[FoRK] Memes, Genes, and Cenes

Gregory Alan Bolcer greg at bolcer.org
Thu Mar 15 09:05:48 PDT 2018

Memes Are The Future CONNIE CHOY
<https://viterbischool.usc.edu/author/choyc/> | February 28, 2018

Len Adleman, recent inductee to the National Inventors Hall of Fame, talks
Internet memes and helps protect e-commerce as we know it.


Imagine you’ve finally convinced yourself to take the plunge and buy the
Amazon Echo you’ve been secretly wanting on Amazon.com. You’re on the
checkout page and select the ‘one-click purchase’ button since this is
clearly not your first purchase on Amazon and all your credit card
information is already saved. Now all you have to do is wait patiently
until you see that beautiful, brown cardboard box delivered to your

Most of us don’t even think twice about providing our credit card
information to an e-commerce site like Amazon, let alone having it saved on
our account for future use.

We can thank Leonard Adleman
<https://viterbi.usc.edu/directory/faculty/Adleman/Leonard> for that.

Adleman, a Turing Award
winner and USC Henry Salvatori Professor of Computer Science, co-created
the RSA cryptography system <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b57zGAkNKIc>
in 1977, the first public-key cryptography method for securing
communication on the Internet. This has made it safe for communicating
private information online, like credit card numbers and home addresses.
Adleman’s scientific achievements have graced him with critical acclaim and
recognition, most recently from the National Inventors Hall of Fame
<http://www.invent.org/>. He is one of 15 inductees in 2018 to share this

When I interviewed Adleman for this article, I was first curious to
understand how he manages setbacks in his career of research – a world
where setbacks are relentless. His answer: “Look in your toolbox.”

Adleman, who famously said, “mathematics is less related to accounting than
it is to philosophy,” believes through life’s experiences we are able to
collect different tools necessary to deal with professional and personal
problems. One of his own tools is called the “Hassle Fund Tool,” a term
Adleman coined when he was an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley.

The core idea of this tool is to discern whether or not a problem is worth
dealing with. Be prepared to cut your losses if it’s not. The story behind
it comes from a Lake Tahoe ski trip Adleman took with his college friends.

The then 20-year-old Adleman stopped by a gas station to rent tire chains
for the snow, and it wasn’t until he reached the summit that he realized he
was given the wrong-sized chains. An attempt to jerry-rig them to fit his
tires only succeeded in removing paint from his Volvo. Frustrated, Adleman
went back to the gas station only to be met with a nonchalant employee who
still charged him the $40 rental fee. Disagreement ensued. Adleman paid.
Even though he knew he was right, $40 was still cheaper than further
emotional distress and frustration. Adleman, now 72, still picks up the
Hassle Fund Tool whenever he needs it.

These days Adleman enjoys playing with his grandkids and recreational
boxing with world champion trainer Ming Freeman. He also has no plans to
step away from his favorite hobby, one that he has admittedly accrued over
70,000 hours of work – research. His latest project revolves around memes
(yes, including the Internet ones). But Adleman’s research focuses on the
broader idea of memes, which he calls “prenes.” Prenes include memes, but
also beliefs, genes and “cenes” (Adleman’s term for data information in

In his upcoming book “Memes, Genes, and Cenes,
due to be published later this year, Adleman explains that prenes are
essentially “alive.” They experience the same reproduction, mutation and
extinction as biological beings. They obey the same Darwinian theory of
evolution (survival of the fittest).

This idea of prenes bridges the world of humanities and the world of
science – arguably two worlds that are like oil and water – and provides a
foundation to better understand human behavior and where it can lead.

For example, do you identify as a Republican, Democrat or independent? None
of the above? Are you religiously Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu or
Muslim? Do you practice veganism, vegetarianism or are you an avid
carnivore? Our personal beliefs are part of these larger prene constructs
that are using us in their struggle to survive. In Adleman’s words, we are
all unconscious “prene-warriors” servicing very old prene-sets, be they
mental belief systems or biological genes.

Now, remember the Hassle Fund Tool from earlier in this article? Well that
is a prene, and it has moved from Adleman’s brain to yours. Consider
yourself officially a part of the Adleman-belief prene-set. Whether or not
you help it evolve is up to you.

greg at bolcer.org, http://bolcer.org, c: +1.714.928.5476

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