Re: Meme Pools and Sexual Reproduction (was Lynch's Hypothesis)

Aaron Lynch (
Sun, 22 Jun 1997 00:11:54 -0500

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Date: Sun, 22 Jun 1997 00:11:54 -0500
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: Re: Meme Pools and Sexual Reproduction (was Lynch's Hypothesis)
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Aaron Lynch responding to Timothy Perper and Martha Cornog:

Thank you, Tim and Martha for noting some of the many factors associated
with masturbation and reproduction rates.

You are correct to note that co-varying memetic factors can account for an
observed correlation between masturbation taboos and reproduction rates
within a given age cohort. I would not be surprised to find a 1.5-fold or
2-fold reproduction difference between the strongest taboo holders and the
most memetically uninhibited on masturbation, only to find upon closer
scrutiny that just a 1.05-fold or 1.1-fold difference was CAUSED by the
masturbation taboo.

There are, of course, longitudinal experimental designs that can help
measure the portion of an observed correlation attributable to causation.
One might be to pay young single male subjects to complete a behavior and
morals survey, then watch a movie. Group 1 (control) watches E. O. Wilson
talking about social insects. Group 2 (experiment) watches Robin Baker
implicitly giving a "pro-family" spin to the subject of masturbation by
explaining how it might raise fertility when done as an alternative to
chronic non-ejaculation. Then years later re-run the behavior and morals
survey on all the same individuals to see if any were actually persuaded by
Baker, and track their reproductive careers. Elaborate and costly, but bear
in mind that testing hypotheses about stags or finches can take a lifetime
too. Other experiments also come to mind. I wouldn't, however, apply to the
NSF on this one. Best to condider private sources.

As you mention, there are sophisticated statistical methods for dealing
with this and more elaborate experimental designs. And preliminary
correlations might emerge from re-analysis of existing raw data sets, such
as the National Health and Social Life Survey (NHSLS), of Laumann et. al.,
which interrogated subjects about reproductive histories as well as current
masturbation practices and guilt.

We don't have any disputes on such facts as female windows of fertility,
and the contraceptive effect of old-fashioned breast feeding. I agree that
most masturbations have no reproductive cost even for a married man. It
would only be the taboo-based abstinence from masturbating when the woman
is fertile that would account for most of any reproductive propagation of
the taboo.

Another issue to bear in mind is that not just the lifetime number of
children, but also their timing affects propagation rates. A population
that has 2 children per couple at ages 18 and 21 multiplies faster than a
population that has 2 children per couple at ages 36 and 39. (This is still
another reason to measure the reproduction parameters as a function of age.)

A vast number of factors affect survival and reproduction and finches, but
decades of effort and funding have demonstrated that beak size and shape do
cause specific advantages under specific conditions. (See "Ecology and
Evolution of Darwin's Finches" by Peter R. Grant, Princeton University
Press, 1986.) Still, it takes a slight leap of faith to assume that the
fitness of finch beaks worked similarly for millions of years without
having been there to watch. Likewise, with assuming that any observed
reproductive effect for a meme today worked similarly in the distant
past--the effect may at times have been weaker, stronger, or opposite. But
the memeticist needs the historiographer, much as the biological
evolutionist needs the archaeologist. Only then can we keep these leaps of
faith to a minimum.

The field of memetics certainly has its work cut out for it. I can easily
see it expanding to the same number of professionals as in other social
sciences, even while collaborating with professionals from so many other

Anyway, I will be away from this list from June 24 to July 4. So do expect
a gap in my readings and postings.


--Aaron Lynch

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

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