Talking amongst ourselves, and looking for fresh blood.

t (
Mon, 8 Mar 1999 16:53:46 EST

From: <>
Date: Mon, 8 Mar 1999 16:53:46 EST
Subject: Talking amongst ourselves, and looking for fresh blood.

In a message dated 3/8/99 4:18:09 AM Central Standard Time, writes:

<< > >But about your interaction here with Aaron, I think the above quote
> belies a
>desire to turn this into a zero-sum game. Perhaps a little
greedy on your

Okay, I'll shut up now.



Well, OK. I wasn't really wanting to chase you away. I just was pointing out
that you seemed a little to eager for a heat of the battle public
capitulation, that obviously Aaron is not going to provide. And I really
wouldn't want to see him to provide it at this time either.

I have read some material by Aaron Lynch in the past starting with his book
"Thought Contagion". I have a lot admiration for him, even though I think
that these biological/computer metaphors, "virus" and "thought contagion", are
getting out of hand, and he may be heading down a dead end. If he is making a
mistake then he should make it well and completely, so that nobody else has to
repeat it in the future. This can be every bit as valuable as "getting it
right". I think it is premature to ask him to capitulate on this point of
view. Though I think you have given him a fair amount to think about and I
hope that he does.

My personal view of the current situation with "memes" and "memetics", is that
many people into these topics are too busy talking to each other, and so these
ideas that are stuck in biological metaphor keep getting passed back and forth
making deeper and deeper ruts in our memetic thinking. If we are ever going
to move away from biological metaphors about culture, and develop some real
working cultural concepts, then I suggest that we look outside of the
community of people that are currently talking about "memes".

That is why I have suggested Gary Taylor's Book, "Cultural Selection". He
never uses the term "meme" in his book. He is very sensitive to CULTURAL
issues because this is his profession, as compared to a lot of the biological
and computer oriented thinking that originated the "meme" meme. He is a world
renowned Shakespearean scholar who wrote "Reinventing Shakespeare". He has a
firsthand participant's familiarity of the "culture wars", and a wide
understanding of cultural issues both western and eastern.

In his book he shows a very keen awareness and knowledge of cognitive issues
of memory, (stimulation, representation, and recall). He shows a very good
understanding of evolutionary thinking (he has read the Selfish Gene and some
other of Dawkin's stuff, more on that in a minute). And he shows a very
strong capability of applying his ideas to real cultural phenomenon - In his
book he demonstrates on such examples as the Vietnam War memorial, the
resurrection of Nixon's reputation, Shakespeare's literary dominance in
English-speaking culture, and even some examples from eastern Culture. He
develops the idea of "cultural niches" in a very cogent fashion.

I had the distinct privilege of carrying on a private Email discussion with
Gary Taylor some months ago at the time that I reviewed his book on I asked him if he was aware of the "meme" concept. He told me
that he was, but at the time that he wrote "Cultural Selection", he couldn't
think of a way to make it workable in that book without rambling out of
control, or appearing disjointed from the ideas that he was already
developing. And so he left it out. He told me that he has read some of
Richard Dawkin's books as well as "Consilience" by Wilson. In his book, he
very competently uses evolutionary concepts, mostly citing Gould.

Actually I am happy in retrospect that he didn't try to introduce the "meme"
meme, into his book, because quite frankly I think that it is not quite ready
for cultural "prime-time" until we move beyond biological and computer
metaphors. Not to get me wrong, because I think the "meme" meme is here to
stay. No evolutionary model is complete without a replicator, and there is no
better candidate than the meme. In my opinion, however, it has yet to
graduate from the biological/computer metaphor level, into a real working
CULTURAL concept.

Below is a link to the web page where I reviewed his book. I gave
it four stars. I would have liked to have given it four and a half stars, but
the amazon system doesn't allow that. I couldn't in good conscience give it
five stars, because I have reserved that for truly landmark books like
Dennet's "Darwin's Dangerous Idea". You can also check out my short review of
Dennet's book on Amazon where I gave it five stars, but I am sure raves about
that book are becoming "old hat" to people in the memetics thought community.
Dennet's book is my number one pick for last year, and Gary Taylor's is number
two -- but only because I read it in the same year that I read Dennet's.

Derek, I think you are keen to point out some of the current weaknesses in
memetic thinking. I think that the solution is to look beyond the familiar
faces who have developed the biological metaphor so well, and to look for
cultural scholars who have yet to weigh in on the subject, and who have a good
understanding evolutionary thinking. In short the subject needs fresh blood.
I think Gary Taylor's book is excellent in this regard. I would be interested
if anyone else has discovered good "outsiders" to the current memetics
thinking circle who could provide as good a point of view as he does.


Gary Taylor's Book, with my reader's review.
">Cultural Selection; Why Some Achievements Survive the Test of Time - and
Others Don't</A>;

Dennet's Book, with my reader's review.

1/002-0781859-7064401"> Darwin's Dangerous Idea : Evolution and the
Meanings of Life;</A>


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