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

Bill Benzon (
Sun, 22 Jun 1997 10:39:57 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Sun, 22 Jun 1997 10:39:57 -0500
From: (Bill Benzon)
Subject: Re: Meme Pools and Sexual Reproduction (was Lynch's Hypothesis)

Aaron Lynch

>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.

Above and beyond the ethical issues raised by such experiments, I'm
confused. This experiment seems to bear on two different mechanisms of meme
transmission. It bears on your orginal hypothesis in that it is concerned
about rates of sexual activity (though, as I've pointed out, that isn't
enough; you have to raise the kids to maturity). But, as you've noted, it
also involves infecting a host population (the experimental group) with the
anti-masturbation meme. That's a different kind of memetic transmission.

My guess is that a single exposure to anti-masturbation propaganda is not
going to do much. You might get a brief period of attitude & behavior
change, but it won't last long (&, of course, we can test this too). You'll
probably have to sign folks up for an extended series of indoctrination
sessions -- with the controls being exposed to an extended serious of
whatever. To do this we must, of course, set ethics aside. If we don't,
then full-disclosure demands that we inform these (experimentals and
controls) folks that we are going to try to make long-term changes in their
beliefs. People who don't agree won't participate in the experiment, either
as experimentals or controls. That leaves us with a population which has,
in effect, signed a piece of paper saying they are willing to have their
belief systems changed by folks in white lab coats. Given that population,
any change in beliefs has at least as much to do with their predisposition
as with the effectiveness of the memes.

All this aside, why should the anti-masturbation propaganda explicitly
embody your hypothesized connection between masturbation and reproduction?
As I understand it your hypothesis doesn't depend on what reasons people
have for not masturbating -- hell and damnation and poor eyesight are just
fine as reasons. What's important is that they not masturbate so often as
they otherwise might. But if you sell folks on non-masturbation by
suggesting higher fertility, then you are going to have to make sure that,
in the event that the experimental group prooves more fertile, you can
attribute at least some of that increase to non-masturbation as opposed to
other things they might do to accommodate the "increase fertility" meme on
which you piggy-backed the "don't masturbate" meme.

It just gets more and more and more complicated. That doesn't, of course,
differentiate memetics from more established branches of the human
sciences. Cranking out hypotheses in a new lingo is one thing. But it would
be nice to have some more effective methods of investigating those
hypotheses. It would also be nice to have hypotheses of a type which can be
investigated more effectively with known methods. As it is, we've got a
zillion hypotheses and the resources to explore 5378 of them. You're
telling us that memetics will gives us another zillion hypothese, new and
different. I'd rather you come up with a convincing argument that memetics
will give us a way of cutting down the number of hypotheses to 11,679 and
give us methods which will increase the effectiveness of our limited
resources for investigating those hypotheses.

William L. Benzon 201.217.1010
708 Jersey Ave. Apt. 2A
Jersey City, NJ 07302 USA

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