Re: Robert Aunger's THE ELECTRIC MEME

Date: Sun 20 Oct 2002 - 16:43:04 GMT

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    The 10/19/2002 repost of the archive-lost message Re: some computed reading levels of book portions Was connected to a series of other archive-lost messages made under the subject heading Re: Robert Aunger's THE ELECTRIC MEME

    I re-post one of those messages below, since it records the fact that I publicly objected to the
    "meme-enthusiast" label. I would rather not have that label re-emerge in reference to me, but if it does, I prefer to have my earlier rejection remain in at least one archive.

    Note that the message re-posted still reflects the uncorrected, software-generated reading levels. The correct Flesch-Kincaid levels for Aunger and Lynch as listed in The 10/19/2002 repost of the archive-lost message "Re: some computed reading levels of book portions" are:

    > Aaron Lynch, _Thought Contagion_, chapter 1:
    > Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level = 12.9.
    > Robert Aunger, _The Electric Meme_, chapter 1:
    > Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level = 12.6.

    --Aaron Lynch

    RE-POST: Subj: Re: Robert Aunger's THE ELECTRIC MEME Date: 7/3/2002 3:39:48 PM Central Daylight Time From: Sender: Reply-to: To: CC: (Robert Aunger)

    In a message dated 6/24/2002 1:22:02 AM Central Daylight Time, writes:

    > In a message dated 6/23/2002 11:49:43 PM Central Daylight Time,
    > writes:
    > > On 23 Jun 2002 at 23:52, wrote:
    > >
    > > > In a message dated 6/23/2002 3:22:14 PM Central Daylight Time,
    > > > Aaron Lynch writes:
    > > >
    > > > > In a message dated 6/21/2002 4:32:34 PM Central Daylight Time,
    > > > > writes:
    > > > >
    > > > > > I got my copy of Robert Aunger's THE ELECTRIC MEME today,
    > > > > > and it is shaping up as a fascinating read. Aunger is, if
    > > > > > the editor of the collection DARWINIZING CULTURE.
    > > > > >
    > > > >
    > > > > Thanks for notifying us of the book's release, Joe.
    > > > >
    > > > > --Aaron Lynch
    > > >
    > > > I have not yet seen a copy of THE ELECTRIC MEME, but I did read the
    > > > sample material at Robert Aunger's web site, and look forward to
    reading the
    > > > rest of the book.
    > > >
    > > > One point of wording did catch my attention, namely, the professional
    > > > (amateur?) label "meme-enthusiast," a term that also appeared in
    > > > Kendall and Laland's 2000 Journal of Memetics article.
    > > >While the latter paper referred to unnamed
    > > > "meme enthusiasts," Aunger's text actually refers to me by name as
    > > > a "meme-enthusiast." I am not sure exactly what a "meme-enthusiast"
    > > > or is, if it is meant
    > > > to signify something other than a "memeticist" -- a term also used in
    > > > Aunger's text. "Meme-enthusiast" may, however, strike readers as
    > > > suggesting someone whose involvement is mainly on a euphoric,
    > > > flamboyant, popular, emotionally
    > > > zealous, or amateur nature rather than on a scientific level. While
    > > > there certainly are writers who qualify for such a description,
    > > > I do not think of myself as being one of them. It is true that my
    > > > Thought Contagion was written on a popular level, but I also told
    > > > Aunger last July 11 about some highly technical and academic
    > > > works of mine that are clearly not written for popular consumption.
    > > > These are the papers "Units, Events, and Dynamics in the Evolutionary
    > > > Epidemiology of Ideas" and "Evolutionary Contagion in Mental
    > > > Software." Together, these two papers alone are longer
    > > > (in word count) than my book Thought Contagion, and I have
    > > > other academic/technical papers preceding and following Thought
    > > > Contagion. (Some of my cultural replicator papers do not even use the
    > > > word "meme.") By analogy, one might consider the effect of referring
    > > > Leon M. Lederman as a "prominent quark-enthusiast" on account of his
    > > > trade-published books being written on a popular level. The term
    > > > "quark-enthusiast" doesn't quite work for Leon M. Lederman, even
    > > > he does repeatedly use the word "quark" in his works. If someone as
    > > > prominent as Robert Aunger uses the term "meme-enthusiast" without
    > > > likewise using terms such as "gene-enthusiast" or "prion-enthusiast,"
    > > > readers are apt to conclude that even Aunger does not take memetics as
    > > > seriously as he takes the other fields.
    > > >
    > > "Units, events and dynamics in memetic evolution" and "Thought
    > > contagion as abstract evolution" are included, along with THOUGHT
    > > CONTAGION, in the ELECTRIC MEME bibliography, while Brodie's
    > > book is his only citation there. I do agree, however, that he seems to
    > > place Dawkins, Blackmore and Dennett in one category, and Richard
    > > Brodie and yourself in another, more popular one. His position on the
    > > locus of memes (internal vs. external), however, adheres with your
    > > perspective rather than with Derek Gatherer's.
    > Thanks, Joe.
    > Yes, I also appreciate the fact that he places locus of memes on the
    > internal side, even as he must know that this could get him in hot water
    > with Gatherer and others.
    > Still, the most rigorous of my works are on a much more technical and
    > mathematical level than anything I have seen from Dawkins, Dennett,
    > Blackmore, or Aunger on this subject. If I were to start calling all
    > of these people "meme-enthusiasts," perhaps they would understand
    > my point. Richard Brodie, as far as I know, has only done memetics
    > writing on a popular level -- and he has explicitly told me that he is not
    > an academic. I have no idea whether he is comfortable with the term
    > "meme-enthusiast."
    > Robert Aunger has respected the academic views of Douglas Hofstadter
    > enough to solicit his opinion of DARWINIZING CULTURE last summer.
    > The way I know that is that Hofstadter sent me a copy of his reply to
    > Aunger, (without a copy of Aunger's original message). Hofstader's
    > reply reads as follows:
    > Date: Wed, 22 Aug 2001 08:52:12 -0600
    > From: Douglas Hofstadter <snip>
    > Subject: Re: Read meme book?
    > "Dear Dr. Aunger,
    > Thanks for your note. Unfortunately, I can't devote time to looking
    > at your book. I would suggest Aaron Lynch ( as a potential
    > reader; he is, as you most likely know, a significant author in the
    > memetics field and a very penetrating thinker. I wish you all the best
    > with your book, and regret not being able to help you out in any way.
    > Sincerely,
    > Douglas Hofstadter.
    > Hofstadter's comments are based on both technical and popular
    > types of material I have sent to him over the years, including
    > technical papers now at (Some other
    > well-known critical thinkers have made similar comments,
    > though probably not to Aunger.) In any case, the body of my
    > work should not be characterized as popular simply because
    > my most widely read work is on a popular level. Again, I would
    > encourage looking to the huge discrepancy in reading level
    > between the popular and technical works of physicists, for
    > instance.

    I should clarify that when I say "It is true that my book Thought Contagion was written on a popular level, ..." I do not mean that it is on a "popular level" by the standards of the trade book publishing industry.

    There is a relatively impartial way of assessing the reading level of various book authors. This is to take their introductory chapters from the web and run them through a program that generates readability and grade- level statistics. Such a program comes with Microsoft Word, for instance, as part of its grammar package. It computes a
    "Flesch-Kinkaid" reading level based on such things as grammatical complexity, sentence length, word length, and the like. It does not, of course, tell the difference between gobbledygook and erudite prose, nor between good science or falsification. But it's impartiality may be useful in gauging the reading levels of authors.

    For chapter 1 of Thought Contagion, the software generates a "Flesch-Kinkaid" grade level of 12.0, equivalent to high- school graduate or beginning college undergraduate. This is exactly the same grade level as it computes for the first chapter of Aunger's The Electric Meme. Thus, it makes no more sense for Aunger to imply that my book is populist, light, airy, or breezy than it does for me to say the same of his book. The other book author that Aunger puts into the populist category is Brodie, for whom the first chapter of Virus of the Mind gets a "Flesch-Kinkaid" grade level of 9.6 -- a high school sophomore level.

    In my opinion, it makes more sense for me to categorize Aunger as a populist and "meme-enthusiast" than for him to categorize me that way.

    --Aaron Lynch

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