RE: Inernal meme?

Aaron Lynch (
Tue, 28 Sep 1999 13:36:23 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Tue, 28 Sep 1999 13:36:23 -0500
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: RE: Inernal meme?
In-Reply-To: <2CDFE2C8F598D21197C800C04F911B203493BA@DELTA.newhouse.akzo

At 09:23 AM 9/28/99 +0200, you wrote:
>As for the details of *how* the amygdala reaction pattern develops as a
>result of several year's exposure to someone using the word and also having
>the pattern, that is a matter for further neuroscience research. If you
>want to wait for that detailed research before being swayed, you are of
>course free to wait.
>No, you haven't grasped my point. I'll try to explain again.
>If we have two subjects, and we hit both on the knee with a hammer, then
>both will feel pain which will be characterised at the neurological level by
>firing of afferent neurons etc. However, the neurological patterns are
>caused by the environmental stimulus, ie. the hammer, not by the fact that
>the two subjects are exposed to each other's presence. If one subject is
>not hit on the knee, that subject will not have the stereotypical neural


I think I did grasp your point. What you say above merely clarifies what I
said before: that the Isenberg et al study should be seen as *evidence*,
not *proof* of an internal meme. I would be willing to bet that Isenberg et
al would find a nearly universal non-reaction by subjects who were never
previously exposed to English threat words if they did an expanded
follow-up study to find out.

As for the stimulus-response pattern of knee hit with hammer, I doubt that
exposure to others who exhibited similar patterns would show nearly as high
a statistical correlation. In particular, I would expect that most people
who have never been exposed to a hammer tap or even a hammer would respond
much the same way. (There may still be some exposure correlation, though,
even after controlling for genetic factors. For instance, the motor
development of an able-bodied person who grows up in a community of
paraplegics might be slightly different, and this might lead to some
difference in reflexes. Off further on a tangent, I point out that the New
York Times had an article on learning and memory in the spinal cord on
September 21 or 14, for anyone interested in this vein of research--and
consider searching for keywords "enteric nervous system" as well. I
mention the possible learning and memory by non-brain parts of the nervous
system just to explain why I refer to "neurally-stored" information instead
of "brain-stored" information.)

>Likewise with the threat words; the stereotypical amydalar activation is an
>environmental response, and is not in any way itself contagious.

It might be interesting for Isenberg et al to do a PET scan study using the
word "contagion," and see if it exhibits the same pattern as the other
threat words.

I have found myself often reiterating what I said on p. 9-10 of _Thought

"Memetic folkways need not correspond to viral diseases, and so do not
always deserve the same bad reputation. The belief that we should love our
neighbors illustrates the benign nature of many thought contagions. The
terms thought contagion and epidemiology therefore carry neutral
connotations in the context of memetics theory."

For instance, the preface to the paperback edition now says

"...Some readers may wonder if the term "contagion" is meant in a
derogatory way. It is not. Laughter and joy can be contagious, and even
beneficial microbes are still contagions. ..." (p. viii)

The title and phrase "thought contagion" were chosen to have at least an
approximate meaning even to those who have never heard the term "meme"

--Aaron Lynch

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