Re: social contagion

Aaron Lynch (
Tue, 10 Nov 1998 10:33:57 -0600

Message-Id: <>
Date: Tue, 10 Nov 1998 10:33:57 -0600
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: Re: social contagion
In-Reply-To: <000601be0c90$273bb180$d54b95c1@pc>

At 09:54 AM 11/10/98 -0000, Paul Marsden wrote:
>Aaron said
>>I have read this paper now and noticed that the title of Orlean (1992) is
>Hello Aaron
>No, it isn't. I have used the translated title supplied in the Social
>Sciences Citation Index (SSCI), where the paper is abstracted (SSCI can be
>found at ) This is the problem with citing texts in
>other languages, but I think it is better to stick to how they appear in
>these indexes, rather than trying to better them and have a proliferation=
>papers that are in fact the same one.

Hi Paul.

Indeed, checking the indexes by way of, I see that not only SSCI,
but also EconLit have the word "functioning" missing in translation.
Perhaps we'll see a paper on contagion of mistranslations some day... =20

>By the way, what did you think of the paper? I noticed that the major=
>booksellers shelve TC and that other rival book whose name we won't mention
>under social contagion, so I suppose my contention that memetics and social
>contagion are two sides of the same coin is old news. Hey ho, it's not=
>surfing on the edge of the zeitgeist.

It's a valuable paper overall.=20

I would have brought up a comparison of investigative epidemiology with
evolutionary epidemiology. Evolutionary epidemiology taking the
microorganism's perspective, for instance, and analyzing how they cause
their hosts to retransmit infection. With a generalized concept of
evolutionary epidemiology, you include symbiotic bacteria as well.=20

Under section 3, I would list religiously-based objections among the
sometimes shrill and desperate attempts to explain away social thought
contagion in particular. In TC, I argued that religions arose by mundane
processes of natural selection rather than divine creation. This does not
imply that religion is a "virus" any more than I imply that baseball is a
"virus." Yet I believe that some have taken the thesis of mundane origins
of religion as an incitement to severely distortional and emotional
arguments against thought contagion theory--enough so that I must recommend
that people check what I have really written against what I am alleged to
have said.=20

Some pro-religious arguments can, incidentally, be found in the memetics
literature itself. I highly recommend that anyone concerned with the
Lynch-Gatherer argument read Derek's 1998 Zygon article. That article
accepts the treatment of religious beliefs as memes, while holding it
compatible with a particular version of immortality. But he seems to have
become aware of the religion by natural selection analysis in TC only after
developing his 1998a thesis. He then swerves quickly and violently against
any notion of beliefs as memes, and the ensuing argument between us had
much of the intensity and futility of a religious quarrel. I invite others
to read Gatherer 1998a and Lynch 1996 to see if they shed light on that

Socially, it may be difficult for members and associates of a single
collaboration to critically evaluate each other's work. Hopefully 'meme
lab' will prove an exception.=20

Gatherer, D. (1998a) Meme pools, World 3 and Averro=EBs's vision of
immortality. Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 33, 203-219.=20

Gatherer, D., (1998b) Why the `Thought Contagion' Metaphor is Retarding the
Progress of Memetics. Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of
Information Transmission 2

Lynch, A. (1996) Thought Contagion: How Belief Spreads through Society:
The New Science of Memes. Basic Books, New York.=20

--Aaron Lynch

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