Article: Intro to Evolutionary Epidemiology of Ideas

Date: Wed 09 Jul 2003 - 03:16:55 GMT

  • Next message: Keith Henson: "RE: Silent memes"

    I have done a short (7 page) essay introducing my work on the evolutionary epidemiology of ideas in the newsletter
    _The Biological Physicist_, which is the newsletter of the Division of Biological Physics of the American Physical Society. The URL is .

    As noted in my recent discussion with Keith Henson, my use of terminology is not intended to promote some kind of taboo against "the M word" (meme). Since the time you and I discussed the definition back in 1996, some definitions that are more radically contrary to each other have emerged. A widespread perception has developed that memeticists are being evasive about the definition, or that the sharply contrary definitions reflect fundamental conceptual or theoretical flaws, or even that the theory depends upon having this particular word. This creates some reasons for relying on other terms, and for making sure that those terms are explicitly defined. Currently, I am using the phrase "thought contagion" to denote "A memory item, or portion of an organism's neurally-stored information, identified using the abstraction system of the observer, whose instantiation depended critically on causation by prior instantiation of the same memory item in one or more other organisms' nervous systems." However, it is not necessary for me to use the term "thought contagion." I find the term convenient, but there is nothing sacred about it. I could just as well attach some other term to the same definition. I do not think that scientific terms (including "meme" and "thought contagion") should be treated as brands, complete with brand loyalty ideas.

    The theoretical paradigm I propose does not depend upon having the particular phrase "thought contagion," and I could, if I wanted to, rephrase all of my work without it. For those who prefer the word "meme," I recommend including a copy of your own preferred formal definition in each article -- perhaps at least as a footnote. I should add that that this would also be a good idea for articles using the term "thought contagion." As I mentioned earlier, it might even be wise for people on this list to include the particular definitions they use in a signature file for all messages that use the term. I would recommend this even for people using the OED definition of the word "meme."

    --Aaron Lynch

    Thought Contagion Science Page:

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