Re: Regarding the IMR & Happy New Year / New Millenium to All

Aaron Lynch (
Thu, 23 Dec 1999 14:02:11 -0600

Message-Id: <>
Date: Thu, 23 Dec 1999 14:02:11 -0600
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: Re: Regarding the IMR & Happy New Year / New Millenium to All

At 04:35 PM 12/10/99 -0600, you wrote:
>I've been watching with 'distant' interest the progress of Memetics over the
>past 10 years. It is thrilling to see the Journal of Memetics come into
>being with dedicated, energetic individuals on its editorial board. The
>advisory board JoM-EMIT is impressive as well.
>I write this letter to congratulate the Journal and its boards, as well as
>to shed light on some specuations raised in the memetics discussion list
>(, archives of which are located at
> ).
>About ten years ago I started what I called the 'Institute for Memetic
>Research' (IMR) with a principal goal of publishing a "Journal of Ideas" and
>hopefully at some later time initiating funded research. The goal was to be
>of service to a broad community of researchers. It was in fact delightful
>to communicate via pre-historic e-mail, telephone, and letters. I do
>believe I helped foster some useful contacts between individuals. Given
>that some of the folks that subscribed to the Journal included the MIT
>AI-Lab library and some other university libraries, perhaps it had some
>impact. I do know that when I suspended publication, there were letters and
>calls requesting upcoming issues. As it were, production and distributions
>costs exceeded the revenues generated. It is so gratifying to see the web
>as a medium of publication today.
> The Journal of Ideas (JOI) did function as intended. In fact it was
>useful as a forum for some members of the current JoM-EMIT editorial board.
>It was a selective enterprise and did decline to publish a number of
>submitted papers. (Hopefully, those whose papers were 'rejected' can look in
>retrospect and perhaps be thankful that their early attempts did not make
>it into print).
>Speculations about my endorsement of "Virus of the Mind (VotM)" were
>discussed on the list, as well as the authenticity of the Institute for
>Memetic Research. Regarding VotM: I meant what I said. Implied affiliations
>of the author to Bill Gates were far removed from my consideration. In fact,
>I didn't note that untill I saw the finished product. Should I need to
>contact the Bill, I'm pretty sure I can figure out how to do
>so. I would be just as happy to endorse 'Thought Contagion" if it were
>Let me be clear here. Both Brodie and Lynch (in alphabetical order, no need
>to try to figure out more than that) have contributed to memetics. Brodie
>with discussions aimed at the intelligent general public, and Lynch to those
>who can manipulate integrals. There is no "Bible of
>Memetics" at this time, so there's no need to 'earn' the mantle of author of
>the BOM.
>Regarding the IMR and Amtrak ... sadly there is no Amtrak station in Panama
>City. The closest major station is in Atlanta. What defines a legitimate
>institute and institutions is something different altogether. I urge the
>discussants to read "A Theory of Justice" by John Rawls.
>I've tried to learn as much physics as I could from Dick F., however the
>most significant message that stuck was simply to observe nature, avoid
>pretensions, and enjoy clear thinking. So, I'd like to share that with all
>the memeticists who might be reading this. Time expended away from
>scientifc research is simply irretrievably lost.
>Just think, you might could perform a memetic experiment using the web this
>very minute, and actually recording data.
>Happy New Year to All
>and A Happy New Millenium (to those with the appropriate counting system).
>Elan Moritz (at the hibernating Institute for Memetic Research)


Dabbling and "dabblers" (mentioned below) are not in themselves inherently
tyrannical. Indeed, most of us have offered a "2 cents" opinion of one sort
or another in this very discussion group. The free flow of such material
can occasionally inspire serious work. However, when someone issues a
blanket bashing of memetics as science in a major publication and in the
putative capacity of "expert", they are commenting on the products of
everyone who has worked hard at memetic science. When the corresponding
background reading was clearly not done, I am incline to call it
tyrannical--in an informational sense.

Earlier message:

Nice to hear from you after all these years, Elan. I was away to give a
lecture when you wrote, and just noticed your message.

Here is a friendly suggestion that may help both your own credibility, the
credibility of other potential book endorsers, and the credibility of
memetics: if asked to endorse a book in the capacity of director of a
hibernating institute, try to make sure that the hibernation is mentioned,
or else leave off the affiliation entirely. This way, you will not conjure
up an image of a non-hibernating institution that academics then seek out,
only to not find. Not finding an institution that is supposedly important
enough and to warrant mention on the cover of a memetics book can raise
deep suspicions of deception, thus compromising the reputation for
integrity that is among the scientist's most important assets. Once
integrity comes under suspicion, doubts follow about whether memeticists
really mean what they say, or are just engaging in marketing hyperbole and
what TIME called "cocktail party science." Appearances of deception or
integrity also matter when asking skeptical, critical scientists to
consider a work or a theory. Scientists Unfortunately, there was no
further mention of either your work or the IMR or the Journal of Ideas in
the book you endorsed in 1995--a situation that might have been improved
simply by insistence on your part that Moritz (1990) or almost any else's
JOI or IMR work be mentioned before the endorsement. Note too that Carl
Sagan DID list plenty of technical articles, journals, etc. in popular
works without loosing his popular audience. Anyone who wants to do for
memetics what Sagan did for astronomy and astrophysics needs to bear this
in mind, as should anyone considering a jacket comparison to Sagan's work.
(Marking "the more technical works" with an asterisk as Sagan did in
_Cosmos_ back in 1980 is nice, but optional.)

Endorsements given when there is little mention of where to find more
technical works do tend invite questions of motive, especially in a world
that has seen grant application fraud, physicists selling out to "quantum
healing" scams, people making dubious claims of influence over endowed
professorships, etc. As one who has personally received a dubious claim of
academic endowment influence, along with endorsement invitation, I find
myself inclined to think that others may have received similar claims and
offers from the same source. This makes it extremely difficult to
distinguish sincere flattery from that which is driven by misled financial
hopes, even apart from the question of whether a Sagan comparison seems
warranted. One way to stay alert to such possibilities is to look for signs
of honesty or hyperbole in previous works, although even that is not

Thank you for indicating that you would also have endorsed _Thought
Contagion_. Had IMR been in non-hibernating mode around the time of my own
book's publication, I would have considered its director a potential
endorser as well. Note, however, that I did not treat your 1990 JOI paper
as hibernating when I did a the bibliography for my book. There were also a
few other endorsements I was seeking. One simply didn't finish in time,
while the other, Carl Sagan, wrote back to tell me that he had fallen
terribly ill.

One clarification: There are no integrals in my book. Not even any mention
of an "integral press." My 1996 book is much less technical than the one I
planned in the 1980s, and the one that was mentioned in Hofstadter (1985).
With math no more complicated than percentages, it was written for
accessibility to those whose science literacy level was in the top 10 to 20
percent of the USA. Not exactly mainstream-popular, but certainly not
technical either. Even my technical work does not require readers to
manipulate integrals, but merely to understand what they say. Not too much
advanced math in that. But anyone needing the help of a specialist can take
the equations to a math professor, to Wolfram Research, etc. for further
manipulation or application. I have certainly not advocated attempting a
non-computational attempt to solve them. Getting them published is a first
step in a particular line of research. Using the equations or the
simulations I mention on just one movement is a lot of work, but some of
the phenomena to which these methods apply have enormous practical
consequences that could justify such expense. An analogy to hurricanes and
other big weather phenomena might be in order, given their complex math
coupled with practical importance.

I agree with you that there is no "bible of memetics" (with or without
capitalization). I will add that physics, mathematics, chemistry,
cosmology, etc. seem to get along just fine without proclaiming "bibles." I
also agree that time expended away from scientifc research is lost. There
are tradeoffs to be made in going into a new, unestablished discipline
without the benefit of established graduate programs, professorships, and
other academic positions. Unless you were independently wealthy or
succeeded in getting IMR bankrolled, going into such a high-risk field
would entail putting off starting a family, and starting a family would
pressure you to put off the science. But if you had made the sacrifices and
decided pursue memetics seriously 21 years ago as I did, cultivating a
reluctance to jump to conclusions, studying how beliefs spread in real
life, etc., you might have had less patience with such things as neophytes
annoucing themselves as the be-all, end-all of memetics, or the tyrranny of
the dabblers that often gets our field brushed off as "fluff." Hopefully
our early learning days will give way to more productive patterns of
professional relations.

Happy January 0 to all (or something like that),

--Aaron Lynch

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