Introductory Antimemetics (abandoned first draft)

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.


Good morning.

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.

Discussion (13)

2020-08-20 20:33:11 by John F:

The end stinger is great. You can't make that joke anymore, because now you realize you are in a world where it may not BE a joke, and the implications of that are terrifying.

2020-08-20 22:13:42 by Ross_Presser:

Lunch? It seems like it's time for lunch but I'm not hungry? Maybe the Incident was *AT* lunch.

2020-08-20 23:55:04 by Tim Mc.:

Well written, and enjoyable, but you're right that showing worked better than telling.

2020-08-21 11:44:47 by Maria Szegedy:

Hi! I intended to leave this comment on "Champions of Nothing", but… well, now that I've been reminded to do it again, i'm going to take yet another stab at it. You surely have already received comments like this over the years, but I know I won't be content until I have one of my own to refer to. I have dissociative identity disorder, a rather severe memory disorder which makes not only my episodic memory unreliable, but my hour-to-hour goals and motivations as well. I have been reading your stories since before my earliest memories; this is not saying much, but according to my declarative memory, it must have been around when Fine Structure was finished. I've always (?) thought that your antimemetics themes were among your most interesting, since far before I knew I had DID, and maybe even before (I knew?) I had very bad issues with memory loss at all. Uh. I'm going to tone down the hedging now. One paragraph illustrating my complete lack of certainty about my life and self is enough. My point is, your stories about severe, unpredicatble memory loss developed alongside mine. I probably learned a lot of how I deal with my disorder from how your antimemetics division deals with their own issues. Or, maybe not. What I know for sure, however, is that the antimemetics division is doing it right. The only way to work around this level of inconsistency in your situation and knowledge is to develop inviolable rules for yourself, ones which are useful enough to provide a way for you to rely on and help your past and future selves, even though they are different people who have no idea who you might be. When you count things that you know of or happened to you, you have to expect that you're lucky if you even remember half of them; I've taken to quoting Marion from "We Need to Talk About 55": "Ten that I know of. Statistically, probably at least five more that I don't know of." You have to get over the fact that you can lose literally any part of yourself at any moment (DID also interferes with procedural memory, and to a lesser extent declarative); you have to rely on your own predictability, that if you did something in the past, you can do it again. These really are all incredibly important heuristics and practices, and I *must* have learned some of them from you. I must have. I don't think I would change a thing about your Antimemetics Division tales, if I read through them again and had the opportunity. I doubt they are perfect, but the idiom that the perfect is the enemy of the good is similarly a vital lesson when you have very limited amounts of time to finish things before forgetting about them. So, I'm going to finish this message now. I wish I could have been more touching, less clinical, more human. I wish that I could make you properly appreciate just how much your writings mean to me, and that you would walk away with an understanding of what my life is like. You certainly have a better shot at it than most. But, like I said, experiences and memories are the least permanent things they are. So, I have to be happy with this much. Thank you for everything, Sam.

2020-08-22 17:17:24 by qntm:

I am very pleased to hear that my writing helped you in that way. Thank you for reading!

2020-08-31 17:21:20 by SilasLock:

Hi! I never got a chance to comment once the final chapter of 55555 was posted, but never late than never! Reading your antimemetics division stories has been an incredible experience. You've done such narratively unique things with the series, and I wanted to thank you personally for taking us all on such a wild ride. If There Is No Antimemetics Division/55555 was your magnum opus as a writer, then I'm thrilled that I got to experience it. And if it's not, I'm eager to see whatever you do next! I don't give this compliment lightly, but I think you may have outdone Isaac Asimov. *salutes* On a side note: the chapter you posted here feels like it could be modified to be a neat stand-alone story on the antimemetics division hub. Is there any chance it'll eventually migrate its way there?

2020-08-31 18:22:21 by qntm:

Thank you for kind comments. I have no plans to port this to the SCP Foundation wiki itself. As explained, the actual chapter Introductory Antimemetics covers much the same material in a much more interesting way.

2022-06-03 00:26:20 by Billy:

As many have already, I wanted to use this page to praise your writing style and thank you for taking me on the adventure that is the antimemetics division tales!

2022-06-09 09:05:39 by Mirit Hirsh-Nuri:

I finished reading "There Is No Antimemetics Division" yesterday - downloaded it to my Kindle 5 minutes after a good friend recommended it. It took me just a couple of days to complete it (and I almost had no spare time, so this is quite remarkable). Now it goes on a very short list of books that I simply couldn't put down (Small Gods, Ender's Game, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, and Ready Player One). Your book is SO good that I immediately sent recommendations to read it to my family and friends, so basically, spreading it like a meme :)  This chapter that you published here is fantastic. If you ever decide to write a sequel (or a prequel) to "There Is No Antimemetics Division" (maybe one about the Memetics Division?) - this is actually a great prologue. In conclusion, thank you so much for publishing your work, I have enjoyed it immensely. 

2022-10-20 18:12:17 by Aaaaaaaaaaa:

What joke ? I feel like I'm loosing my mind. Did everyone else immediately get it? Is it asking "what joke ?" the joke ? Is it the "person a says 'pretend this conversation never happened'. Person b responds 'What conversation?' " trope? Is it "the game"? Where you referencing something going around the internet at the time , something now hidden under years of cultural development? Maybe it's an antimeme and it got me lol. That would explain why i can wrap my head around it. Is that the point ? Making a reference to a joke that doesn't exist so the reader feels like he's being affected by an antimeme? Wait, by having no idea what the joke was, I joked about it being an antimeme... Is that the joke ????? Things are getting self-referential, help .

2024-02-06 09:38:20 by James:

*That* joke is "what's going on" or "where am I" or "who are you" and you don't make these jokes because its equivalent to pretending something has nuts in it and opening it in front of somebody who's allergic to nuts

2024-02-07 12:12:14 by James:

you should imo

2024-02-16 13:26:28 by ryankrage77:

My understanding of the part about 'what joke?' is that once you've been introduced to antimemetics, it's no longer a joke. The joke is gone, much like a lost memory. "What was funny? What was I laughing at?".

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