In 1976 Richard Dawkins gave science the provocative gift of the Meme concept (in his book, “The Selfish Gene”). Since then this led to elaborations of that concept in many sciences – in evolutionary biology, psychology, brain sciences, anthropology, to mention just a few – all building on the Dawkins view that the Meme was a self-replicating element of cultures — be it a tune or a symphony, a word or a story, an opinion or a major faith — all exhibited in behavior by individual human beings.

Meme is a phenomenon in its own right. But so is the Meme’s actual existence in Social Space.   Social Space can nurture the Meme, shape the Meme, store the Meme, activate the Meme, diminish or strangle the Meme, to mention just a bit of specificity. The four dimensions of Social Space I have suggested in my “We live in Social Space” book can help us understand how this shows up. The dimensions are (1) A Second Path, departure from a respectable public path. (2) Closed Moral Worlds. (3) Creating Meaning.                 (4) Access to the Ultimate.

So, let us consider a thought experiment around one Meme, namely a particular new style of architecture — a self-replicating Meme, in the Dawkins conjecture. From the impact of Social Space:

(1) It produces a drastic departure from currently respectable styles. (Second Path)

(2) It produces a distinctive set of “moral” justifications for itself (whether or not they lead to better living arrangements). (Closed Moral Worlds)

(3) It thereby produces new “meaning” for such architecture. (Creating Meaning)

(4) And thereby, finally, promises to give access to the Ultimate, the supposedly real yearnings by us humans. (Access to the Ultimate)

All this, of course, is stretching things a bit. But you see the drift.







religion, zealotry

The issue: From publicly celebrating the burning of witches, by our ancestors, to public display of beheading by ISIS, in our own time:  We need an explanation of why such things happen.

A sociological explanation:  [I.]   The theory:

(1) Every religious community enshrines a particular set of solutions to the “Ultimate” questions about  human existence:  Such as — What happens after death? Why are we here at all, our purpose?  Why do good people suffer?  How to celebrate life’s transitions — births, marriage, adulthood?

(2) The “solutions” become the foundation, the rock, upon which a religious community is built.

(3) Any deviation from the enshrined solution  — the existing orthodoxy of the community’s religion — can be regarded as an assault on the entire community. Its very existence is under attack.

(4) A communal response is required.

[II]  The reality:

As I write these words Westerners are aghast upon hearing about — and thanks to modern technology, seeing — public beheading and other forms of grotesque cruelty we believe have long ago been eliminated from the repertoire of human social behavior.  Yet here it is, coming to us in the form of ISIS practices in the Middle East, in our time; brought  to our reluctant awareness, in our  time. To be  sure  we have our own history — and heritage — of grotesque  cruelty.  Remember the trench warfare of the First World War  — where thousands of innocent young men hacked one another to death on many a single day.  Remember the battle of Verdun, with some 700 000 killed, wounded and missing.  Remember the battle of Somme.  But, we tell ourselves, these are matters of the past.  We are now much more civilized.

Are we really more civilized?  We prefer more sanitized killings, such as drone-executed lethal actions controlled, thousands of miles away, by someone pressing a button.

But still, there is something in the recent, public CELEBRATION of cruelty that goes beyond the previous horrors and, even, the sanitized contemporary ones.  It takes us back to joy-filled public celebrations of mass  burning of witches during the 30 Years War in the 1600’s.  There, amid zealotry around religious war, innocent people might quickly meet a horrendous fate, PUBLICLY FETED, after being accused of some sort of religious transgression.  It seems that religious fervor is  susceptible to communal zealotry!

Religions are very much concerned with Ultimates –of trying to fathom life’s deepest meaning, of confronting sorrow and bereavement, of celebrating new birth and major transitions while we are alive.  Typically, religions provide responses to these issues, giving their adherents tools for living.  The actual responses which a religion offers tend to become  enshrined in orthodoxies that can attain a firm status, becoming powerful ingredients  of a  community’s religion-based existence.  They can claim to be the very foundation of  a community’s existence.   This bearing on community is a crucial matter! “Religiosity” is not merely a personal matter. It is a communal matter.

Within a religious community there frequently is an ongoing reiteration and veneration of its particular system of responses to the Ultimate challenges for human life. They might be performed as daily prayers and other rituals enacted communally in a church, mosque or synagogue.   The responses  can attain a sanctity of their own.  Any deviation from them may seem to threaten the very existence OF THE COMMUNITY. This can be the heart of zealous communal responses to actual or imagined deviations from the sanctified responses to the Ultimate challenges of human existence.  After all, the deviations may seem to threaten a community’s ways of addressing and resolving Ultimate challenges.  What life is all about is under threat.  It must be met with the severest response.

There is an additional feature about the workings of religiosity which must be recognized.  Often there is an ongoing process of refinement of religious orthodoxy taking place WITHIN an existing religious community. Thus, centuries ago saw the spit within Christianity, into Catholics and Protestants — followed by the 30 Years War, where  it seemed that Ultimate answers to life’s core issues was  under threat.  The split between SHIA and SUNNI Moslems, even centuries earlier, is highlighted by the most recent conflagrations between them.  There, too, the meaning and ways of addressing Ultimates seem to be under attack, requiring the most drastic responses.  In each of these we see that an entire community deems itself to be under the most dire threat, and addressing that threat publicly is meant to affirm the fundamentals of one’s religious community.














































My book, IMMEDIACY: OUR WAYS OF COPING IN EVERYDAY LIFE, begins with the statement that from the moment of our birth every single one of us must cope with the world around oneself.  The book ends with the statement that I believe I have shown that our coping behaviors are not random flailing.  They contain distinct patterns of orderliness.  Five of these were explored in the book which, together, form an emerging paradigm for understanding our coping behavior in immediate circumstances.

I invite you to check this  out by reading the book.  My purpose is not only that I’d like you to read my book. Yes, it is that.  But I also hope that some of you might continue this line of work, and go beyond what I  — an 88 year old — have attempted to do.   I, too, am trying to go further.   I do so in a forthcoming book, LIVING IN SOCIAL SPACE : A WINDOW TO A NEW SCIENCE (expected to be ready  in 2017).


coping, survival, Uncategorized

Charles Darwin taught us that species — of plants and organisms — are in a life-and-death struggle for survival whole coping with the immediate circumstances they encounter.  Yes, species are in a survival struggle.  But so are individuals.  It is the individual who, invariably, loses the  struggle.  Each of us dies — but not before a life-long effort to cope with the here and now, in which we actually find ourselves.

This is the challenge I address in the new edition of my book, IMMEDIACY:  OUR WAYS OF COPING IN EVERYDAY LIFE.  It is available (as printed book and as e-book) from Amazon and  the publisher, AuthorHouse.







Uncategorized, universe

First, a bit of heresy:  When physicists talk about “the universe”, they are talking about one kind of universe, namely the universe of physical space. And they have developed extraordinarily successful science about what goes on in physical space.  And with it, they have shown that basic physical science can eventually pay off in very practical ways.

Yet some seventy years ago, when Watson and Crick clarified the structure of DNA, they opened up an entirely different “universe”, namely, the universe of genetic science.   And that science is now rapidly evolving, as both  basic and very practical science.

I suggest that there is still another universe.  Namely, the universe of social space — for which we don’t have a viable science.  BUT IT IS  WITHIN  SOCIAL SPACE WHERE LIFE IS ACTUALLY LIVED — BY US AS INDIVIDUALS AND BY OUR HUMAN SPECIES.  As individuals:  From the moment of our birth to our last breath, we must cope with the fact that we exist in social  space — which can both nurture and threaten us.  As the human species: Its very survival is in danger — it may become extinct — because we commit gross blunders within social  space, such as killing off over 100 million of our fellow-human beings during the past century, repeated genocides,  nuclear weaponry, global warming, to mention just a few. I repeat, we lack a viable science about social space that might, eventually, give us real control of life in social space.

In response, I have tried to jump-start basic science about social space.  It resulted in the book, “Our Quest for Effective Living: How we Cope in Social Space /  A Window to a New Science” — published by AuthorHouse and also available from Amazon.  A revised edition, titled LIVING IN SOCIAL SPACE, will be available in the year 2017.


species survival, Uncategorized

Charles Darwin dazzled us with his magnificent research about survival of species.  Yet it is estimated that 99 percent  of all species that ever lived on our planet have become extinct.  Will our human species survive?  Given our track record — of killing off over 100 million of our fellow-human beings this past century, our impotence in the face of genocides, our reliance on war to solve problems — it does not look good.   I am not the first to point to the lethal danger to our species.  Martin Rees’ “Our Final Hour” does  it more eloquently than I have.  But I do have a suggestion about meeting the challenge.  It is based on the conviction that much of the danger exists because we have only the most trivial understanding of the Social Space in which we humans live  out our life.  My most recent book tries to help jump-start basic science about that Social Space. Its title is “Our Quest for Effective Living: How we cope in Social Space / A window to a new science”, published by AuthorHouse and available from Amazon.


surviving;, Uncategorized

We seem to  be impotent in the face of genocidal horrors  — we can neither predict nor prevent them — and  our human species may be  lurching to extinction because of our own actions.  My quartet of  books, listed below, are an effort to produce a viable response to both of these challenges.  They do so by trying to generate badly needed Basic Science.  I do so as both a Holocaust survivor, who knows that we cannot take survival granted, and as a sociologist, who knows that our science of social behavior is alarmingly feeble.

The first and second books try to address the Holocaust, and other genocides, in the dispassionate manner of real science — in contrast to the prevailing focus on uniqueness that’s inherent in the approach of many historians.

The IMMEDIACY book begins by recognizing that from the moment of our birth to our last breath, every one of us must cope with the immediate world around oneself.  We live a life of coping with much that’s unknown in the immediate circumstances in which we find ourselves.  The book attempts to craft as social-psychology about such coping behavior.

We humans killed over 100 million of our fellow-human beings during the past century.  And we are developing ever more effective ways of killing one another.   It is all happening in the Social Space in which we humans live, and which we understand so very poorly.  Yet our survival as a species may depend on better understanding of that Social Space.  The fourth book tries to jump-start science about Social Space.




IMMEDIACY: HOW OUR WORLD CONFRONTS US & HOW WE CONFRONT OUR WORLD:  (Self-published — Pentland Press, 1999: Discern Books, 2003)



Fred Emil Katz




Another lesson from Einstein: Constructs are real

constructs, social space, physical space, einstein, Uncategorized

During a lecture about Social Space I was asked: just what is Social Space?   My answer was a  bit clumsy, but not altogether wrong, namely:  When you ask physicists, what is physical space?  They would not say that it is what you ordinarily feel and touch and see.  Instead, they would point to Constructs, such as Newton’s discovery of gravitation — and its  attributes — and Einstein’s discovery of space-time — and its attributes, such as elasticity and curvature.  These are very abstract Constructs, but terribly real.  They are what physicists mean by physical space (although, to my chagrin, they call it “the universe” — when it is really about physical space).

So,  what do I mean by Social Space?  It is about Constructs that characterize Social Space.  I have suggested four of these (in my book, “Our quest for effective living: How we cope in Social Space / A window to a new science”).   Namely, Closed Moral Worlds, Linkage, Transcendence,  and The Second Path.  I don’t develop these nearly as well — and as mathematically — such as  physicists developed science about Gravitation and Relativity.  But they are an effort to get started as real science about Social Space.

The appeal of Isis: Access to the Ultimate

Ultimates /salvation/, Uncategorized

Amid coping in our daily life we  sometimes experience a vague sense of something larger than ourselves that bears on our life, a glimpse of some sort of an Ultimate Reality.

On occasion an Ultimate Reality becomes compellingly real.  And, most compellingly, comes the conviction that we actually have ACCESS to that Ultimate Reality — that we are, right now,  really connected to the Ultimate!  We thereby transcend  all the shortcomings, all the failings, all the pain of the present, while living in, and for a far higher purpose.  The Ultimate is here, with us.  Our own, personal ACCESS TO THE ULTIMATE is the greatest gift we can imagine.

This is the appeal of Isis: It offers access to the Ultimate.  In my book “Our quest for effective living: How we cope in Social Space” I cite other examples of circumstances where people are convinced that access to the Ultimate actually happens — that, thereby, they have received the greatest gift.



This year is the 22nd  anniversary of the publication of my book, ORDINARY PEOPLE AND EXTRAORDINARY EVIL.  It was my first response to the Holocaust — as both a child survivor and professional sociologist — who is not satisfied with how historians address the Holocaust, and genocides generally.   Here is what produced my mission:

An investigator of the 1990’s genocide in Rwanda wrote:  “… The killers, by and large, were ordinary people — not jackbooted representatives of the state.  Neighbors did it — to neighbors.  Pastors did it — to parishioners.  Doctors did it — to patients.  Schoolteachers did it — to pupils.  In-laws did it — to in-laws. Workers did it — to fellow workers at the … local tire factory. (*)

My response is that it is not enough to report such horrors.  We need explanation! How is it that ORDINARY people would engage in such horrendous acts?  This is the challenge I try to meet in that and subsequent books.  My work is in the tradition of Hannah Arendt’s banality-of-evil thesis,  but goes far beyond it, showing how our “ordinary” makeup — of how we cope in Social Space — can be used to taking part in horrific actions,  even as this same makeup can be used for our most humane and decent actions.

(*)  From Paul Henrickson, “Witness to the Unimaginable,” Washington Post,15 November 1998.  This is a review of Philip Gourewich’s book, WE WISH TO INFORM YOU THAT TOMORROW WE WILL BE KILLED WITH OUR FAMILIES. (New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998.)