SKEPTIC Memetics Article

Aaron Lynch (
Thu, 09 Oct 1997 20:20:24 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Thu, 09 Oct 1997 20:20:24 -0500
To: Susan Blackmore <>
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: SKEPTIC Memetics Article

Dear Professor Blackmore,

I have just read your article THE POWER OF THE MEME MEME in the current
(Vol. 5, No. 2 1997) issue of SKEPTIC Magazine. In addition to the materi=
you cited from my book THOUGHT CONTAGION, I am pleased to offer further
information on the following:

1) The conceptual framework of memetics. You may find my paper UNITS,
EVENTS, AND DYNAMICS OF MEME REPLICATION useful. Its URL is Your research assistant, Nick
Rose, also has a copy of the print version from 1991.=20

An evolutionary recursive replicator theory of mental/brain information i=
presented. Noting that all replicator theories rest at least tacitly upon
the fundamental notions of causation and of calling two or more entities
"the same" with respect to an abstraction, the concept is rendered explic=
in defining the terms "mmemon" and "meme." A symbolic calculus of mnemon
conjugations and replication events follows. Differential equations are
developed for meme host population versus time in a two-meme system,
modeling the dynamics whereby events at the individual level give rise to
trends at the population level. This lays a foundation for computerized
simulations and the falsification or verification of specific memetic
hypotheses. Mechanisms of creativity as a population phenomenon are
examined, with the memetic perspective yielding a novel explanation for t=
temporal clustering of independent co-creations. Creation and propagation
are integrated into a theory of evolution by variation and natural
selection of memes.

As an example of how this conceptual framework deals with objections to
calling memes "replicators," see Notice that the
framework depends on the elementary principles of causation and of saying
that two brains can contain "the same" idea, memory item, information,
etc.--principles that Gould, for instance, tacitly acknowledges every tim=
he attempts to get someone to adopt "the same" opinion as his on memetics=
(My remarks about misguided pedagogic shorthand does not apply to article=
that clarify the longhand meanings.)

2) The comparison of email thought contagions such as "good times" and
"penpal greetings" to religion is interesting. In the opening round of an
online debate sponsored by WIRED MAGAZINE, I offered a few more comments =
this topic that you might find useful. (It is very brief, as the sponsor
imposed a 450 word limit on each round.) The URL is

3) You have taken up the subject of memetics and Heaven's Gate, so you ma=
also find my articles about this interesting. One article is "Thought
Contagion and Heaven's Gate" in the magazine TELEPOLIS. The URL is This article
introduces memetics on a general basis. For a slightly updated version
focusing mainly on Heaven's Gate and Roswell, see THOUGHT CONTAGION AND T=
The US magazine NEWSWEEK also applied memetics to the suject on page 14 o=
its April 14, 1997 issue. An online version of this article by Geoffrey
Cowley is available at

4) In regard to skepticism, you might also take interest in the following
excerpt of a letter I sent to SKEPTICAL INQUIRER.=20
.....A good example is the belief that you need to find a romantic partner =
a "compatible" astrological sign. This notion causes singles who have it =
raise the subject of astrological sign compatibility with each new
potential partner, in order to determine compatibility. So the idea
exploits human mating drives to get itself retransmitted. It is a "sexual=
transmitted belief," implicitly telling some hosts, to send, in effect, 4
or 12 copies of this idea to potential partners before accepting anyone f=
further dating. That includes people who are manipulated to retransmit ev=
if spreading the word is not their specific motive for doing so.=20

Resembling a paperless chain letter in some ways, the thought contagion
also behaves in humans much as a computer virus behaves in computers.
Though it does not erase it=92s hosts=92 memory, it can make it harder to=
a partner deemed "compatible" by arbitrarily narrowing the field. So like=
sexually transmitted microorganism, astrology ideas parasitize human mati=
for their own reproduction. ...

The ignoring of memetics which you discuss in the article is indeed
lamentable. A strong conceptual framework and a broad base of application=
will make it ever harder to ignore.


--Aaron Lynch

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