Re: Astrology

Thomas McMahan (
Tue, 06 Jul 1999 18:43:42 -0400

Date: Tue, 06 Jul 1999 18:43:42 -0400
From: Thomas McMahan <>
Subject: Re: Astrology

I would agree with what you stated there, and the other paragraph did
help clarify.

What are your thoughts on how memes are copied and how well they're
copied? This was one area that Dawkins seemed to have trouble with, and
I can see why. Doesn't the analogy between genes and memes breakdown
rather severly there?

Aaron Lynch wrote:
> 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
> Thomas,
> 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
> considered.
> 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 hosts 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
> ===============================================================
> This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
> Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
> For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)
> see:

This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)