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Thought Contagion: When Ideas ACT Like Viruses (The Kluwer International Series in Engineering & Computer Science)

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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 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.


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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 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.

30 review for Thought Contagion: When Ideas ACT Like Viruses (The Kluwer International Series in Engineering & Computer Science)

  1. 5 out of 5

    Lieb

    What can I say, this is a bad book about an interesting topic: memes. The first chapter is promising but the remainder of the book is a series of poorly conceived examples of "thought contagion" that offer no supporting evidence other than the author's opinions. Lynch's interpretation of memes is mainly focused on ideas that encourage having more children and then indoctrinating those children to believe in the idea. I agree that this is one mechanism of meme propagation but I doubt that this is What can I say, this is a bad book about an interesting topic: memes. The first chapter is promising but the remainder of the book is a series of poorly conceived examples of "thought contagion" that offer no supporting evidence other than the author's opinions. Lynch's interpretation of memes is mainly focused on ideas that encourage having more children and then indoctrinating those children to believe in the idea. I agree that this is one mechanism of meme propagation but I doubt that this is a major one (at least not on the scale that Lynch believes it is). Dawkins ( http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/61..., http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/61... ) and Dennett ( http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20... ) provide better commentaries on the concept of memes and its relationship to evolutionary theory.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Mark Terry

    A very promising start that begins with a very good chapter explaining the concept of "memes," a way of evaluating ideas in biological terms. Memetics (study of memes) assesses the ability of ideas to propogate, develop immunity to changes and other biological concepts. Unfortunately, the subsequent chapters contain a series of examples that don't add any value. Whether the examples were poorly conceived or overly simplified I don't know. And don't really care as the examples didn't add much to A very promising start that begins with a very good chapter explaining the concept of "memes," a way of evaluating ideas in biological terms. Memetics (study of memes) assesses the ability of ideas to propogate, develop immunity to changes and other biological concepts. Unfortunately, the subsequent chapters contain a series of examples that don't add any value. Whether the examples were poorly conceived or overly simplified I don't know. And don't really care as the examples didn't add much to my understanding.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Alexander Smith

    This book serves more historically than the "towards a memetic science" point that it suggested at the time it was published. What this book does is offer a few suggestive ways in which a variety of human sciences could adopt memetics relative to their interests in the 1990s. While most of these fields have moved on to adopt or ignore these suggestions, even the concerns of the book are dated to questions that largely have been answered in more detail by other paradigms. This book's first two cha This book serves more historically than the "towards a memetic science" point that it suggested at the time it was published. What this book does is offer a few suggestive ways in which a variety of human sciences could adopt memetics relative to their interests in the 1990s. While most of these fields have moved on to adopt or ignore these suggestions, even the concerns of the book are dated to questions that largely have been answered in more detail by other paradigms. This book's first two chapters are mostly what is useful from the book. It proposes a memetic metaphysics and suggests some ways it could be adopted into other academic paradigms. The following chapters attempt to be more thorough in a variety of areas anthropology that had been suggested within memetics. Most of these topics are no longer a part of memetic discussion but are instead delegated to materialist cultural anthropology and religion and are treated more within the realm of mimesis than memetics.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Nick Burdick

    Booooooo. This is a book about memetics, which I find fascinating, but it read like an undergraduate term paper written at the last minute. The first chapter has some useful explanations of the different vehicles that memes use to spread. He lays out seven such vehicles, but then he tries to explain his limited choice of subjects—religion, sexual norms, political stripes—by way of only two of them. Most of the rest of the book is nothing but conjectures and poorly thought-out examples. I probably Booooooo. This is a book about memetics, which I find fascinating, but it read like an undergraduate term paper written at the last minute. The first chapter has some useful explanations of the different vehicles that memes use to spread. He lays out seven such vehicles, but then he tries to explain his limited choice of subjects—religion, sexual norms, political stripes—by way of only two of them. Most of the rest of the book is nothing but conjectures and poorly thought-out examples. I probably gained more from this book by arguing with it; indeed, the margins are filled with my notes—mostly about counterexamples, fallacies, and flat-out factual errors. I had high hopes, but it turned out to be quite a disappointment. I wish I were better about parting ways with books before they are over; I could have saved myself some precious hours.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Tim Mcleod

    Dear Reader, I hated this cut-rate cocktail party banter so much that I recycled the book rather than donate. The other folks have already pointed out its flaws. Wish I'd read them in advance. Dear Reader, I hated this cut-rate cocktail party banter so much that I recycled the book rather than donate. The other folks have already pointed out its flaws. Wish I'd read them in advance.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    Not a book for casual reading. This would probably be great research material for the social sciences, or someone who is specifically interested in the field of memetics. The topic is presented dryly, and the writing style is too academic, for casual non-fiction reading. I read a few chapters and then set it down for good.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    The title associated with ISBN 0-465-08467-2 is Thought Contagion: How Belief Spreads Through Society: The New Science Of Memes, just like the cover shows. Interesting read.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin Terry

  9. 4 out of 5

    Wes

  10. 5 out of 5

    Mikhale Rogers II

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

  12. 4 out of 5

    Tom Sjöblom

  13. 4 out of 5

    Alex Hogan

    Lots to think about in here.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ross

  15. 4 out of 5

    Nick

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jenifer

  17. 5 out of 5

    Alberto Cohen

  18. 5 out of 5

    Tve

  19. 5 out of 5

    Pippah Getchell

  20. 4 out of 5

    Mike

  21. 5 out of 5

    John Moore

  22. 5 out of 5

    Diana G Rodriguez

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jason Poggioli

  24. 4 out of 5

    Miklos

  25. 5 out of 5

    Mark Hewitt

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy

  27. 4 out of 5

    Natalia

  28. 5 out of 5

    Leon Cooper

  29. 5 out of 5

    Westcoast_girl

  30. 5 out of 5

    Ntiense OBOT

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