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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on January 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.
An important concept in Psychosynthesis is the sub-personality. Each sub-personality has a core belief (meme). Therefore, work with sub-personalities is work with memes, although not always directly. It can however lead to discovery of the core belief (meme), when and how it came about, which parent it was programmed by (as often our main beliefs come from parent's and parent figures in early childhood).
So it is with this background in mind I discovered a copy of 'Virus of the Mind' in the Public Library and decided to read it. I consider it well worth a read for anyone interested in the subject of memes, as well as anyone interested in fields such as Psychosynthesis (or Psychotherapy in general), psychology, or self-development.
This book is a thought-provoking read, which may indeed lead to a decision to be less 'thought-provoked' by the mind viruses spread by marketing companies, the mass media, and politicians.
So, read this book, turn off that inner dialogue, and tune in to your intuition!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 6, 2014
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? Or will we seize the reins of our own evolution and pick a direction for ourselves? Memetics gives us the knowledge and power to direct our own evolution more than we've ever done at any time in history."

If ALL our behaviour is dictated by genes and memes, how can "we" seize the reins? "We" are just a combination of genes and memes, so if "we" have the reins, doesn't that just mean our genes and memes have the reins? If Brodie is suggesting that there is anything else but genes and memes to hold the reins, wouldn't it be a "third factor" by definition? Blackmore correctly asserts that there is no third factor... only genes and memes competing to replicate in an environment consisting in part of other genes and memes.

Brodie says "I choose to program myself with memes that support my values in life rather than ones that support the agendas of viruses of the mind."

If ALL our behavior is dictated by genes and memes, what does it mean to say "I choose to program myself...". There is no "I" to do the choosing or the programming. There are only genes and memes. As Blackmore illuminates in "The Meme Machine", the "self" (the feeling that we are authors of our own thoughts... the feeling that we act "consciously"... the feeling of "free will") is just an illusion created by the memes we've acquired. "I" cannot reprogram myself any more than I can choose what thoughts will next arise in my mind.

Brodie says "Consciously spreading ideas you consider important is one way to combat mind viruses."

If ALL our behaviour is dictated by genes and memes, what can it possibly mean to have "ideas you consider important"? There is no "you" (in the sense Brodie uses the term) to consider which ideas are important. You are just genes and memes. The perceived importance of any idea (meme) you hold is dictated by its compatibility with the other memes you have acquired. All your memes are competing to be considered "important".

I think anyone who has read and understood Blackmore's "The Meme Machine" would agree that Brodie's notion that we can somehow gain control of our own mental programming (ie guide our own memetic evolution), uninfluenced by our existing memes, is entirely inconsistent with the theory of memetics. As Blackmore says, "Instead of thinking of our ideas as our own creations, and working for us, we have to think of them as autonomous selfish memes, working only to get themselves copied".

I am not saying that an understanding of memetics will not benefit people in the ways Brodie hopes. It may very well do so. But it will not be for the reason he implies: that after learning about memetics people can consciously choose to reprogram themselves. It will be because people have been infected by yet another meme (the memetics meme), the presence of which may make them a welcoming host to certain memes a hostile host to others.

By Blackmore's reasoning, ALL memes are "Viruses of the mind" in a sense. They are all selfish replicators, trying to take control of their host in order to get themselves copied to yet another mind. That's what I originally thought Brodie meant by his title. I was disappointed to find otherwise.

To anyone considering reading "Virus of the Mind", I highly recommend reading Susan Blackmore's "The Meme Machine" first. Sam Harris's "Free Will" would be a good choice too (he does an admirable job of debunking the myth of "self" and "free will" without even mentioning memes). Then you will be well prepared (ie infected with the right memes) to see all the flaws in Brodie's arguments.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 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. This is from a guy who used to work for Microsoft! I now have a better understanding of why my computer crashes so often and why programs are so awkward to use at times.

I think Dawkins original idea of memes is a very useful concept, and have read several of the references that Richard Brodie cites in his recommended reading. I also think that anyone of them is better than this book.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 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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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 23, 2002
Just finished reading Virus of the Mind. It is a fairly good book. I like it because it introduces well a new subject area and is easy to understand. However I wish that it had been worked on more before it was published. For example, several sentences were not clear. They would have been more understandable if spoken rather then read. I suspect that the author dictated the book into a word processor.
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18 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on November 12, 2002
From the dust jacket - "Richard Brodie was Microsoft chairman Bill Gates' personal technical assistant and the original author of Microsoft Word...Educated at Harvard, he is also the best-selling author of 'Getting Past OK.' An accomplished speaker, he has appeared on more than 70 television and radio shows..."
I wondered from the start what this was about. What exactly is a "personal technical assistant?" Is he claiming that he alone wrote Word? "Educated at Harvard" you quickly learn means "didn't graduate," and "accomplished speaker" means "not a scientist."
This is a book that claims to be about a "new science," and yet is unencumbered by footnotes, empirical evidence, or reference to any of its concepts alternately explained in linguistics, psychology or sociology, for starters. In a representative section early in the book, Brodie cites "mind viruses" as explanations for cult religions, elections, mass market branding, "hopelessness, single motherhood, and gang warfare." All in 4 modest paragraphs.
As other reviewers have said, this isn't remotely a science book, or even an interesting bar discussion - I think you get beaten up these days if you try to talk about "paradigm shifts." So 90s. Save your money and your time.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on December 25, 2002
i recommend following this book with Ian McFadyen's Mind Wars which places memes in a more complete context of 'tenetics'.
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on June 20, 2015
Great gift.....A++++++
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on June 20, 2015
All Were great
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