Re: Lynch's Memetic Theories about Masturbation (Long)

Aaron Lynch (
Fri, 20 Jun 1997 03:27:16 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Fri, 20 Jun 1997 03:27:16 -0500
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: Re: Lynch's Memetic Theories about Masturbation (Long)
In-Reply-To: <>

Aaron Lynch responding to John Wilkins:

John, thank you for adding your own call for scholarly rigor. I believe
that quantitative rigor is part of what you mean by this. As a scholar
commenting on this substantially quantitative discussion, I trust you have
already read UNITS, EVENTS, AND DYNAMICS OF MEME REPLICATION at Because your post called for well
identified theoretical constructs, clarified terminology, and hard work, I
now invite you to spend a bit of that work explaining how the terminology,
theoretical entities, equations, and so forth in that paper might fall
short of your rigorous expectations. I would be especially interested in
knowing how, if at all, this symbolic and quantitative formulation of
memetics depends upon metaphor.

Thank you for your attention.

>Quoting comments by Tim and Martha, inter alia:
>From: (Timothy Perper/Martha Cornog)
>Date: Thu, 19 Jun 1997 19:57:21 -0500
>Subject: Re: Lynch's Memetic Theories about Masturbation (Long)
>That sort of thing is get-rich-quick science, if it is science at all. And
>so we return to our opening question. Is memetics a scholarly discipline,
>with standards for truth, evidence, and theory, or is it guesswork and
>opinion based on personal experience in which there is no expectation of
>using -- or discussing -- the scholarly literature?
>Lynch ended his comments with a ringing evocation of Charles Darwin. Well,
>yes, but Darwin collected immense amounts of data before publishing (as
>documented, for example, in Desmond and Moore's recent biography of
>Darwin). And likewise with memetics: we believe that memetics must with
>the specific details of social phenomena as they are recorded in the
>literature of other scholars, and must not rely on ad hoc methods of
>personal speculation. Lynch's work is valuable because it speculates about
>new ideas, but we cannot remain there nor should we blur speculation with
>substantiated knowledge. In brief, memetics must develop hypotheses and
>test them carefully and judiciously, with all due attention to the methods
>of scholarly research.
>==end quote==
>I second Tim and Martha's points about scholarly rigor.
>Much of memetic speculation resembles the sorts of 'science' done by late
>eighteenth century and early nineteenth century biologists. There was a lot
>of valuable work done by researchers like Schwann, Schleiden and von Baer
>but some of their explanatory scenarios are, to put it mildly, far fetched,
>and those scenarios usually far outstripped the data. Then there is the
>problem of just-so-ism - something memetic explanations are badly prone to.
>In order to develop memetics as an echt science, it seems to me that
>several conditions need to be met.
>1. Terminology must be clarified to ensure that the extension of any term
>is either unambiguous or any ambiguities are in the open. We should now be
>past the stage where metaphor has any real role in theory development.
>Without clear and precise terminology, we can't be sure how to classify
>what we are studying, and therefore can't rationally disagree about
>2. Theoretical entities should be specified - a plea for a theoretical
>ontology. Quine wrote that to be is to be the value of a variable - what
>are our variables and what entities do we postulate the existence of?
>Without this, we do not even have a model of sociocultural change, and we
>can't restrict the domain of our study. Memetics will end up so diffuse it
>will equally apply to cooking as to motor mechanics, and with as little
>3. Science involves hard work. Although there can be a never ending stream
>of papers from a researcher who has been in a field for any time, in order
>to reach that stage the scientist must have done an enormous amount of
>basic work (and mutatis mutandis, for other research based disciplines).
>What we see as 'memetics' so far comprises very little of this hard work,
>of the kind that Cavalli-Sforza has done, for example.
>If I had a paid academic position, I'd love to do some of this sort of
>thing. I look forward to seeing what those who can, do.
>Parenthetically, it strikes me that a memetic history of ideas would be a
>good starting point - that is, ideas related by descent and social success
>rather than dubious typological similarity, which is how the older
>histories of ideas were and are written. Hull's work is in this direction.
>This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
>Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
>For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)


--Aaron Lynch

THOUGHT CONTAGION: How Belief Spreads Through Society The New Science of Memes Basic Books. Info and free sample:

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