RE: Papers critical of memetics

Aaron Lynch (
Sun, 07 Feb 1999 10:17:04 -0600

Message-Id: <>
Date: Sun, 07 Feb 1999 10:17:04 -0600
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: RE: Papers critical of memetics
In-Reply-To: <001201be5234$9034a9a0$a175fbd0@uymfdlvk>

At 04:55 PM 2/6/99 -0800, Richard Brodie wrote:
>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.

The "The Bible of Memetics" thing is not presented as a joke on your pages.

><< 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?

Those groups have high birth rates per capita, not just per married couple.
Many of the sexual mores have spread by causing their hosts to have and
raise more children.

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

Yes, I have read it. More importantly, I have read the whole book without
skipping sections. He discusses Zen, but I think Hofstadter would cringe at
seeing his book classified as a Zen book.

>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.

"A metaphorical fugue on minds and machines in the spirit of Lewis Carroll"
will of course bear a connection to memes--and especially as it goes so
heavily into self-referential systems. Yet he does not actually discuss
memes directly in GEB.

>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.

If this were true, then you would find me assailing the high endorsements
attained by Blackmore, Balkin, and others. You would flatter yourself to
suppose that hidden funding agendas and (mistaken ideas of how to obtain
funding) do not play a part in the actions of scientists. You have been
avidly mentioning your early 1980s relationship with Bill Gates, and this
is the very first thing you say about yourself on your 1996 dust jacket. I
infer that you do this to get special treatment for yourself and your book,
regardless of how you might try to deny a name-dropping effect behind
favorable treatment after you get it.

><< 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.

I have not read anything from Dawkins on your book, and do not know where
such material is published. As you have credited me with "plugging your
site," I reserve judgment on whether Dawkins has ever endorsed your book or
not, let alone consider why. Notwithstanding, I myself had originally
listed VOTM in my bibliography, but changed my mind after your nasty
"" ad campaign started. And I have said positive things
about parts of your book. But as you know, many things said in your book
and its marketing have drawn my criticism.

I do not see any reason to disclose names of people who have approached me
privately with funding or employment problems. However am including
endorsements made on the web, usenet, listservers, and elsewhere.

><<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'd say we all do. Memetics is hardly a finished project. Regardless of how
the lion affects the average web surfer, it registers poorly among scholars
and scientists--unless separated into a "lighter side" section, as you have
now agreed to do.

>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

Translation: Get out of memetics and let me market VOTM as "The Bible."

><<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

I doubt that your test market took into account the kind of audiences you
would be sending to read it, such as Oprah viewers.

>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.

Basic Books leaves blurb requests up to its authors, or at least did so in
my case. They try to maintain a reputation of intellectual integrity.

><<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,

As far as I'm concerned, more constructive and less destructive includes
not deflecting attention from works that research scientists and
grantmakers need to read--works that do not necessarily appeal to the most
general audiences. We want to avoid needlessly damaging the flow of funding
and talent to empirical research in memetics.

--Aaron Lynch

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