RE: Papers critical of memetics

Richard Brodie (
Sat, 6 Feb 1999 16:55:31 -0800

From: "Richard Brodie" <>
To: <>
Subject: RE: Papers critical of memetics
Date: Sat, 6 Feb 1999 16:55:31 -0800
In-Reply-To: <>

Aaron Lynch wrote:

<<What kind of "fantasized importance" does it take to call oneself the
author of "The Bible of Memetics"? Do you see yourself as the God of the

You could really use a sense of humor, Aaron.

<< Notwithstanding, you should assume that most of the direct feedback
that authors get for their work will be positive. I get overwhelmingly
positive feedback for my own best-selling book, but still do not call it
"The Bible of Memetics." >>

I think you're right about that. I'm always on the lookout for good critical
feedback. You could be the biggest jerk on the planet and if you had a valid
criticism, I hope I'd listen to it.

p. 116: "But following sexual mores makes you behave in the interest of
*everyone else's* DNA, not your own." This runs counter to the fact that
sexual more laden groups like Hassidic Jews, Roman Catholics, Muslims,
fundamentalist Christians, Mormons, etc. all have high birth rates.

Well, in the first place, it's just bad science to try to refute a
statistical hypothesis by bringing up certain counterexamples. But even so,
n what way does my statement run counter to that fact? I never said
following sexual mores results in low birth rates of a group. Take a look at
the unmarried members of those groups you point out. Does following sexual
mores act in the interest of their own DNA, or of everyone else's?

<<GEB has nothing on memes at all, and it should not be classified as a
book either.>>

Have you read it?

Snipped from the review: "Everything is a symbol, and symbols can
combine to form patterns. Patterns are beautiful and revelatory of larger
truths. "

Do you really think that has nothing to do with memes? Maybe you have
something to learn.

GEB also has quite a lot on Zen. Even Thomas Cleary, the wonderful and
prolific translator of so many Zen works, discusses Hofstadter. It is surely
a difficult book to classify, though, and anyone who hasn't read it should
run right out and get the new 20th anniversary edition.

<< MT was far more relevant as a reference in a book on memes. >>

Well, it doesn't suck and I certainly wouldn't discourage anyone from
reading anything by Hofstadter.

<<There is nothing wrong with listing articles as well as books. Carl Sagan
does so even in his most popular books. The articles do not need to be
widely available, either: authors can be looked up and contacted for
reprints. >>

As I said, I hadn't run across any articles I thought worth mentioning other
than the one on evolution of language in J. Ideas, which I certainly could
have included. At this point the JOM-EMIT page has a very complete
bibliography, and Meme Central points to it and to all other memetics pages
that I recommend.

<<Moritz wanted funding to establish a real institute. Along comes someone
dropping names like Bill Gates and Microsoft. Did he write the endorsement
in hopes of ingratiating himself to someone who could land him the funding?
Would he even say so now if that were his reason? I don't know.>>

Translation: "I can't bear the thought that anyone would honestly think
someone else wrote a better book than Aaron Lynch, so I'll assume there has
to be some hidden agenda going on." Give it up, Aaron, give it up.

<< I do know
that you have received endorsements from at least 2 scientists who happened
to be looking for ways to get their work funded. They could easily have
been swayed by the "Bill Gates" name dropping, and I suspect that others
were likewise swayed. >>

Who are the two scientists? Other than Moritz, the only public endorsement
from a scientist that I'm aware of is from Dawkins, although William Calvin
does footnote me in one book. Surely you can't be implying that Dawkins is
being intellectually dishonest.

<<What does KMO (Kevin Michael O'Connor) do to his art critics (or more
exactly, to critics of treating his lion as "central" to memetics)? I find
you saying "watch out!" quite a bit. >>

Perhaps "wake up" would have been more appropriate. Or maybe "lighten up"?

<<The only thing I can see that makes Mr. O'Connor's cartoons "central" to
memetics is his fawning adulation of you. The effect on research scientists
and many others is to convince them that "memetics" is an enterprise of
adolescent boys. >>

Again, maybe you have something to learn about how ideas spread through

I can probably speak for KMO when I say that neither of us do our work in
order to please academics. And you know what? For someone whose vocation is
the pursuit of truth, you are way too concerned with trappings.

<<Overall, you and Mr. Rhodes provide a long list of denials and excuses,
even an implied threat from "KMO." Of course new scientific theories
provoke controversy, especially in the science literature. It is not a good
sign, however, when the skeptics movement takes a theory as an
extraordinary claim worthy of debunking. >>

Relax. Relax. Relax. Nobody is threatening you. Do positive things to
promote the memes you want.

<<Depending on how long you stayed in the program, I would have expected you
to take the culture and mindset of research scientists into account in your
promotional campaign.>>

You've been in academia all your life? Like Alyosha, the youngest Karamazov
brother, it might be time for you to leave the temple and go out into the

<<I think that your book and your promotional campaign are much better
to the self-help segment of the book market. Had you placed your book in
self-help section of the bookstore rather than the science section, you
would not have provoked so many anti-memetics immune reactions in
scientists and would probably have reached a larger part of the general
public. (And no, I would not have had a problem with that.)>>

I test marketed it and found that it sold much better in the science
section, where Barnes & Noble places it. Borders puts it in the Psychology

Also, not provoking reaction is not a goal of mine.

<< As a
self-published author using his one imprint (Integral Press), however, you
did not get the kind of experienced help on this that you would have gotten
from an established publisher. >>

Thanks, I've had an "established publisher." Warner Books bought the rights
to my first book, Getting Past OK, after I made it a self-published
best-seller. They sold about half as many copies as I did. After two years,
they gave up and I got the rights back. Unless you are a "front list title,"
treatment which only a few books a year get, about the only thing a big NY
publisher will do for you (other than take a generous bite out of your
revenues) is get other authors they publish to write half-hearted
endorsements for the back of your dust jacket.

<<In any case, thank you for at least agreeing to improve the "what is a
meme" part of your FAQ. >>

That was a good suggestion, thanks. More constructive, less destructive,

Richard Brodie
Author, "Virus of the Mind: The New Science of the Meme"
Free newsletter! Visit Meme Central at

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