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An Interesting Instance of Contagion

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Among the means by which interconnectedness operates in human cultural systems, and for that matter in living systems generally, is the phenomenon of contagion.

We usually think of contagion as operating through the transmission of disease. But that's not the only form of contagion.

We're also aware of the way certain behaviors --like yawning, and laughter-- spread in contagious fashion.

The idea of contagion might also be applicable to some of the ways in which a "Zeitgeist" emerges. (See "SEEING THINGS WHOLE: The Zeitgeist as Evidence of Subtle Patterns and Connections" at
Here's an interesting manifestation of a kind of contagion I just happened to run across in my reading. It's a quotation from Nicholas A. Christakis, professor of medical sociology at Harvard Medical School, and it appears in a Harvard publication, THE YARD, of fall/winter 2007.)

Recently, we examined whether obesity --a serious public health and individual problem-- evinces epidemic properties. We wanted to understand whether obesity could spread from person to person, what the possible mechanism of any such spread might be, and whether there is evidence for so-called 'hyperdyadic effects.' We found that exercise or eating behaviors may spread from person to person via a kind of social contagion. Additionally, some of our results suggest that norms, as well as behaviors, may be shared: as individuals gain weight, others to whom they are connected appear to change their ideas about acceptable body size and then gain weight themselves. In tehse ways, social networks can augment the rise in obesity in America.

I invite any other examples of such "social contagion," or other instances by which patterns spread in a "contagious" fashion. Also invited are any insights, or reflections, or useful questions about contagions. Finally, I hope people will share any insights anyone may have regarding how the phenomenon of contagion may fit with any of the other dimensions of wholeness.
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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
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