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Virus of the Mind: The New Science of the Meme [Paperback]

Richard Brodie
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 2004 0963600125 978-0963600127
Virus of the Mind is the first popular book devoted to the science of memetics, a controversial new field that transcends psychology, biology, anthropology, and cognitive science. Memetics is the science of memes, the invisible but very real DNA of human society. In Virus of the Mind,Richard Brodie carefully builds on the work of scientists Richard Dawkins, Douglas Hofstadter, Daniel Dennett, and others who have become fascinated with memes and their potential impact on our lives. But he goes beyond science and dives into the meat of the issue: is the emergence of this new science going to have an impact on our lives like the emergence of atomic physics did in the Cold War? Richard would say the impact will be at least as great. While atomic bombs affect everybody's life, viruses of the mind touch lives in a more personal and more pernicious way. Mind viruses have already infected governments, educational systems, and inner cities, leading to some of the most pervasive and troublesome problems of society today: youth gangs, the welfare cycle, the deterioration of the public schools, and ever-growing government bureaucracy. Viruses of the mind are not a future worry: they are here with us now and are evolving to become better and better at their job of infecting us. The recent explosion of mass media and the information superhighway has made the earth a prime breeding ground for viruses of the mind. Will there be a mental plague? Will only some of us survive with our free will intact? Richard Brodie weaves together science, ethics, and current events as he raises these and other very disturbing questions about memes.
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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If you've ever wondered how and why people become robotically enslaved by advertising, religion, sexual fantasy, and cults, wonder no more. It's all because of "mind viruses," or "memes," and those who understand how to plant them into other's minds. This is the first truly accessible book about memes and how they make the world go 'round.

Of course, like all good memes, the ideas in Brodie's book are double-edged swords. They can vaccinate against the effects of cognitive viruses, but could also be used by those seeking power to gain it even more effectively. If you don't want to be left behind in the coevolutionary arms race between infection and protection, read about memes. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Richard Brodie is best known as the original author of Microsoft Word. His self-help book, 'Getting Past OK,' is an international bestseller. His groundbreaking book on memes, 'Virus of the Mind,' spent 52 weeks on the Hot 100 and is used as a text in many college courses. An accomplished speaker, Richard has appeared on dozens of television and radio shows, including 'The Oprah Winfrey Show.'

Richard continues to pursue wide and varied interests, which he occasionally blogs about. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Belief Structures & Erasing Personal History Jan. 13 2004
I first flicked through a copy of 'Virus of the Mind' in a secondhand bookshop in Flagstaff, Arizona. At that stage the part that caught my attention was the chapter on disinfection and particularly the piece entitled 'zen and the art of devirusing'. Here Richard Brodie states, "if you switch off your internal dialogue, you've made the first big step towards freeing yourself of the tyranny of mind viruses." The technique he suggests is a simple meditation, "thought watching".
This brought to mind two other, seemingly unrelated, schools of thought. One is 'speed reading'; the Evelyn Wood Reading dynamics system suggests the only way to increase your speed significantly is to stop repeating the words in your head. The second is Carlos Castaneda, who talks of 'stopping the world' - more on the technique is given in Victor Sanchez's book 'The Teachings of Don Carlos' where techniques for 'Stopping Inner Dialogue' are given.
More recently, I was reminded of this book when I began a course of study in Psychosynthesis. One of the key concepts our tutor talked about was "Belief Structures." Belief structures and memes are for all intents and purposes the same thing. Our course involved looking at where we gained many of our beliefs, including a project entitled 'Family of Origin' where the main aim is to trace beliefs (memes) and traits through our parents and grand-parents, along with our siblings.
Psychosynthesis itself (as a "psychotherapy") works heavily on breaking down belief structures, and allowing an individual to recreate new beliefs which are more appropriate for their needs. For those interested in following up this line of thought, check out the works of Roberto Assagioli and Piero Ferrucci.
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Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I've read Dawkins's "The Selfish Gene" and Blackmore's "The Meme Machine", both of which I found to be extremely interesting and consistent explanations of memetics. Much food for thought. Looking for more, I came to Brodie's "Virus of the Mind". What a disappointment! Brodie gets the details right in some places, but seems to completely miss the big picture throughout.

He got my hopes up at the beginning of chapter 2 when he said "In this book I'm going to write as though ALL your behavior is dictated by a combination of the instructions in your DNA and the mental programming you acquired as you grew up: your genes and your memes." Aside: Not all mental programming is memetic. As Blackmore notes, some modes of learning are not based on imitation. Brodie continues "Some people believe there's a third factor in there: a soul, a spirit, a little "me! me! me!" demanding recognition as something more than machinery. ... we don't have to resolve that particular philosophical issue right here, since either belief works fine for understanding memetics and this book."

If only Brodie had stayed true to his promise not to invoke any "third factor". However, though he may not even be aware of it, Brodie's writing (and indeed his entire premise that people can take control of their own mental programming) presupposes the existence of a "third factor"; something that is apart from the mind and yet can control it; something that can select or reject new memes, uninfluenced by those it has already acquired.

There are many examples in his writing. I will highlight just a few:

Brodie says "Will we allow natural selection to evolve us randomly, without regard for our happiness, satisfaction, or spirit?
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and well written June 12 2004
The author has a nice writing style and interesting theory on cultural evolution that would have major implications if one accepted it wholeheartedly. (Some complex issues seem to be oversimplified)
Particularly meaningful are the political uses of memetics, though less space is devoted to it than to discussions about sexual roles and motives. Just when it's getting interesting, this book seems to abruptly end. There is an extensive bibliography, however for further research on memetics.
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An Extreme Case of Meme Disease July 11 2006
The back of this book classes this book as "Popular Science". It would be far more accurate to describe it as "Religion / New Age".

The renowned evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins, defines a meme as "a unit of information in a mind whose existence influences events, such that more copies of itself get created in other minds". It is "the basic unit of cultural transmission or imitation". It is an idea or unit of cultural knowledge that is analogous to a gene, in that it gets replicated and can evolve.

The idea of memes being the genes of culture seems to me to be a very original idea. Richard Brodie's title implies that memes can be virus like in nature, and is a great metaphor with which to sell this book about the nature of memes.

However it turns out to be quite ironical that the author has become so "infected" by the meme of "meme as virus" analogy, that he becomes obsessed to the point where the idea turns into a kind of religion for him, and he becomes an evangelist in the promotion of the theory of memes.

In his mind everything in our society are memes, but he himself has been able to get off the "cow path" as he calls it, and follow his own course. He doesn't realize he has just taken the "meme path", which has just as much manure on it (produced by bulls) as any regular cow path.

The book mainly consists of his rant on politics, advertising, education, religion and other things, which he feels mostly consist of malicious memes which subvert we unthinking humans. The only salvation is to practice the art of Zen like thinking (or non-thinking) to free ourselves from these "Virus(es) of the Mind".

Paradoxically, he wants to find a mind virus that disinfects people from mind viruses.
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