Monday, January 23, 2012

Thought Contagion

Thought Contagion: How belief spreads through society (the new science of memes)

Aaron Lynch, 1996

It is written that Lynch’s Thought Contagion theory was developed independently of Dawkin’s Memetics theory: "Lynch claimed to have conceived his theory totally independently of any contact with academics in the cultural evolutionary sphere, and apparently was not even aware of Dawkins' The Selfish Gene until his book was very close to publication."

“Man is what he believes” – Anton Chekhov

A thought contagion is a self-propagating idea (similar to Dawkin’s Selfish Gene)

People-acquiring ideas


Ideas-acquiring people

Memetics is just the evolution of ideas (each one like a species), post-genes

Passive adaptation, natural, cultural mind viruses


Thought contagion, artificial, designer mind viruses

“…having more thought contagions [in a society] may accelerate the brain’s evolution for capacities for memetic immunity, pushing it towards more sophisticated levels of cultural capacity. (p25)

Lynch taking from Evolutionary Biologist Richard Dawkins’ sociobiological book The Selfish Gene:

-Genetic replicator theory: living organisms are the “machines” that genes use to copy themselves into new organisms

-Genes are self-copying information bundles in a storage medium of organic molecules

“Divine Law Enforcement”

Memetic History: Little People and Big People

Memetics’s focus on beliefs as replicators can likewise give short shrift to prominent people. To multiple aggressively memes must affect large numbers of people with in similar ways. But most of any large crowd consists of “little people” so the theory ca not ignore them in favor of prominent people.

Even in its focus on “little people”, memetics pays disproportionate attention to our more benign and unsophisticated communications. The seemingly little events of communication greatly outnumber the big ones and are easier to imitate. So they play an important role in mass movements.

The best replicators command retransmitting behaviors from adherents great and small, over wide areas, and across long time spans. Prominent figure may do more meme spreading per person, but the common fold often account for most of a meme’s replication through their sheer number. (p38)

[And so it should be reinforced here, that in order for the ‘common folk’ to replicate the meme, it must be easy to imitate, otherwise, they will either not do it at all, or do it wrong. In order for a meme to survive, it must be copied with some degree of fidelity.]

‘Be Fruitful and Multiply’ and ‘Religion’: Meme Synergy

This meme, “be fruitful and multiply”, replicates through history in its natural, logical way (those who exercise the meme have more offspring, by way of the meme itself, accelerating the rate of propagation). When the powerhouse ‘Religion’ meme reaches supreme authority, ‘be fruitful…’ slips right in and explodes on the population. The two memes work together, strengthening each other’s chances of survival by the nature of each meme in itself. (see p100)


Memetics should reach its genetic-equivalent of evolutionary biology as a mature theory.

As one of the most powerful forces of nature, the evolution of replicating entities by natural selection extends beyond biology, having newfound importance in the origin of beliefs. Where once we had thought our origins above nature, we now know the humble truth of biological evolution. Where once we had thought our beliefs and values above the laws of nature, we increasingly know them, too, as the outcomes of natural selection. [note the parallel to Kahler’s work regarding the shifting role of divine creator to moral guardian as evidenced in the history of the "inward turn of the narrative" – Llynch is suggesting that even this position is now being usurped.]

In every corner of our lives…thought contagions live with us and in us, telling us how. (p173)

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