Re: Critical thinking in memetics

Aaron Lynch (
Wed, 20 May 1998 11:46:15 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Wed, 20 May 1998 11:46:15 -0500
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: Re: Critical thinking in memetics
In-Reply-To: <>

>Aaron Lynch wrote:
>> It is worth noting that their active opposition to pseudoscience
>> has not stopped any of them from producing widely read science books. My
>> own memetics book _Thought Contagion_, which contains no traces of
>> pseudoscience, has made the and _New Scientist_ bestseller
>While your criticsm of the not so scientific writings of some
>"scientists" is valid, I appreciate easy to read information about areas
>of science in which I am interested but do not necessarily want to
>specialise. I have been grateful, for example, to John Gribbin for
>demistifying quantum mechanics. I would suggest that your book, being
>about a social science has a much wider potential audience than quantum
>mechanics. Also worth remembering is that a very small percentage of
>the population is capable of critical thinking. Is the purpose of this
>list to narrow down the possible number of participants in memetic
>science to a select few? I would suggest that many list members are
>feeling alienated by some of the sharp criticisms that result from posts
>of late. I have been hesitant to mention some of my ideas for fear of
>disection, or worse, being ignored. I think it would be a great help if
>the "heavies" on this list lightened up a little.
>Bruce Howlett

Thanks, Bruce.

I view this list as serving several functions. One of them is to facilitate
discussions among those who publish articles at JOM-EMIT. This will include
material at a very high reading level not meant for everyone. The "heavies"
in memetics do need a place to hold their discussions, and the listserver
for a science journal seems like a suitable place. While it does not count
as formal peer review, it sometimes will have that flavor as scientists
post drafts of papers and ask for comments or criticism. We are a strange
lot, scientists: we often *ask* for criticism in order to strengthen our
works. We do not, however, mean that lighter discussions should not happen.
Sometimes, those interested in heavy discussions will bypass the lighter
ones, and vice versa. As you know, my recent paper is at a much higher
reading level than is my book, so I have obviously already acknowledged the
value of different reading levels. The purpose of the list is definitely
not one of narrowing the participants to a select few. Besides, I for one
cannot always post as frequently as I have lately!

Like you, I see great potential value in popularizing the sciences.
Popularizing the sciences is a different matter from popularizing the
pseudosciences, however. Also, if a writer is to popularize a science,
she/he must first become familiar with the science and incorporate its
ideas into the writing. If a popularization avoids references to *any*
purely memetics works, there are doubts as to just what it is popularizing.
If the work is then marketed as a "Bible of memetics," it could even be
seen as an anti-popularization: a work that tells the public that earlier
purely memetics works do not exist. Fortunately, the most successful
science popularizers do not behave in this way--just read the
bibliographies of Sagan and Dawkins, for instance.

The level of critical thinking on a journal's listserver will in general be
much higher than what is found in society at large. Hans is correct to note
that I hear quite a bit about how memetics is being received by lay people
and scientists--I have written both popular and hard-core science
treatments. This means that I am aware of various problems, such as
anti-memetics immune reactions, that need to be addressed. Sue Blackmore
has lamented about memetics being widely ignored among scientists, (often
due to first-impression immune reactions, I contend), and I agree that this
is a problem to be solved. We cannot leave it up to non-memeticists to
solve it, so we will have to discuss it among ourselves. The key
participants in this sort of discussion are those who publish books,
journals, articles, newsletters, and web pages. As with technical
discussions, this is not for everyone. Yet to the extent that we make a
better impression on scientists, we will do a better job of popularizing as
well, because many scientists also write trade books.

In short, the presence of a few discussions that necessarily involve only
the most active memeticists should not be taken as an effort to exclude

--Aaron Lynch

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)