Re: Emotional memes?

Ton Maas (
Wed, 26 Aug 1998 17:45:38 +0200

Message-Id: <v03102800b209d904e130@[]>
In-Reply-To: <>
Date: Wed, 26 Aug 1998 17:45:38 +0200
From: Ton Maas <>
Subject: Re: Emotional memes?

>Emotion Intelligence, Daniel Goleman, Bloomsbury, London, 1996,
>pp ix-x, emphases mine.
>It seems to me that (a) the fact that this kind of thing does
>happen, and (b) that it can be viewed as a form of behavioural
>contagion, are uncontroversial. What I'm less clear about is
>the relationship between this and memetics. Any comments?

A plea for "leaving unobscured the vast darkness of the subject" is a very
difficult pill for most scientifically inclined Westerners to swallow. I
feel that the true challenge in coming to grips with the complex phenomena
of life as described in the original quote, lies precisely in _not_ trying
to dissect them into bits & pieces, but to view them in a polydimensional
yet profoundly coherent way. This is why we have a lot of
multidisciplinarity and _very_ little interdisciplinarity. So far, only the
_very_ best of cybernetics, such as to be found in the works of Gregory
Bateson and Anthony Wilden, has come up with truly integrated attempts of
looking at such processes. AFAICS most memeticists are preoccupied with
explaining rather isolated phenomena, such as the spread of this or that
idea or notion (or maybe even "emotion"). As good old Ben Whorf used to say
whenever he was complaining about the ethnomethodologists of his time: "Ah,
but they're only looking at the _corpse_ of a conversation and not at the
process as a whole". And it is precisely in the relationships _between_ the
participants that the real dynamite lies, not in the individuals or the
messages that are "sent" back and forth.

I think Goleman's book actually provides a good example of such a process.
As I understand from my publisher - who also did the Dutch translation of
"Emotional Intelligence" - the book is one of those freak successes in
publishing, which goes almost unnoticed when published, slowly picks up and
reaches the bestseller lists without so much as a single review in a major
newspaper or magazine. Almost all the reviews that have appeared so far (in
the Netherlands at least), are in response to the unexpected success of the
book and focus on that. It is thought by some, that the success of the book
lies in a feeling that's quite common among non-intellectuals or people
with only a limited amount of formal schooling - namely that the book
suggests to them they may have yet another form of intelligence - not
inferior to "proper" intelligence but only different. Apparently this
aspect of the book was first completely overlooked by the professional
reviewers, who obviously don't belong to this social "group".


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