Re: "Retarding the Progress" - A Call for Specifics

Aaron Lynch (
Fri, 26 Feb 1999 09:38:16 -0600

Message-Id: <>
Date: Fri, 26 Feb 1999 09:38:16 -0600
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: Re: "Retarding the Progress" - A Call for Specifics
In-Reply-To: <2CDFE2C8F598D21197C800C04F911B200CAEA2@DELTA.newhouse.akzo

At 03:06 PM 2/26/99 +0100, Derek Gatherer wrote:
>Aaron wrote:
>>While the term "thought contagion" is a non-technical term devised
>>for succinctness and to be more self-explanatory in lay usage than the
>It was an unfortunate choice of phrase, I think, but I appreciate that
>when you have books to sell you need to be as snappy as possible.
>There's nothing wrong with that. It's not really just the phrase
>'thought contagion' that my article is about, but the whole approach
>which goes under that banner, post-Dawkins-B as it were.
>>the allegation of "retarding the progress of memetics" was also
>>lodged against my 1998 JoM-EMIT paper, despite its emphasis on
>>"non-metaphoric memetics."
>I have specific objections to that paper over and above the content of
>your 1996 stuff. In particular, to the calculus of mnemon
>instantiations. But I've been over all that already..... Again there's
>nothing wrong with trying to be non-metaphoric as you put it, it's just
>the way you go about it I don't like.
>>As one who would rather not "retard the progress of memetics," I would
>>to see how either my JoM-EMIT paper or my book might have done so in a
>>specific topic: the Hutterites.
>I think it is unhelpful to consider the Hutterites (or indeed anyone
>else) as hosts to mnemons that can't be observed. If you're determined
>to analyse the Hutterites in terms of your calculus of mnemon
>instantiations, then you're not going to get anywhere, as the said
>calculus is, as I have already demonstrated, unworkable.

What I see here is a distaste for that "calculus of mnemon instantiations,"
consistent with your emphasis on observable behaviours and artifacts. It is
an assertion of a stance, but I remain unconvinced that anything in Lynch
1996 or Lynch 1998 has retarded the progress of memetics in the Hutterite
case or any other example to which I have actually applied my particular

As for the book title, I suppose it is partly a matter of taste. I did,
however, seek out the advice of some of those who had published in memetics
first. For instance, I distinctly remember Doug Hofstadter telling me over
dinner "that's a wonderful title!"

Now from Paul Marsden's commentary, we have a remarkable quote from his
second paragraph:

"As Gatherer notes, the thought contagion metaphor persists largely because
of what could charitably be called a `disregard' for linguistics and
cognitive science. To this I would add a dangerous `disregard' for the
corpus of social science in general, and evolutionary social science in

Now I could make a case that it is others, not myself, who have been
dangerously ignoring the social science work done on the Hutterites, but
that is not my purpose here. Rather, if Paul sees me as "dangerously"
disregarding linguistics, cognitive science, and other social sciences,
then he can presumably tell me how this has affected my discussions of the
Hutterites. Therefore, I would like Pual himself to tell me how how HIS
explanation of why the Hutterites have spread instead of going extinct uses
linguistics, cognitive science, etc. I didn't see any linguistic or
cognitive science arguments in his posts on the Hutterites, but my present
invitation affords him an opportunity to share those insights.
Specifically, Paul, how do you propose to use linguistics and cognitive
science in a memetic explanation of why the Hutterites spread instead of
going extinct?

--Aaron Lynch

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