Re: Vertical vs. hoizontal transmission (was: JASSS Critical

Aaron Lynch (
Thu, 29 Apr 1999 17:10:07 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Thu, 29 Apr 1999 17:10:07 -0500
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: Re: Vertical vs. hoizontal transmission (was: JASSS Critical
In-Reply-To: <Pine.LNX.4.05.9904291323030.8387-100000@grace.speakeasy.or

At 01:44 PM 4/29/99 -0700, Tim Rhodes wrote:
>On Thu, 29 Apr 1999, Aaron Lynch wrote:
>> The fastest cases of horizontal transmission are faster than the fastest
>> cases of vertical transmission, but this does not warrant any blanket
>> statement that horizontal transmission is faster than vertical. A
>> horizontally transmitted meme for which adherents win converts at the rate
>> of 1 per 30 years can easily be out-propagated by a vertically transmitted
>> meme.
>If I understand you correctly, the vertical transmission of memes takes place
>at a rate akin to that of the passing of genes--from parent to child
>through each generation.
>Is it your assertion that memetic changes in culture take place at the same
>rate as genetic shifts would within a species? And if so, how do you explain
>the amount of change in human culture over the last 5,000 years when compared
>to the amount of genetic change over that same period?
>-Tim Rhodes


I do not argue by analogy or metaphor to genetic evolution, nor do I
consider this necessary. It is possible to mathematically and
quantitatively model memetic transmission directly, as I have done in my
paper. If I get into a discussion comparing genetic and memetic rates, I am
only likely to help those claiming that my mathematics is part of a
"thought contagion metaphor."

Nevertheless, meme propagation rates can be discussed directly. At the slow
end, time constants of exponentially spreading memes can run into decades,
perhaps even centuries, while at the fast end (e.g., rumors) time constants
may be measured in hours or days even without centralized communication.
None of this is inconsistent with the fast pace of cultural change in
recent millennia.

--Aaron Lynch

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