RE: Crictical Thinking in Memetics

Aaron Lynch (
Fri, 26 Jun 1998 12:08:39 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Fri, 26 Jun 1998 12:08:39 -0500
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: RE: Crictical Thinking in Memetics
In-Reply-To: <>


My comments of June 15 were actually meant for a wider audience. The "meme
lab" site is just one of several I have found where the name of the
organization did not seem to match the function being performed. I have
been concerned that if we see a lot of replication of this, it could
generate some wry commentaries about "the memeticists." I don't mean to say
that such pages should never be published, though I do recommend placing a
note somewhere clarifying that the "lab," for instance, is not a laboratory
in the usual sense. (Perhaps even giving a subtitle to "meme lab" would
work, e.g., "Meme Lab: An Online Collaboration.")

As an individual memeticist not speaking for JOM-EMIT, I recommend staying
with carefully named affiliations when publishing a formal article, even
though a more relaxed approach may work on the Internet at large. (I
actually visited the site last year, thinking that I would learn about the
world's first center for performing memetics experiments on humans and/or
other animals, or computer simulations, etc.) Thus, if the very same
Blackmore-Rose web page were named "The Bristol Memetics Project," then it
would generate none of the concerns raised by calling it "The Meme Lab."

I fully understand that you have not acted to cause a new controversy.
Different people have different views regarding "real" versus "virtual" on
the Internet.
Apart from this is the question of whether words like "laboratory,"
"institute," "university," etc. still have distinct meanings even in the
age of the Internet. I for one can recognize an electronic university in
which people no longer congregate to use sound waves for their
communications--as long as the entity still performs certain functions. But
I still have problems when the name of an online entity does not seem to
match its function.

The lack of a UWE Psychology web page apparently creates the need for a
separate, institution-like web page to describe your collaboration in
memetics. The long term problem comes when new contributors assume that one
can increase the publication prospects of an article by inventing important
sounding "institutions" for the affiliations. Not knowing the background,
contributors may just look to you and Susan as leaders to be imitated. If
people writing about our journal in other publications find too many
institutions that do not quite "check out," then it could lead to an
insinuation that self-promoting memeticists are vainly trying to apply
their theory to fool readers. (When people are not "fooled," they may
conclude that the theory is therefore silly.)

None of this is meant as criticism of the _content_ of your paper or your
web pages. I see a lot of good coming out of your collaboration with Susan,
and indeed I plan to cite some of Susan's excellent thinking in a chapter
of a forthcoming book on the evolution of intelligence.

The email system at is rather notorious. I do have concerns about
the "meme lab" listing specifically, but I was feeling deterred from
writing due to past system malfunctions. Do you have another email at that you check regularly? Or better yet, is the new UWE email
system going to work reliably?

Best regards,


>RE: Fictional institutions.
>I have been awfully slow to pick up on this - switching
>university e-mail systems meant that I was not receiving
>the digest that I ordinarily do. However, I think I've
>just worked out that Aaron's initial comments on the matter
>of fictional institutions was stimulated by my inclusion of
>'Meme Lab' under the contact information in my paper in the
>1) I apologise if anyone interpreted the name 'meme lab'
>as some kind of institute or university department - it is
>not. Meme Lab represents the collaboration between myself
>and Dr. Susan Blackmore in memetics research. Meme Lab was
>included as contact information so that people could go and
>look at it - it is *not* an academic affiliation in the
>same sense that UWE is an affiliation.
>2) If the section of the paper that meme lab is currently
>listed is meant for academic affiliation then its inclusion
>was in error - and I have asked JOM to remove 'meme lab'
>from this section if that is the case.
>3) Why did no one say anything directly to me? I'm an
>approachable post-grad and happy to talk to anyone who has
>a problem with my work (academically or otherwise). The
>*last* controversy I wished to raise was one about 'bogus'
>It's weird when you read things and only afterwards realise
>they were referring to you!
>Nick Rose
>"University of the West of England"

--Aaron Lynch

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