RE: Vertical vs. horizontal transmission (was: JASSS Critical

Aaron Lynch (
Fri, 30 Apr 1999 13:31:07 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Fri, 30 Apr 1999 13:31:07 -0500
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: RE: Vertical vs. horizontal transmission (was: JASSS Critical
In-Reply-To: <000101be9312$d300ec20$08223fce@rb4010>

At 07:07 AM 4/30/99 -0700, Richard Brodie wrote:
>Aaron wrote:
><<With Mormonism, the effects of
>vertical and horizontal transmission combined give a time constant in
>As you say, this is not just a single meme that is propagating. Do you make
>a distinction between memes, meme complexes, and the cultural organisms that
>I call Viruses of the Mind that self-replicate using people's minds? I would
>put both Mormonism and American Catholicism in the last category.

I agree that the term "meme complex" is useful for something such as
Mormonism, Catholicism, etc. Note, however, that if Mormonism spreads with
a certain time constant, then some of its most distinctive component memes
will likewise. For example, the belief that God revealed the book of Mormon
to Joseph Smith in golden tablets will have about the same growth time
constant as the whole meme complex.

>I know that Mormons do evangelize, and they do have a lot of children. What
>is the data for number of people who call themselves Mormons in the world
>over the last few decades? How do you distinguish between vertical and
>horizontal transmission?

One source for such information is The Encyclopedia of Mormonism (Ludlow,
1992). It has charts showing convert baptisms and child baptisms by region,
and ratios of the two. It also has information on total church membership
by year, an indirect indicator of the spread of the memes themselves. It
finds a steady doubling rate of about 19 years for the whole church since
1860, corresponding to a time constant of about 27 years.

Much longer time constants are possible, though are likely to be harder to
measure. For instance, if a meme spreads at 10% per 25-year generation over
5000 years, that is a 190-million fold increase--easily enough to go from a
first few adherents to a major phenomenon of hundreds of millions or
billions of people. Yet the time constant is 262 years, which is so gradual
as to go unnoticed by people during their own lifetimes.

Over the span of 12,000 years, a 5% per 25-year generation increase adds up
to 15-billion fold, allowing for even more gradual memes going back to the
start of agriculture.

Ludlow, D. (ed.) 1992. Encyclopedia of Mormonism. New York: Macmillan

--Aaron Lynch

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