Thought Contagion: How Belief Spreads Through Society: The New Science Of Memes

Thought Contagion: How Belief Spreads Through Society: The New Science Of Memes

by Aaron Lynch
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Thought Contagion: How Belief Spreads Through Society: The New Science Of Memes by Aaron Lynch

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.

Product Details

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

About the Author

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

Table of Contents

Preface: vii
1: Self-Sent Messages and Mass Belief 1
2: A Missing Link: Memetics and the Social Sciences 17
3: Family Plans: Ideas that Win with Children 41
4: Sexually Transmitted Belief: The Clash of Freedom and Restriction 73
5: Successful Cults: Western Religion by Natural Selection 97
6: Prescription Beliefs: Thought Contagions and Health 135
7: Controversy: Thought Contagions in Conflict 157
8: Thought Contagions of "Thought Contagion" 175
Bibliography 179
Index 183

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)

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Thought Contagion: How Belief Spreads Through Society: The New Science Of Memes 1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I suppose I'm a glutton for punishment for actually finishing this book. Introduces the concept of a 'meme' (a self-regenerating idea) and the modes of transmitting memes (e.g., parental influence, etc.). Provides examples of memes and meme transmission, such as the proliferation of Islam (e.g., active, public prayer leads to greater exposure . . . large families likewise impacts growth of believers). Unless this book is something you are required to read, I'd take a pass on it.