Re: social contagion

Fri, 13 Nov 1998 09:59:38 -0500 (EST)

Subject: Re: social contagion
Date: Fri, 13 Nov 1998 09:59:38 -0500 (EST)

On Tue, 10 Nov 1998 10:33:57 -0600 Aaron Lynch <> wrote:

> I would list religiously-based objections among the
> sometimes shrill and desperate attempts to explain away social thought
> contagion in particular.

Who's making these 'shrill and desperate attempts', Aaron? I hope
you'll clarify this. It's a phrase you've used in the past, so I am

> In TC, I argued that religions arose by
> mundane
> processes of natural selection rather than divine creation.

Nobody on this list would claim that religions are 'divine creation',
so what's the point of this comment? Please elaborate.

> 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.

Again I'd like to have references to these 'severely distortional and
emotional arguments'. There are plenty of perfectly sound and rational
arguments against TC theory - eg. my JoM paper.

> 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.

As indeed it is, but it is a very 'particular version', as you say.
Dawkins says as much (Selfish Gene 1977 Paladin paperback edition page
214). Also see his introduction to Sue Blackmore's 'The Meme Machine'
for a fascinating description of how Wittgenstein was momentarily
'reincarnated' in his tutorial group. I rest my case (it's not my
case anyway but Averroes's case).

Again I'm intrigued by your use of the phrase 'pro-religious'. Are you
implying that I am 'pro-religious'? But perhaps I'm being premature.
Possibly that is not your meaning. You do know about Averroes's
theories on the relation between religion and philosophy? Of course
you do, it was bound to have been part of the background reading of
anyone who has so much to say about religion.

> But he [this is me that Aaron is referring to now] seems to
> have
> become aware of the religion by natural selection analysis in TC only after
> developing his 1998a thesis.

Oh come on! I don't know how you can say that. Evidence please! I
did refer to TC in the original draft of my Zygon paper, but a referee
asked for it to be taken out as it wasn't really important enough to
merit a mention. I agreed. The Zygon article first section is
directed at Dawkins' 'Viruses of the Mind' article [printed in 'Dennett
and his Critics' ed. Bo Dahlbom OUP 1995, but extensively available on
the Internet). You don't get criticised because those arguments don't
apply to you. To you, I apply the completely different arguments set
out in my JoM article.

Incidentally 'mind virology' is a piece of 17th century Protestant
theology dressed up as science. I devote several pages to that in my
Zygon article, and I posted a longish post summariseing those arguments
during the summer when the Zygon article was published. You didn't

> He then swerves quickly and violently
> against
> any notion of beliefs as memes,

A little melodramatic, Aaron. I don't swerve 'quickly and violently',
I just modify my opinion slightly. I make it quite clear in my JoM
article (see the section on 'contradicting statements made in my
previous publications')

> and the ensuing argument between us
> had
> much of the intensity and futility of a religious quarrel.

Hmm.. another echo of your previous posts. I seem to remember you
saying something about our debate 'being like those between scientists
and creationists'. I didn't know what this meant at the time, and I
was reluctant to attribute any opinion to you [I'd just got into
serious trouble for my little Wilbur and Orville joke, so I thought
I'd better button my lip]. Perhaps you'll expand. I'd be fascinated to
get to the bottom of this.

> I invite
> others
> to read Gatherer 1998a

Thanks for the recommendation! I honestly never thought, Aaron, that
I'd see the day when you recommended one of my papers.

> and Lynch 1996 to see if they shed light on
> that
> debate.
> 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.

Now what does that mean? Again I hesitate to jump to any conclusion
concerning your intended meaning, because in the past you've become
annoyed when I've tried to do so. I do so much hope you'll elaborate
on this fascinating paragraph.

By the way, I've extensively debated with Nick, Paul and Sue, and
there's plenty we disagree on. I think their work is solid and
thoughtful. I won't embarrass them by asking them what they think of
me.... I will embarrass Sue by saying that I think Meme Machine is
the first really good popular book on memetics (sorry Sue, but as Mario
once said about me on this list, 'it's not the first time I do this
emotional stuff') and that memetics will finally take off now that it
has a persuasive popular manifesto. We'll all benefit.

Meme Lab are doing a big session at the Edinburgh International Science
Festival by the way. Watch this space for details.


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