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The Electric Meme: A New Theory of How We Think [Hardcover]

By Robert Aunger (Author)
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Item Number 150251  
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Item Specifications...

Pages   400
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.66" Width: 6.38" Height: 1.12"
Weight:   1.44 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Jul 31, 2002
Publisher   Free Press
ISBN  0743201507  
EAN  9780743201506  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...

From biology to culture to the new new economy, the buzzword on everyone's lips is "meme." How do animals learn things? How does human culture evolve? How does viral marketing work? The answer to these disparate questions and even to what is the nature of thought itself is, simply, the meme. For decades researchers have been convinced that memes were The Next Big Thing for the understanding of society and ourselves. But no one has so far been able to define what they are. Until now.

Here, for the first time, Robert Aunger outlines what a meme physically is, how memes originated, how they developed, and how they have made our brains into their survival systems. They are thoughts. They are parasites. They are in control. A meme is a distinct pattern of electrical charges in a node in our brains that reproduces a thousand times faster than a bacterium. Memes have found ways to leap from one brain to another. A number of them are being replicated in your brain as you read this paragraph.

In 1976 the biologist Richard Dawkins suggested that all animals -- including humans -- are puppets and that genes hold the strings. That is, we are robots serving as life support for the genes that control us. And all they want to do is replicate themselves. But then, we do lots of things that don't seem to help genes replicate. We decide not to have children, we waste our time doing dangerous things like mountain climbing, or boring things like reading, or stupid things like smoking that don't seem to help genes get copied into the next generation. We do all sorts of cultural things for reasons that don't seem to have anything to do with genes. Fashions in sports, books, clothes, ideas, politics, lifestyles come and go and give our lives meaning, so how can we be gene robots?

Dawkins recognized that something else was going on. We communicate with one another and we get ideas, and these ideas seem to have a life of their own. Maybe there was something called memes that were like thought genes. Maybe our bodies were gene robots and our minds were meme robots. That would mean that what we think is not the result of our own creativity, but rather the result of the evolutionary flow of memes as they wash through us.

What is the biological reality of an idea with a life of its own? What is a thought gene? It's a meme. And no one before Robert Aunger has established what it physically must be. This elegant, paradigm-shifting analysis identifies how memes replicate in our brains, how they evolved, and how they use artifacts like books and photographs and advertisements to get from one brain to another. Destined to inflame arguments about free will, open doors to new ways of sharing our thoughts, and provide a revolutionary explanation of consciousness, The Electric Meme will change the way each of us thinks about our minds, our cultures, and our daily choices.

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More About Robert Aunger

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Robert Aunger received his Ph.D. in anthropology from UCLA. He has taught at the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, and the University of Cambridge. He was until recently a Research Fellow at King's College, Cambridge, and is currently affiliated with the Department of Biological Anthropology at the same university. He organized the first academic conference dedicated to memes, which resulted in his book "Darwinizing Culture: The Status of Memetics as a Science." He lives in Cambridge, England.

Robert Aunger has an academic affiliation as follows - University of Cambridge The Hygiene Centre London School of Hygiene an.

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
The Edge of Creating a Culture of Peace  Nov 26, 2007
I struggled with portions of this book, but it is a righteous endeavor that takes Richard Dawkins and the quasi-discipline of memetics closer to where we need to be if we are to map cultures and languages and learn how to proliferate a culture of peace and prosperity.

This is a very important work, and while I might have given it a four for its somewhat dense presentation, the author is brilliant, the topic is important, and I do not agree with those who are overly critical of this work. It is a pioneering work, and should be read together with Darwinizing Culture: The Status of Memetics as a Science, which is an edited work with a number of great minds (mostly UK) coming together to both collaborate and collide.

I have three pages of notes that I will condense here.

+ Consciousness, Cognition, Culture are new terrain
+ Ideas have a life of their own
+ Culture is a form of grouip legacy mind, knowledge, wisdom
+ The table of contents of this book is extraordinary, worthy of closse reading all by itself
+ Cultural evolution appears to spiral with biological evolution
+ Social intercourse replicates (and I would add, mutates) information
+ Mind virus can be understood by looking at computer viruses
+ A "meme" is an infectuous idea
+ Roots in cognitive studies in 1960's, sociobiology (E. O. Wilson) in 1970's
+ Evolutionary psycholkogy flips sociobiology by claiming that it is not the behavior but the decision process leading to the behavior that must be studied
+ Human share 97.5% DNA with chimpanzees
+ Group IQ and the emerging studies of bacteria and baboons lends credence to this work.
+ I ask myself, "Why are languages and cultures dying?" We need to do for 183 languages and their cultures what we have been trying to do for the environment. I am finally ordering a book Paul Hawkins recommends, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, a book that talks about all the knowledge of earth stewardship that existed until Columbus brought European diseases and guns to the Americas.
+ Cultural ecology having trouble proving itself
+ Culture, not the environment, is our intellectual and emotional context
+ Epidemiology provides a model for studying viruses
+ Human behavior appears shaped by genes, memes, and the environment
+ Citing Steven Pinker, author of The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, a book I liked very much, the author suggests that social learning amplifies individual knowledge, and is vital in complex circumstances. I recommend Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration and Five Minds for the Future for further study.
+ Culture is a dynamic for information sharing
+ Citing Pinker (I like this author's meticulous respect for ideas from others properly cited), Information is the ultimate gift without a price tag
+ Pasge 140, "Why does information matter? Because the *structure* of the universe--that is, matter and energy==is a function of the distribution and quantity of information.
+ Author discusses E=mc2 and how the idea went from Einstein, to his parrot, to his parrot's new girlfriend, to a visitor who had been struggling for a decade with the question Einstein answered. From this I realize the equation that will govern the rest of my life:

P2 = M4IS x I5

Prosperity and Peace can be achieved by combining the Swedish concept of Multinattional Multiagency, Multidisciplinary, Multidomain Information Sharing (M4IS) with Intelligence, Imagination, Intuition, Initiative, and Innovation (I5). We need to get away from the material world and explode the mental world by connection the five billion poor with cell phones and sharing knowledge with them one cell call at a time.

The author points out that most of what we know is not in our heads, but stored in artifacts (e.g. the human genome data no one mind could handle).

On page 327, some provoicativee statements about a new mental planet with its own ecology.

I am absolutely wowed by the author's conclusion: we only just begun to understand ourselves and the societies we inhabit.

Am beginning to think I am going to have to spend some time at Cambridge and Oxford as well as Harvard and Stanford and MIT as well as the foundations. As a result of reading this work, I have planned three edited works for 2009:

GIFT INTELLIGENCE: How individual and organizations can orchestrate and optimize giving

CULTURAL INTELLIGENCE: Nurturing the Five Minds Everywhere

ABNORMAL Intelligence: From Bacterial to Extra-Terrestial

Am shaking my head as I finish this up and move to review the other book. This is deep deep good stuff that could help us chart a course for growing a new generation that values peace and prosperity over war and cheating.

See also:
Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming
A Power Governments Cannot Suppress
Society's Breakthrough!: Releasing Essential Wisdom and Virtue in All the People
Escaping the Matrix: How We the People can change the world
A memes to an end  Aug 26, 2006
Aunger's book The Electric Meme is incredibly interesting, and probably the most optimistic of the many books on memetics at propelling it as a science. However, although Aunger is convinced that by testing the ideas in his book could very likely lead to a palpable meme, he didn't exactly convince me (A very ardent lover of Memetics I might add).

There's one fundamental flaw with Aunger's electric meme and I'll state it as concisely as I can: What I call a handgun, you may call fun killing tool. Meaning, what we perceive, our subjectivity, is completely...umm...subjective! By proposing we can find, and model the same tangible meme inside two separate individuals is an enormous oversimplification of consciousness. How the handgun is represented in my brain (the firing neurons, synapses, and associated patterns) is completely different and as far as I know, unable to even be correlated, transposable, or recognizably similar to how it's represented in yours.

By knowing that I process visual information in the same area that you do by no means gives us a clue to how they correlate because the "areas" in the brain that we can image mean nothing due to the fact that the brain is functioning at a precision we cannot model or accurately understand. Because Aunger is so anxious for the tangibility of the meme he's using rather primitive knowledge of brain activity, and presumptuous ideas about neural patterns to argue for the electric meme, he's using it as a "memes" to an end.

Nevertheless, The Electric Meme is still a fascinating book and a must for all who are interested in memes.
A species should not define a kingdom  Aug 26, 2005
In the Electric Meme Robert Aunger suggests that neurophysiologists should be able to find physical evidence that certain electrical patterns generated by neural nets in the human brain, are capable of replicating themselves, either at the same spot or, significantly, at some other similar spot in the same or another brain, and that it is the pattern itself that is a significant reason for its replication, as opposed to the fact that the pattern is the inevitable consequence of some important object or process out in the world being surveyed by sensory mechanisms. Additionally, the pattern is not perfectly replicated, giving rise to various versions of it in a competitive environment, which are then subject to natural selection. It is a brilliant idea (if not an obvious one, once it has been pointed out) that struck me as being true the moment Dawkins first released it into the meme pool in a more general form in the Selfish Gene, especially in the later versions of that book. Aunger's attempt to define the beast a little more precisely in order to assist in its experimental capture is a nice direction as long as nobody takes it too seriously. The existence of memes is one of the most delicious ideas floating around right now, and with the singular exception of Dawkins and his forgiveable insistence that it must rhyme with "creams," I'd be comfortable to see the notion be allowed to float around unhampered a bit longer. If a scientist of whatever stripe is fortunate enough to trap something specific, with a knowable, reproducible, structure, which looks like a meme, and walks like a meme, then I say call it a meme, but don't define the whole kingdom based on a single species.

And by the way, Mr. Aunger, ribosomes do not replicate DNA, and nitric oxide is not the same thing as nitrous oxide, and a lot of specific facts in your book, could have been repaired with a little Googling prior to publication, but thank you for a fine book.
Aunger gets ahead of himself  Jul 16, 2003
This is rigorous and well researched, but it gets ahead of itself. To say that memes (or meme components) correspond to some sort of pattern in human brains is saying more than we know now about the correspondence between brain states and our thoughts and experiences. If we don't know this for one brain, then certainly we don't know how these analogous states can be replicated across brains. Ambitious work, but too soon.
Memetic Determinism??  Jan 17, 2003
In this book Aunger tries to create a material, not metaphorical meme-an ELECTRIC MEME. His meme is a parasitic super replicator that uses the host brain to accomplish replication. He defines his meme as a millisecond neural tendency to spike across the brain's synaptic gaps. However it is well known that human consciousness requires hundreds of a second. This means that by the time one becomes aware of a meme's content it has already been replicated in one's brain. Before one becomes conscious of making a decision one's brain has already made it. Aunger suggests that free will can't survive the coming onslaught of neuroscientific advances-and if his idea holds water he might be right.

Aunger got as far as discussing neurotransmitters and nitrous oxide ions that produce neuron firing. But he has limits to how fast and how tiny he wants to go. He stopped short of including the internal quantum measurement required by cells to replicate (as articulated by McFadden in QUANTUM EVOLUTION). Although he finishes by saying he'll accept either finding of whether memes exist or not, he first leads one through 300 repetitive pages of caring a lot. He tries to piggyback his idea of the electric meme on prion and computer virus replicators. Strange that with all he had to say of comp-virus he never once used the common term cellular automata. If you can plow through this book your IQ will increase by 1%.


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