Re: Astrology

Aaron Lynch (
Tue, 06 Jul 1999 16:28:16 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Tue, 06 Jul 1999 16:28:16 -0500
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: Re: Astrology
In-Reply-To: <>

At 03:11 PM 7/6/99 -0400, Thomas McMahan wrote:
>I can't say I'm terribly impressed with the "contagion" analogy, simply
>because it virtually obliterates the human as willful agent. A
>biological virus does what it does without outside guidance; a computer
>virus has definite guidance, it doesn't simply "evolve" on its own, it
>has a creator(s). Memes fall somewhere in-between; they have a
>creator(s) (at some point in time), but once released into the cultural
>"soup" can develop in many ways and for many different reasons. I can
>appreciate the logic in your argument about why something like astrology
>survives. I just think we have to be careful about the language here. To
>say that it "exploits" or "implicitly tells" someone to do something
>sounds very pre-planned and deterministic. Perhaps you are saying this
>metaphorically, not unlike many biologists who discuss genes or species
>"doing" something in order to gain some sort of advantage. Biologists
>shouldn't use language that way in describing natural selection; it is a
>Lemarckian holdover that misinforms. A "memeticist" should be even more
>careful with his/her language concerning "cultural selection." I think
>we should maintain focus on why people chose memes (beliefs in sexual
>reproduction among them) and not how it is somehow the other way around.
>Anyway, those are a few memes of someone just getting his metaphorical
>feet wet in this area.
>Thomas Mc


I agree that astrology memes were not designed the way computer viruses
were. When my "brief example" was placed on this list, it did not come with
the preceding paragraph explaining of what it was a brief example. That
paragraph explains that the evolutionary epidemiology of ideas is largely
unplanned, much as with evolving life forms. I doubt that anyone ever sat
down and designed the idea of astrological compatibility for the purpose of
setting off a recursive retransmission process driven by the need to talk
about astrology with multiple listeners before finding one "compatible." I
suspect it was created to promote an added "service" from an astrologer
trying to make a living.

A memeticist must focus not *just* on receptivity to memes (why people
"choose") but also on transmissivity and longevity. (See the
technical/mathematical paper linked on my web page and published at
JoM-EMIT in 1998.) Transmissivity, receptivity, and longevity must all be

The 2 paragraph introduction is as follows:

" Thought contagions are beliefs that "program" for their own
spreading--ultimately affecting whole societies. By their strong effects on
how we live, such beliefs secure self-propagation by inducing evangelism,
abundant childraising and dropout prevention. Ideas harnessing these human
functions most effectively win out over weaker variants. Evolving like life
forms, through evolution by natural selection, thought contagions vie for
ever stronger influence in human lives. The practical implications extend
to violence, racism, neo-fascism, religious strife, overpopulation, street
gangs, financial markets, Y2K myths, apocalyptic religion, child raising,
abortion clashes, sexual politics, gay bashing, war, terrorism, AIDS, drug
policy, and many other areas.
Brief Example: Consider the belief that you need to find a romantic
partner of a "compatible" astrological sign. This idea causes singles who
have it to raise the subject of astrological sign compatibility with each
new potential partner, in order to determine compatibility. So the idea
exploits human mating drives to get itself copied into more minds. It is a
"sexually transmitted belief," implicitly telling some hosts to send
several copies of this idea to potential partners before accepting anyone
for further dating. That includes people moved to spread the idea without
though they do not hold winning converts as an objective. Resembling a
paperless chain letter in some ways, the thought contagion also behaves in
humans much as a computer virus behaves in computers. Though it does not
erase its hostsí memory, it can make it harder to find a partner deemed
"compatible" by arbitrarily narrowing the field. So like a sexually
transmitted microorganism, astrology ideas use human mating for their own
reproduction. This is not all that the new theory has to say about
astrology, and astrology is not a special case. Similar analyses shed fresh
light on a vast range of ancient religions and recent ideologies. "


Incidentally, this material is also incorporated into my lecture "Memes and
Mass Delusion," which I gave to the Philadelphia Association for Critical
Thinking in February, 1998. I might be placing this online as well.

--Aaron Lynch

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