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Meme Update #30

In This Issue:
Book of the Week: Are You My Type? Am I Yours?
     Renee Baron & Elizabeth Wagele


I've been conducting an experiment. I've been asking people their blood type. This came out of a controversial book mapping blood type to dietary choice, and I wanted to see if an informal sample could verify some of the author's claims. What I found was that indeed many of the people who seemed to be able to eat as much bread and drink as much beer as they wanted without getting fat were a blood type A. I'm type O. If I even LOOK at a beer I put on two pounds.

But the finding that surprised me even more was how many people didn't know their blood type! I'd be willing to bet a bundle that more people know their astrological sign than their blood type. And scientifically, astrology is a lot of hooey. It's a safe bet. I've never met ANYONE who doesn't know the sun sign they were born under, even though the signs of the zodiac are not fixed and have moved since this astrology stuff was made up. (This is called the "procession of the equinoxes." See )

What are the forces that keep the astrology memeplex prevalent? Let's look at the differential fitness of worldviews that include astrology versus ones that don't. Astrology gives strangers something to talk about. It's typically a topic spoken about early in the stages of a relationship. Take a typical conversation I had with the concierge at the Marriott Hotel here in Prague, where I'm writing this. I was asking her about her interests and at some point she told me that she was a combination of a Taurus and an Aquarius, which was a terrible combination. I told her I was a Scorpio. She said that Scorpios were very sexual. Geez.

As a result of chatting with her (including just a brief amount of astrology talk) she ended up offering to accompany my friend and me on our sightseeing on her day off. If we take her up on her offer, we will get to talk more and share more memes. So from the point of view of the worldview including astrology, assuming that astrology talk helped grease the wheels of socialization and make it a bit easier to talk longer about many subjects, including astrology talk in the worldview gives improved fitness to all the other memes in the worldview.

One characteristic that makes certain memes spread is that they are easy to communicate. That's why there's an astrology column in the Sunday paper and not a quantum-mechanics column. Astrological signs are represented by animals or people and so are easy to fit into our existing vocabulary of symbols. The subject naturally comes up when the subject of birthdays is discussed, so there is an easy way for the conditioning effect of repetition to occur. And finally, a common subtopic of astrology is the compatibility of two signs. So anyone interested in forming new relationships may be just a bit more willing to indulge in astrology talk, even if they think it's bunk, to start down that path of mutual exploration.

Look at it as a mating ritual gone haywire. As animals, we have the "hardware" built in to perform some kind of mating ritual. It's a built-in need to perform some kind of test with each other that must be mutually passed before mating. But the basic theory of memetics tells us that culture has co-opted these basic biological drives so that they no longer serve their original purpose -- passing on our genes. Nowadays, like any cultural virus, astrology-as-mating-ritual just exists to perpetuate itself.

Another basic drive astrology appeals to is our willingness to be told what to do by a higher authority. Here's a "research experiment" my buddy Steve Salta likes to do: When you're reading the paper and someone asks you to read their horoscope (or do it without being asked), read them another horoscope at random. You'll get the same reaction as you would if you read the "right one."

The interesting thing is, I rarely have the experience of someone saying that my sign wasn't compatible with theirs. After all this checking, the usual response is a "hmm," or even a naughty "oh, a Scorpio…" Now I checked, and most signs have one or two other signs that they are supposed to be compatible with. Scorpios don't have any. And yet no one ever tells me we're not compatible. There seems to be very little benefit to the individual of using astrology to screen for potential mates, so who benefits? Just, it would seem, the astrology meme.

I sometimes get flak from these Meme Updates from people who complain that these activities aren't viruses, they're fun! Well of course they're fun! That's how the virus spreads -- it gets you to do things that are fun and include passing on the mind virus. Of course it's not ALWAYS fun that is the motivation: sometimes it's fear, like with the phony computer-virus warnings that circulate periodically (see ). But the carrot and the stick -- those are the two basic driving forces of human behavior. The only way out of that trap is through consciousness, by living at what I call Level 3 (see )

Book of the Week
Are You My Type? Am I yours?
Renee Baron and Elizabeth Wagele

How about a mating ritual that’s based a little bit more on reality than astrology? Try the Enneagram—a personality map that labels each of us with one of nine types. There are many books on the subject, but my favorite is Are You My Type? Am I Yours? It contains descriptions of all nine types with advice on how to figure out which type you are. (Unfortunately it’s not as simple as knowing your birthday, or this thing might really catch on.) The clincher is the list of things that people of a particular type would never do: if you find yourself rolling around on the floor laughing, you’ve probably found your type.

Once you do discover your own type. Charts and examples tell you which type of the opposite sex is your most likely choice, and looking at the reverse chart tells how likely they are to pick you. But don’t be put off if your sweetie isn’t the “right” type for you: celebrity couples of every possible combination prove that anything goes.

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All the best memes,


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