Mere human perspective is not enough.

The nature of our universe can be summed up in one word: evolution.

In broad terms, evolution is the process by which complexity is naturally accumulated and refined from chaos. Whether through hydrogen atoms coming together to form the stars, which in turn gave rise to the galaxies; heavier elements coalescing into the planets and other celestial bodies; or most famously, simple organic compounds giving rise to life; all of these processes are marked by simplistic origins which, when subjected to the forces of entropy, undergo a series of transformations at great energetic cost, the end result of which is new and more complex forms. Some of these processes, such as the collisional selection of worlds in the accretion disk of a new star, are simply the result of the laws of physics rearranging matter with plodding inevitability. This is fascinating enough in a distant and fairly abstract way, but the thing that really captures our attention is the process to which we owe our own existence: the evolution of life by means of natural selection.

For more than 3.5 billion years of Earth’s history, the key unit of information upon which natural selection acted was the gene – the chemical code that defined all forms of life on the planet. The primary goal of all organisms is reproduction, in order to pass the genetic material they carry on to the next generation, thus ensuring its continued survival. Organisms live and die, but their genes are immortal. Following this pattern, life has produced untold myriad forms, and has effectively conquered every habitable environment on the planet.

But more recently, geologically speaking, a new system of information transfer began to arise. Necessarily, it began in simple forms: the learned song of a particular group of birds, unique even compared to other members of their species; the learned hunting patterns of a pod of dolphins forced to adapt their instinctive behaviour to unique environmental circumstances; the basic tool use of primates, including early humans and their immediate ancestors and kin. Like many other animals, these organisms were employing nervous systems complex enough to absorb and retain information directly from the environment. But they also added another key element into this equation: through behavioural imitation, they developed a means with which to pass this information from one generation to the next, providing the mechanism of endless replication that inevitably leads to evolution by natural selection. This gave them the ability to bypass the laborious process of genetic evolution, and rapidly develop new strategies for dealing with their environment – naturally, a very advantageous adaptation.

This new type of information can be described in terms of “memes”, which are analogous to genes, but take the form of patterns of thought in the minds of the organisms which possess them (or perhaps, are possessed by them, depending on your perspective) rather than strings of nucleotides on a DNA molecule. The term was first put forward by Richard Dawkins in his book “The Selfish Gene”, as a way of describing cultural evolution – which essentially means all behaviour that cannot be attributed to genes alone. And there is, of course, one species on this planet which has taken cultural evolution to wholly unprecedented levels.

It is our symbiotic relationship with memes, through brains specifically evolved to collect and even manufacture them, that has allowed humans to become the dominant species on Earth today.

The human journey has been defined by the co-evolution of memes alongside it, from the humble beginnings of simple tool mastery and the taming of fire, through the increasingly complex development of language, agriculture, technology, philosophy and indeed civilisation itself, right up until the modern age, where memes are so wildly abundant that “information overload” is a common complaint voiced by people worldwide. It is this journey, and some of the trials and tribulations and odd little insights it has thrown up along the way, that I will be exploring and reflecting upon in the comics on this website.

 

ARTIST

Microscopes are just exaggerated monocles.

This comic is just drawn by some guy, you know, it’s not like he’s a scientist or anything (in fact he didn’t even finish high school he is currently studying at university! Hooray!). He just likes to draw comics about science, because science is the most interesting thing to draw comics about – much more interesting than, like, superheroes or garfields or whatever.

In addition to this comic, Tim also draws Comical Interlude and its off-shoot, the B-Roll. Because of this, and also his black belt (4th Dan) in procrastination, none of his comics have a regular update schedule – but you can follow his twitter to see what he is up to, and perhaps send him some gentle encouragement to actually draw some friggin’ comics and leave all the videogames alone for a while.

Whenever you notice any factual errors in his work, just email him at earthcow (at) gmail (dot) com and he will happily redraw the comic, give you a writer’s credit for your input, and provide you with some sort of monetary compensation for your time and effort.

If we work together, we can do this.