thought contagion memetics as subfield of memetics in general

Aaron Lynch (
Sun, 20 Jun 1999 11:08:43 -0500

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Date: Sun, 20 Jun 1999 11:08:43 -0500
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: thought contagion memetics as subfield of memetics in general
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My book _Thought Contagion_ clarifies that thought contagion memetics is a
subclass of memetics generally, dealing with those memes that play very
active roles in their own retransmission. Human memetics is a subclass of
memetics generally, and human thought contagion memetics a subclass of that
in turn. Some quotes on this:

"Like a software virus in a computer network or a physical virus in a city,
thought contagions proliferate by effectively "programming" for their own
retransmission. (_Thought Contagion_, p. 2)

"Yet Durham admits that in special circumstances, memes can depart from the
mainline rout to prevalence. Such ‘special case’ memes are the ones I call
_thought contagions_" (_Thought Contagion_ p. 25)

In quoting from p. 205 of Dennett's _Consciousness Explained_, we have

"...The theory becomes interesting only when we look at the
exceptions, the circumstances under which there is a pulling
apart of the two perspectives; only if meme theory permits
us better to understand the deviations from the normal
scheme will it have any warrant for being accepted."
(_Thought Contagion_ p. 36 quoting _Consciousness Explained_ p. 205)

And then there is the section where I explain that thought contagion
memetics is nowhere near as broad in power, scope, or ambition as the
fictional "psychohistory." The entire 3-paragraph section reads:


Some have likened memetic history to the science fiction account of a
theory called ‘psychohistory’ in Isaac Asimov's Foundation series. Although
psychohistory did not inspire memetics, the two theories do have surprising
similarities. Both theories concern how history unfolds, and both give more
consideration to the cumulative behavior of great masses than to the
actions of special individuals. Both theories can cover hundreds of
generations, and both can be translated into quantitative, mathematical
equations. Like psychohistory, the memetic equations can even predict
‘future history’ given some well-measured parameters and starting conditions.

Yet the analogies start to fade from that point on. In the science fiction
story, a psychohistorian can predict most of society's behavior far into
the future and quite precisely. Thought contagion theory mainly considers a
special subclass of ideological behaviors, and just measuring the variables
can raise serious practical challenges. The quantitative translation of the
theory also leads to non-linear equations, which mathematicians and
meteorologists now see as a bane to long-range forecasting.

Thought contagion memetics might never amount to the stuff of science
fiction, but it can make an important contribution to the understanding of
history and the human condition." (_Thought Contagion_, p. 38-39)

--Aaron Lynch

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