Viral Mythology reveals:
From the great myths of the Greek, Roman, and Norse to the texts of the world's major religions, from folklore and fairy tales of old to sacred edifices and monuments, from cave paintings to the mysterious symbology of the Tarot, Viral Mythology uncovers the information highway of the past, and explores how it affects the more modern methods of communication today.
It all began once upon a time....
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About the Author
Marie D. Jones has an extensive background in metaphysics, cutting edge science and the paranormal. She currently serves as a Consultant and Director of Special Projects for ARPAST, the Arkansas Paranormal and Anomalous Studies Team, where she works with ARPAST President and co-author Larry Flaxman to develop theories that can tested in the field. Marie has been featured on the History Channel's "Nostradamus Effect" series, and served as a special UFO/abduction consultant for the 2009 Universal Pictures science fiction movie, "The Fourth Kind."
Larry Flaxman has been actively involved in paranormal research and hands-on field investigation for over thirteen years, and melds his technical, scientific, and investigative backgrounds together for no-nonsense, scientifically objective explanations regarding a variety of anomalous phenomena. He is the President and Senior Researcher of ARPAST, the Arkansas Paranormal and Anomalous Studies Team, which he founded in February of 2007. Larry is also active in the development of cutting edge custom designed equipment for use in the field investigating environmental effects and anomalies that may contribute to our understanding of the paranormal.
Read an Excerpt
Information, Please: How We Spread It, How We Get It
Question: What did they use as means of transmitting information in the ancient days?
Answer: Men on feet.
The success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of gifts.
— Malcolm Gladwell
This is a book about information: what it is, how it is spread, and why. Without information, we wouldn't know anything, or be able to express what we know. Without information, we are left in the dark, stumbling for understanding and a footing to stand on. Information is the "stuff" of our reality, from the ideas that fill our heads to the statistics we see on the news to the facts we learn in school to the theories that scientists posit to describe the world we live in and how it works.
All these "its and bits" of information fill our brains with things to perceive and process, and to make sense of the reality we call home, and to imagine the possibilities of other realities as well. Information is education, creativity, intuition, knowledge, wisdom, and fact and all that emerges from the realms of the mind into the physical. Information is everything. The word information comes from the Latin informare, which means "to inform" or "to give form to the mind." It also means to teach or instruct, and when information is passed on, it is often for the means of instructing or teaching something to the receiver.
But information can also be described as any sensory input to an organism, like a human being. This input is designed to help the organism identify and process the system in which it exists by identifying and using data such as environmental factors and influences, threats to safety, food and water location, changes in social systems, and even the possibility of mating. Some information is meaningless to one organism, but crucial to another. Some information is bypassed or filtered out by the brain as not necessary for survival. Other information causes extreme reactions of fight or flight, or sexual arousal, both of which are necessary for survival (especially the latter!). Even our bodies are made up of information in the form of DNA and genetic coding that influences our physical development.
Though we could go on and on about the various aspects of information in relation to physics and entropy, systems theory, technologically mediated information, semiotics, and abstraction, our focus in this book is information in the form of knowledge, wisdom, and truth, and how it gets from there to here.
Scientific knowledge and understanding, spiritual and religious wisdom, life truths and creative ideas and concepts always existed, albeit not in the complex forms they do in today's web-linked, viral world. Back in ancient times, what people knew and experienced had outlets that we might think of today as crude and ineffective — and yet, we got the messages, and are in the process of trying to interpret them. Ancient art, myth, stories, lore and legend, buildings and architecture, symbols and archetypes, all served as fodder for the transmission methods of the times, and they did work, because today we revel in the discovery of what those myths and legends and symbols and fodder meant, and how they fit into the structure of modern knowledge.
So here's the thing. Back in the day, without aid of high-speed gadgets and viral videos, how did information get from one place to another? We might start by looking at how things go viral in a natural sense, minus the gadgetry.
Let's start with the obvious.
Viva voce is Latin for "by word of mouth." Passing on information by word of mouth, from person to person, is at heart our most basic form of communication as human beings. Along with writing, which came later, we talk. We tell. We describe and convey using words. Cultural and religious tradition is passed down orally. History is passed down orally, in speech and story-telling. Oral tradition is our way of recording and communicating the history of our species for all of posterity. In Oral Tradition as History, author Jan Vansina describes it as "verbal messages which are reported statements from the past beyond the present generation." These messages can be spoken, sung, or played along with musical instruments, and must have been passed down at least one generation.
Oral history may involve the passing of personal information, or even societal information from one generation to the next. This form of historical documentation, though effective, often leaves much to be desired because of the possibility of misinformation, disinformation, and even rumor, gaining a foothold in the passing of truth and fact — not to mention the fact that so much of our oral tradition involves actual story-telling and embellishment in which we must weed out the fact from the fiction. Sometimes we even speak in symbols and images that must be interpreted, which leaves the truth open to all kinds of error, not to mention the personal spin those carrying on the oral tradition often put on what they were conveying and transmitting.
But long before we figured out how to scratch out symbols and images on rocks, pick up a pen and put it to paper, and fire up a tablet and get on the Web, we talked it out.
But the way information has been presented and preserved from ancient times is a lot more involved, a lot more complex. It is, at heart, linked intrinsically with our own evolution as a species.
In the fields of anthropology and archeology, cultural evolution presents a theory by which cultures change and replicate in a similar vein to that of genetic evolution. Cultural evolution is an offshoot of the Darwinian evolutionary theory, and examines how cultures are not just influenced by their environment and biology, but by social factors as well.
The theory was developed in the 19th century to describe cultural inheritance of habits and knowledge and behavior, and their relationship to social learning structures within a given species. Different species will have different means by which they learn various habits and knowledge, and how they are passed on to offspring. Charles Darwin posited this to natural adaptation and selection that occurred along either vertical lines — from parent to offspring, or oblique transmission — from peers and authority figures. But cultural evolution goes beyond mere natural selection to explain more complex questions as to how learning and information spread and transmit through various cultures, including something called "prestige bias," which states that individuals in a culture will copy ideas and knowledge from those they consider higher up the prestige chain than themselves.
On the other hand, "conformist bias" posits that we learn from imitation with common types, sort of a "birds of a feather stick together" idea, and this can include imitating any given member of a society or group that appears to be engaging in appropriate behavior. This was especially important for social groups entering an entirely new environment, in the same way today that city folk learn from country folk when they move from Manhattan to the Ozarks. We learn by conforming to those we seek out as being common to us, or with whom we hope to blend in with.
For a culture to evolve, or for any social change to occur, which often requires the spread of information to allow for new knowledge and behaviors, there must be an interaction between the individual and the social environment in which he or she is embedded. We might ask which came first — the individual who makes society, or the society that makes the individual — and find evidence for both. Cultural inheritance, Darwin believed, was learned from one generation to the next via an organic transmission using "gemmules," particles found in the body that ended up in the gonads, then transmitted to offspring via conception. The new generation would be carrying cellular "knowledge" of the prior generation via these gemmules, and thus continue the traits and characteristics of the parental line.
Another key figure in the development of cultural evolutionary theory, Herbert Spencer, wrote about his view of how evolutionary thinking helped drive human culture via deductive or a priori knowledge. Spencer was a British philosopher and psychologist who actually coined the term survival of the fittest. (The actual quote is "The survival of the fittest, which I have here sought to express in mechanical terms, is that which Mr. Darwin has called 'natural selection, or the preservation of favored races in the struggle for life.'") The experiences, he posited, of past generations were somehow imprinted on human minds as deductive reasoning and knowledge independent of experience, which was then passed on to future generations. This knowledge we possess was that of our ancestors and their experiences, imprinted upon the common mind of all. Spencer also advocated the idea of "use-inheritance," by which individuals and cultures adopted habits and behaviors that were originally utilized by their ancestors. Can learned habits be passed down from one generation to the next? Spencer is quoted in Darwin's classic Descent of Man that he believed
the experiences of utility, organized and consolidated through all past generations of the human race, have been producing corresponding modifications, which, by continued transmission and accumulation, have become in us certain faculties of moral intuition, certain emotions corresponding to right and wrong conduct, which have no apparent basis in the individual experience of utility.
The arguments over which theory best explains cultural evolution and the societal transmission of information continues in the halls of academia, among philosophers and anthropologists, archeologists and psychologists alike. But most can agree that there are certain mechanisms at work by which information is passed around, whether from culture to culture, or generation to generation. Or even person to person to person.
Memes and Memetics
In today's fast-paced world of instant communication, the meme rules. Whether it is Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, our access and availability to information has changed. A meme is an idea or behavior that spreads within a culture from person to person. It can be done very quickly, as in today's linked-up world, or slowly, as in oral tradition and story passed from one generation to another. Or it can be a secret whispered in the ear of the person standing next to you, who then whispers to another, and another, until everyone had heard the secret (although by the time it gets to the last person, it's a completely different secret!).
Chances are good that if you are on the Internet, especially on the many social networking sites, you know what a meme is. To put it simply, a meme is a concept, idea, action, behavior, or even style that spreads within a particular culture via person-to-person interaction. Memes can spread via writing, art, rituals, and anything that can be repeated or imitated by someone else. The word meme comes from the Ancient Greek mimeisthai, "to imitate," and was actually coined by Richard Dawkins, a British evolutionary biologist and ethologist in his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene, although references to the idea of the "mneme" as a unit of cultural transmission of experiences was discussed in an earlier 1904 book, Die Mneme, by German biologist Richard Semon.
Dawkins, a noted atheist and author of The God Delusion, popularized the idea of the gene as the principal unit of selection in evolution. In The Selfish Gene, he wrote that a meme was a "cultural replicator" that could be viewed as a unit with the ability to copy or duplicate itself, and that all life evolved from the "differential survival of replicating entities." Ideas, beliefs, catch phrases, and even gestures could be copied via linguistic communication and inference from a person to a person. Ideas, then, which are information, could be thought of as actual entities that hop from one mind to another and make copies as they go, spreading like a mental virus. These would, of course, do so at different rates and speeds, depending on the cultural environment, and eventually might spread beyond one culture to another nearby.
In the same way genes replicate, ideas might do so. Memes therefore can be thought of as the behavioral genes. Dawkins had a lot of skeptics and even scholars who felt he was ignoring the fact that genes are part of their environment, working together. One gene alone does not survival make. But Dawkins strongly supported the idea that for each individual gene, all other genes are a part of its adapted environment. In the same fashion, one meme alone does not a culture make, but memes serve as one driver of ideas within a system.
Memetics is the theory of memes as a driver of evolutionary biology, although it is only one theory. There are issues with memetics being a sole cause of how a culture embraces and transmits ideas and information, and detractors do state that because not all ideas spread through populations in the same manner, not all ideas can be considered replicators, and therefore memes. Another argument posits that cultural units, or memes, do not form lineages the way genes do. For example, a new copy of a gene can be traced back to a single parent, but one cannot trace a single idea as clearly and cleanly back to a single original source.
Ideas do spread through various means of exposure, and many are in fact reproduced again and again until they become a cultural "norm," but they are not necessarily copied from one person to another. One way to look at these differences would be the world of baking and cooking. Take a recipe, and pass it on to a hundred people. Those one hundred people may or may not follow that recipe to a T, and there will be some results that are absolute duplicates, and others that are close calls. Yet the initial idea, or information, remains somewhat intact.
Spread a recipe through several generations and that intact structure may become less and less formal, as people try this or tweak that, yet all the while still staying somewhat true to the original recipe.
Information that pertains to life in the form of genes can be transmitted in two ways: either vertically, from parent to child via genetic replication, or horizontally via the introduction of viruses and so forth. This can also apply to memetics and ideas that spread through generations from parents to offspring, and like viruses through populations, effecting and infecting each person that comes in contact with the idea. Thus, the same drivers in genetics are found present when it comes to memes and ideas.
Aaron Lynch, an American author and former engineering physicist at Fermilab, with an educational background in mathematics and philosophy, wrote a seminal book titled Thought Contagion: How Belief Spreads Through Society, in which he documented his theoretical and mathematical models of idea transmission, many of which had been previously published in the scholarly Journal of Ideas. Lynch posited that ideas were information that was encoded in the human neurons or in other media, but could also take on new intentional meanings and contagious properties as they evolved, even becoming new belief sets. This included erroneous beliefs and misinformation as well, leading Lynch to state, "People don't learn from each other's mistakes. They learn each other's mistakes." Ideas, therefore, were both embedded and evolving, but did not have a "consciousness" of their own and were driven by things such as fads, trends, mass hysteria, even copycat crimes, and violence — even mob rule mentality.
Interestingly, Lynch put forth seven key patterns of meme/idea transmission that described thought contagion:
1. Quantity of Parenthood — Ideas that influence the number of children a person has. Ideas that encourage higher birth rate will replicate faster than those that discourage it.
2. Efficiency of Parenthood — Ideas that increase the proportion of children who will adopt their parents' ideas.
3. Proselytic — Ideas generally passed to others beyond one's own children, as in religious and political movements, which spread more rapidly horizontally in populations than they do from parent to child.
4. Preservational — Ideas that influence those who continue to believe them for long periods of time, as in traditions. These ideas are hard to abandon or replace.
5. Adversative — Ideas that influence those that hold them to attack, or sabotage competing ideas. Replication gives an advantage to the meme when it encourages aggression against other memes.
6. Cognitive — Ideas perceived as reasonable, convincing, and cogent by most of the population who encounter them. Dependent upon ideas and traits already widely held in a population, thus spreading more passively than other meme types.
7. Motivational — Ideas that people accept and adopt because of some self-interest benefit.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Viral Mythology"
Copyright © 2014 Marie D. Jones and Larry Flaxman.
Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword Heather Lynn, PhD 9
Introduction: Going Viral 23
Chapter 1 Information, Please: How We Spread It, How We Get It 27
Chapter 2 Every Picture Tells a Story (Don't It?): Image, Art, and Symbol 79
Chapter 3 Of Gods and Goddesses: The Rise of the Written Word 117
Chapter 4 Once Upon a Time: Story, Lore, and Legend 147
Chapter 5 Archeoenigmas: Things Out of Time and Place 147
Chapter 6 Hidden Wisdom, Secret Truths 169
Chapter 7 Outsourced: Ancient Aliens, invisible Fields, and Other Outside Information Sources 199
Chapter 8 The Stories of Our Lives: How Today's Ideas Will Become Tomorrow's Viral Mythology 219
About the Authors 253
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Marie Jones and Larry Flaxman will make you think, yet again. From ancient pyramids and the Baghdad Battery to "Sharknado" and social networking, they dive into how information is and is not passed onand how that affects society at the time and for the future. "Everything we engage in as a society, as human beings, locally or globally, gets embeded and encoded as pieces of historical puzzle for someoe to put together one day." So true! They make you contemplate that next status you put up on facebook, photo you put on instagram or just how the pyramids were built. A great book for those interested in history, alternative history, sociology or just those who are curious.