Re: The necessity of mental memes

Date: Tue Jan 22 2002 - 01:47:37 GMT

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    Subject: Re: The necessity of mental memes
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    In a message dated 1/21/2002 3:55:00 PM Central Standard Time, Scott Chase
    <> writes:

    > >From: "Grant Callaghan" <>
    > >Reply-To:
    > >To:
    > >Subject: Re: The necessity of mental memes
    > >Date: Mon, 21 Jan 2002 07:40:31 -0800
    > >
    > >>Anyway, since I already have been using the various terms "idea,"
    > >>"belief,"
    > >>"behavior," "artifact," "thought contagion," "doctrine," "opinion,"
    > >>"belief
    > >>system," and "urban legend," I find no communication difficulty arising
    > >>from
    > >>not using the word "meme" alongside them. My book chapter "Evolutionary
    > >>Contagion in Mental Software"
    > >>(
    > >
    > >What I dislike in the choice of the word "contagion" to describe the
    > >passing
    > >of information is the implication that the receiver has no choice but to
    > >"infected" by the idea. It also has connotations of sickness and a
    > >that leads to death. Most of the bacteria and a lot of the viruses that
    > >invade our body do so harmlessly. Some are killers. But we have little
    > >choice about catching the flu or HIV. I don't believe this is the case
    > >with
    > >memes. Although some memes, if taken up by a large enough number of
    > >people,
    > >can lead to sickness within a society and the death of many of its
    > >the overall effect of memes is to make the society stronger and allow us
    > >adapt to a changing environment that is changing too quickly for genetic
    > >evolution to keep up with. It seems to me the terms "virus" and
    > >"contagion"
    > >were chosen to create fear and controversey. They are loaded with
    > >emotional
    > >baggage from historical attempts to survive plagues and their aftermath.
    > >Emotion laden terminology should be kept out of the study of culture and
    > >mind if we are to reach objective conclusions about them.
    > >
    > >
    > "Contagion" may be apt for uses in certain cases though not a term to
    > upon to the exclusion of other possibilities. I'm an agnostic on memes so
    > I'm open to other terms and other views.
    > There's a plethora of terms (erroneous or not) out there which refer to
    > stuff influencing human individual and social behavior. It might be neat
    > construct a taxonomy of these terms, though I'm only aware of a limited
    > number such as meme, mind virus, contagion, culturgen, engram, mnemon,
    > complex, idee' fixe, collective representation, archetype and so on.

    Hi Scott and Grant.

    I have been clarifying the neutral sense of the terms "contagion" and
    "thought contagion" in my recent papers.

    Here is material excerpted from "Thought Contagions in the Stock Market"
    [Journal of Psychology and Financial Markets 1:(1) , 2000]:

    "In the evolutionary epidemiology of ideas, the term "epidemiology" refers to
    helpful, harmful, and neutral ideas. ... In other words, the term
    "epidemiology" should not be construed to refer only to the study of
    "disease-like" ideas. Socially positive ideas like neighborly love can be
    analyzed as thought contagions as well as harmful idea systems like Nazism.
    An example that is clearly not a disease metaphor is the spread of baseball
    in children due to the need to recruit nine players per team. "

    Here's a similar clarification from the Evolutionary Contagion in Mental
    Software paper:

    "The term thought contagion is also intended to carry a neutral connotation,
    as even laughter, joy, and so forth can be called contagious in common

    This one also resembles the clarification in my paper "Thought Contagion in
    the Stock Markets: A General Framework and Focus on the Internet Bubble"
    [Derivatives Use, Trading, and Regulation, 6: (3), 2001], and in other
    financial thought contagion works of mine.

    I am also not the only one using the term "contagion" in a neutral sense in
    the financial literature. The financial people in particular would not accept
    the term if it were used in a way that always seemed to suggest that
    investment were pathological, for instance. The term is also sufficiently
    neutral to be used in biology and epidemiology.

    --Aaron Lynch

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