The Meme Machine
Blackmore (Susan)
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Inside Cover Blurb

  1. We humans are strange creatures. Our bodies evolved by natural selection, just as other animals did, yet we differ from all other creatures in very many ways. We use language to communicate. We wage wars, believe in religions, bury our dead and get embarrassed about sex. We watch television, drive cars and eat ice cream. Why are we so different? Uniquely among animals, humans are capable of imitation and so can copy from one another ideas, habits, skills, behaviours, inventions, songs, and stories. These are all memes, a term first coined by Richard Dawkins in 1976 at the end of his book "Dawkins (Richard) - The Selfish Gene". Like genes, memes are replicators, competing to get into as many brains as possible, and this memetic competition has fashioned our minds and culture, just as natural selection has designed our bodies. We are what the memes have made us; we are all of us meme machines.
  2. Can the analogy between memes and genes do useful work? Can it lead us to powerful new theories that actually explain anything important? These are questions posed by Richard Dawkins in His Foreword and this, he continues, is where Susan Blackmore really comes into her own. 'She warms us up with some fascinating vignettes which get us used to the memetic style of reasoning. Why do we talk so much? Why can’t we stop thinking? Why do silly tunes buzz round our heads and torment us into insomnia? In every case she begins her response in the same way: “Imagine a world full of brains, and far more memes than can possibly find homes. Which memes are more likely to find a safe home and get passed on again?” The answer comes back readily enough and our understanding of ourselves is enriched. She pushes on, with patience and skill applying the same method to deeper and more exacting problems: What is language for? What attracts us to our mates? Why are we so good to each other? Did memes drive the rapid, massive, and peculiar evolutionary expansion of the human brain?'
  3. This extraordinary and engrossing book ends by confronting the deepest questions of all about ourselves: the nature of the inner self, the part of us that is the centre of our consciousness, that feels emotions, has memories, holds beliefs and makes decisions. Susan Blackmore makes a compelling case that this inner self, the 'inner me', is an illusion1, a creation of the memes for the sake of their replication2.
  4. Susan Blackmore is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of the West of England, Bristol, where she lectures on the psychology of consciousness. Dr Blackmore's research interests include near-death experiences3, the effects of meditation, why people believe in the paranormal, evolutionary psychology, and the theory of memetics. She is the current Perrott-Warrick Researcher, studying psychic phenomena in borderline states of consciousness, and has received the Distinguished Skeptic's Award from CSICOP, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. Susan Blackmore writes for several magazines, has an occasional column in the Independent newspaper, and is a frequent contributor and presenter on radio and television.

  1. Strange creatures – 1
  2. Universal Darwinism – 10
  3. The evolution of culture – 24
  4. Taking the meme's eye view – 37
  5. Three problems with memes – 53
  6. The big brain – 67
  7. The origins of language – 82
  8. Meme-gene coevolution – 93
  9. The limits of sociobiology – 108
  10. 'An orgasm saved my life' – 121
  11. Sex in the modern world – 132
  12. A memetic theory of altruism – 147
  13. The altruism trick – 162
  14. Memes of the New Age – 175
  15. Religions as memeplexes – 187
  16. Into the Internet – 204
  17. The ultimate memeplex – 219
  18. Out of the meme race – 235
    References – 247
    Index – 259

In-Page Footnotes ("Blackmore (Susan) - The Meme Machine")

Footnote 1: Follow up on this when I look into the Self in detail.


OUP 1999, Hardback.

"Blackmore (Susan) - The Meme Machine"

Source: Blackmore - The Meme Machine

  1. This book owes its existence to an illness. In September 1995 I caught a nasty virus, and struggled to keep working until I was finally forced to give up and take to my bed. I stayed there for many months, unable to walk more than a few steps, unable to talk for more than a few minutes, unable to use my computer - in fact unable to do anything but read and think.
  2. During this time I began on my pile of 'urgent books I must read this week' which had long been oppressing me. One of them was Dan Dennett's latest book "Dennett (Daniel) - Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life". At about the same time one of my PhD students, Nick Rose, wrote me an essay on 'Memes and Consciousness'. Somehow the meme meme got to me. I had read "Dawkins (Richard) - The Selfish Gene" many years before but, I suppose, had dismissed the idea of memes as nothing more than a bit of fun. Suddenly I realised that here was a powerful idea, capable of transforming our understanding of the human mind - and I hadn't even noticed it. I then read everything I could find on memes. Since I had to refuse all invitations to give lectures, take part in television programmes, go to conferences, or write papers, I could devote myself properly to the study of memes.
  3. Most of the ideas in this book came to me while I was lying in bed during those months, especially between January and March 1996. As I gradually got better I began to make extensive notes. Some two years after I first became ill I was well enough to work again, and decided to keep on saying no to all those invitations, and to write this book instead.
  4. I would like to thank the illness for making it possible, and my children Emily and Jolyon for not, apparently, minding that their mother was uselessly lying in bed all the time. I would like to thank my partner Adam Hart-Davis for not only looking after me when I was ill, but for encouraging my enthusiasm for memes in every way possible and for putting 'the book' first.
  5. Dan Dennett was one of the first to hear my ideas and I thank him for his 'avuncular advice'. Several people helped greatly by reading earlier drafts of all or part of the book. They are Richard Dawkins, Dan Dennett, …

"Dawkins (Richard) - The Meme Machine: Foreward"

Source: Blackmore - The Meme Machine

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