Jones and Flaxman are an investigative reporting team that focuses on the paranormal and ancient mysteries. They have written several books together and appear on radio and television shows on the Discovery and History channels, using their combined expertise to explore mysteries of all kinds.
The authors compare several theories of information transmission as developed by several thinkers from different fields of study. There are more of these than you might suspect. Visual legacies from ancient times are discussed, from petroglyphs, to symbols, to early forms of writing. This flows into summaries of common mythic themes that include creation stories, flood myths, life-death-rebirth, and heroic quests. Ideas from comparative mythologists are offered. Further means of cultural transmission include legends, fairy tales, nursery rhymes, ballads, and folklore.
Archeoenigmas are things found around the world that are anomalous or mysterious, like the Kensington Rune Stone discovered in Minnesota. Quite a few of the objects mentioned have been disputed as frauds, so the inclusion of this material is only of marginal relevance. There's a hasty, skin-deep overview of the transmission of occult and esoteric mysteries through secret societies. Chapter 7 leaps into a discussion of the possibility of “outside help” from aliens. Since this isn't a terribly convincing possibility, the authors explore how cultural ideas and inventions may have been generated through the collective unconscious. A similar overview is given for the Zero Point Field, a quantum sea of potentiality, as the source of notable leaps in human cultural development.
Another fast shift leads to the contemporary viral spread of trivia and urban legends (cat videos, et al) on the internet, followed by theories about online contagions and reasons that certain ideas are “buzzworthy.” There are definitions and examples of misinformation, disinformation, propaganda, rumors and gossip. The book ends with a bibliography and an index.
The book is jam-packed with derivative material and information compiled from the work of other authors and scientists. The authors throw so much material at the reader that the lack of a focused thesis or any solid conclusion may go unnoticed. The book's final Conclusion is an apologetic admission that since there's just so much information and so much is unknown and missing, that there's no way to know much about anything. Which is kinda lame. There's no discussion of the small groups of people, who, at various times, collected and copied ancient manuscripts. The Irish clerics of the Dark Ages and the Arabic scholars of the School of Wisdom (8th to 10th c CE) made huge contributions to preserving and transmitting ancient wisdom – but they aren't mentioned. Whoops. (See: How the Irish Saved the World, and The School of Wisdom)
Viral Mythology has a lot of interesting factoids and a dandy compilation of other people's ideas that might be interesting to some readers. There aren't any in-depth, scholarly discussions or analyses. The book is a milepost of theories about the transmission of ideas without any valid conclusions. There are many possibilities to chew on and consider, but don't expect a heaping spoonful of enlightenment here.
~review by Elizabeth Hazel
Authors: Marie D. Jones and Larry Flaxman
New Page Books, 2014
256 pg, $15.99 pb