Thought Contagion: How Belief Spreads Through Society

Thought Contagion: How Belief Spreads Through Society

by Aaron Lynch
     
 

View All Available Formats & Editions

Fans of Douglas Hofstadter, Daniel Bennet, and Richard Dawkins (as well as science buffs and readers of Wired Magazine) will revel in Aaron Lynch's groundbreaking examination of memetics-the new study of how ideas and beliefs spread. What characterizes a meme is its capacity for displacing rival ideas and beliefs in an evolutionary drama that determines and changes

Overview

Fans of Douglas Hofstadter, Daniel Bennet, and Richard Dawkins (as well as science buffs and readers of Wired Magazine) will revel in Aaron Lynch's groundbreaking examination of memetics-the new study of how ideas and beliefs spread. What characterizes a meme is its capacity for displacing rival ideas and beliefs in an evolutionary drama that determines and changes the way people think. Exactly how do ideas spread, and what are the factors that make them genuine thought contagions? Why, for instance, do some beliefs spread throughout society, while others dwindle to extinction? What drives those intensely held beliefs that spawn ideological and political debates such as views on abortion and opinions about sex and sexuality? By drawing on examples from everyday life, Lynch develops a conceptual basis for understanding memetics. Memes evolve by natural selection in a process similar to that of Genes in evolutionary biology. What makes an idea a potent meme is how effectively it out-propagates other ideas. In memetic evolution, the "fittest ideas" are not always the truest or the most helpful, but the ones best at self replication. Thus, crash diets spread not because of lasting benefit, but by alternating episodes of dramatic weight loss and slow regain. Each sudden thinning provokes onlookers to ask, "How did you do it?" thereby manipulating them to experiment with the diet and in turn, spread it again. The faster the pounds return, the more often these people enter that disseminating phase, all of which favors outbreaks of the most pathogenic diets. Like a software virus traveling on the Internet or a flu strain passing through a city, thought contagions proliferate by programming for their own propagation. Lynch argues that certain beliefs spread like viruses and evolve like microbes, as mutant strains vie for more adherents and more hosts. In its most revolutionary aspect, memetics asks not how people accumulate ideas, but how ideas accumulate people. Readers of this intriguing theory will be amazed to discover that many popular beliefs about family, sex, politics, religion, health, and war have succeeded by their "fitness" as thought contagions.

Editorial Reviews

Booknews
Promotes the contagious disease model of ideas. The approach is based on the concept of meme, defined as an identifiable unit of cultural imitation that becomes significant because of its effectiveness at self-replication, rather than, for example, because it is a good idea. Draws examples from popular beliefs, social science, children and families, religion, and health.
Publisher Weekly
A meme, in the newly emerging discipline called memetics, is a self-propagating idea, a unit of cultural imitation that, much like a biological or computer virus, effectively programs its own retransmission. Memes can percolate through society by motivating their "host population," or by reshuffling old ideas into novel configurations, or via human proselytizers. According to Lynch, formerly a Fermilab engineering physicist, a nuclear family meme set (combining ideas of sexual monogamy, long-term commitment and biparental upbringing) ensures that the people whose mating behavior produces the most children will also personally raise those children. A crucifixion meme, he cautions, leaves Christianity vulnerable to exploitation by phony religious leaders who generate guilt-inspired contributions; the Yahweh god meme, spreading among the ancient Hebrews, fostered a unified moral code. Lynch also uses memes to explain current controversies over abortion and handguns, men's breast fetishes, homophobia, diets that achieve temporary results and much else. Memetics is a radical science, modeled on genetics, that cuts against the grain of conventional and habitual thinking; Lynch does a fine job of covering its pros and cons, exploring its range and making it accessible to nonexpert readers.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780465084678
Publisher:
Basic Books
Publication date:
11/27/1998
Edition description:
PBK ED
Pages:
208
Sales rank:
1,241,244
Product dimensions:
5.32(w) x 7.99(h) x 0.60(d)
Lexile:
1280L (what's this?)

What People are saying about this

Richard Dawkins
When I get down to writing The Selfish Meme, Aaron Lynch's admirable Thought Contagion will undoubtedly be a prime source-book for intriguing examples and penetrating analyses. -- (Richard Dawkins, author of River out of Eden and The Selfish Gene)
Douglas Hofstadter
The very meme of "memes" is ... taking hold and spreading through the human ideosphere, and it is my hope that Thought Contagion will be a primary vector in this global epidemic. -- (Douglas Hofstadter, author of Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies, Metamagical Themas, and Godel, Escher, Bach)

Meet the Author

Aaron Lynch was an engineering physicist. In 1990 he was awarded a grant for full-time research by a private sponsor.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >