Darwinizing Culture, published in 2000, is a collection of essays written by both opponents and proponents of the memetic paradigm compiled by Robert Aunger. It gets somewhat technical in parts and is generally not for the casual reader. In this book, serious questions are raised about the validity and predictive power of the memetic paradigm. Some of the points raised are:
Since the information in meaning is not thermodynamic in nature, but rather context-based, how is one to measure it without using one’s own subjective mind?
Is it really possible to break down all meaning into fundamental quanta? Since the definitions of words are made up of other words, each with their own definitions, isn’t meaning self-referential?
Since unlike genes, memes are not passed directly from one person to another but rather recreated in the mind of the receiver based upon assumptions about the causes of the behavior of the sender, might unique differences in each individual prevent the transmission of any contextual information in any objective sense? Might it then be better to measure the spread of observable behaviors instead?
Is it possible that in some cases memes can blend to form hybrid memes, making independent measurement impossible and the concept of quanta of meaning an illusion?
This book is highly informative and well-balanced. Theories of psychology and how the first memes might have arisen are also discussed. Overall, it is a great book.
In Virus Of The Mind, author Richard Brodie explains in smooth, well-written, laymen’s terms what memes are and all about memetics. This is the perfect book for the beginner who is interested in memes but doesn’t know exactly what they are. Types of memes are discussed, such as strategies, associations, and distinctions. So are how memes are used today in religion, politics, and business. Methods of getting one’s message noticed are explained, such as using trigger-words such as mission and danger. After reading this book, the memetic worldview will become clear and exciting. Below is an excerpt from page 16:
“The fourth concept necessary to understanding mind viruses is the new science of evolutionary psychology. This field examines the biases and mechanisms of our minds that evolved to support our survival and reproduction. Some of these biases take the form of psychological buttons that can be pushed to penetrate our mental defenses. I called this part of the book ‘Crisis of the Mind’ rather than simply ‘Introduction’ because the former pushes more buttons: it attracts more attention and more people will read it. I called this book Virus of the Mind rather than Introduction to Memetics for the same reason.”
Written by Aaron Lynch, Thought Contagion is a book packed full of hypothetical examples of memetic effects. If Richard Brodie’s book Virus Of The Mind wasn’t enough for you, Thought Contagion will show by example how memes are expected to work. Below is an excerpt from page 124 wherein Lynch explains one theory as to why more women than men attend church:
“Most Christian propagation advantages work fairly symmetrically between the sexes. Yet Christianity has achieved greater prevalence and intensity among women than among men in North America, suggesting that at least some of its contagion works differently for each sex.
“Traditional social science might look for sex differences in emotional receptivity or critical thinking to explain the differences in religiosity. Memetics can suggest entirely new principles behind the religious gender gap.
“Gender-skewed proselytism during mating offers one memetic explanation. Religious homogamy memes can lead both sexes to proselytize opposite sex unbelievers in order to make them ‘eligible’. Yet men might do so more assertively than women, at least traditionally, resulting in more conversions of women than men.”
Critics of memetics have raised objections to this book, claiming memetics is long on theories but short on proof, the meme mixtures in society are so complex that memetics can be used to argue for the exact opposite of many observed cultural behaviors, and alternative theories exist to explain this same phenomenon above. However, memetic effects must have at least some influence over culture. This book is not meant to be a definitive declaration of how things work, but merely an exercise in thinking memetically. This book introduces memetics to the public; it is not a scientific journal.
My name is Dan. I am an author, artist, explorer, and contemplator of subjects large and small.