in the real world including in the host, or simply disappearing from hosts for anomalous reasons. A host is an entity capable of storing an idea. Normally "host" means "human being", but some people extend the definition to include all forms of recording media, including computer memory systems of all kinds, camera film, pens and paper, even sound and electromagnetic waves in transit.
At the beginning of this meeting there was an object on my desk, in plain view. I did not mention it, but you all saw it, and when I started talking I put the object in this box. You all watched me do this. The object is still in the box. What is it?
...None of you remember. Why do you think that is? Maybe I'm lying, and there's nothing in the box. Maybe I'm lying, and there's something in the box, but it was already in the box when you came in. Or maybe I'm telling the truth, and something's messing with your memory to make it so you can't remember.
Now, tell me. What is in the box? Without leaving your seats. You can't look inside it. I'm not going to tell you what it is. You don't have equipment to scan its contents. You can't touch it. You don't know its weight, or what it sounds like when it rattles. How would you find out? Yes?
Pull the security camera footage, that's a great idea. There's a camera there, and another one over here behind my shoulder. As luck would have it, though, none of you are cleared for that. Only Mr. Ijk and I are. Try again.
...So think laterally. Work around the problem. You haven't seen the object. But another person has seen it. That person is you, except that there is a discontinuity in your memories. How can you get that person's memories? How can you collaborate with your past self?
I still see a lot of blank faces. How about a hint? Some of you have been here before. This is not your first Introductory Antimemetics. You lost your memories in a capital-I Incident, and now you're being retrained.
Holden gets it. I see a figurative light bulb over Holden's head. Holden goes to her terminal... Holden goes back through her calendar! Holden finds the previous time she attended Introductory Antimemetics with me, the illustrious and informative Alex Gauss! And a note from herself to herself from when I opened the box last time!
Correct! It's a duck! Observe: I open the box, and here we have an anomalously forgettable yellow rubber duck. Soaked in aerosol amnestic. Her name is Belinda.
LESSON ONE. Anything you do, anything you say, anything you see, anyone you meet and anywhere you go, you may well have done, said, seen, met and gone before. If you run into something which you believe to have anomalous antimemetic properties, inside or outside of the lab, your immediate first thought must be: "This is not the first time. This has happened before. Possibly to me, possibly to others with similar training to me."
This changes your objective. It puts your tasks into perspective. You are no longer necessarily a lone agent investigating a brand new phenomenon; you are one of a series of agents participating in an extended, asynchronous collaborative investigation. Whoever they are, they are likely to have left their work, incomplete, somewhere that you can find it. Don't start over from scratch, go and find it. Some of those earlier agents are you, so, where would you leave work so that you can find it again? Learn routines. Learn predictability. Learn to think like yourself. This is not as easy as most people think! And it's too bad about your free will.
LESSON TWO: at the same time as all of this is happening, you are the past self, and it's the poor amnesiac saps in the future who have to pick up where you left off. This is what I'm training you to do, right now, by the way. Log it. Do it, right now. Write down "Gauss is weird, and it's a rubber duck," and put it where you know you'll find it. In a real-world situation, you won't necessarily have a working portable device with connectivity to the Foundation network, which means you'll need to improvise — pen on paper, pen on your own skin, chalk or charcoal on the wall, or even — and I don't want to get grisly and clichéd, but this has really happened and lives have been saved — your own blood. On the floor. While you die.
You will be back. Some of you will be back again, I guarantee it. Some of you won't.
...One other thing. One last rule: You do not make that joke. You know the one I mean.
Memory is everything; there is nothing more dangerous than the things which we have forgotten. Inconsistencies between what we perceive and what we believe are life-or-death serious. You do not make that joke.
"What were we just talking about?" you ask. "What joke?"
And I answer: "That joke."
Okay, and that's lunch.