The Meme Machine

Overview


What is a meme? First coined by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene, a meme is any idea, behavior, or skill that can be transferred from one person to another by imitation: stories, fashions, inventions, recipes, songs, ways of plowing a field or throwing a baseball or making a sculpture. The meme is also one of the most important--and controversial--concepts to emerge since The Origin of Species appeared nearly 150 years ago.
In The Meme Machine Susan Blackmore boldly asserts:...
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Overview


What is a meme? First coined by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene, a meme is any idea, behavior, or skill that can be transferred from one person to another by imitation: stories, fashions, inventions, recipes, songs, ways of plowing a field or throwing a baseball or making a sculpture. The meme is also one of the most important--and controversial--concepts to emerge since The Origin of Species appeared nearly 150 years ago.
In The Meme Machine Susan Blackmore boldly asserts: "Just as the design of our bodies can be understood only in terms of natural selection, so the design of our minds can be understood only in terms of memetic selection." Indeed, Blackmore shows that once our distant ancestors acquired the crucial ability to imitate, a second kind of natural selection began, a survival of the fittest amongst competing ideas and behaviors. Ideas and behaviors that proved most adaptive--making tools, for example, or using language--survived and flourished, replicating themselves in as many minds as possible. These memes then passed themselves on from generation to generation by helping to ensure that the genes of those who acquired them also survived and reproduced. Applying this theory to many aspects of human life, Blackmore offers brilliant explanations for why we live in cities, why we talk so much, why we can't stop thinking, why we behave altruistically, how we choose our mates, and much more.
With controversial implications for our religious beliefs, our free will, our very sense of "self," The Meme Machine offers a provocative theory everyone will soon be talking about.
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Editorial Reviews

James N. Gardner
Memetics is that rarest of cultural phenomena-a loose philosophy in the process of transformation into genuine science. Such transformations are potentially the stuff of scientific revolution. We are fortunate indeed to have so lucid a guide to this strange, beguiling and still emerging intellectual landscape as Susan Blackmore.
Portland Oregonian
From the Publisher

"Well-written and personable, this provocative book makes a cognent...case for the concept of memes and for the importance of their effects on human culture."--Publishers Weekly

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780198503651
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 4/8/1999
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Susan Blackmore is a Lecturer in the School of Psychology, University of the West of England. The author of Dying to Live: Science and the Near Death Experience, she resides in Bristol, UK.

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Table of Contents

Foreword by Richard Dawkins

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 18, 2000

    'Independent Replicator' Argument Has Problems

    Every new theory needs its zealots - Darwin's had Huxley, and Dawkins' meme theory finds early popularizers in Aaron Lynch and Susan Blackmore. These early supporters are indispensable because of their willingness to push the theory's possible applications into new areas; some attempts are successful and some aren't, but all are important and sometimes necessary. Blackmore's book, in my opinion, represents an attempt that fails. She attempts to rephrase forms of behavior (those imitated) in terms of memes (defined largely by the fact that they are imitated, though her definition of 'meme' varies throughout the book) in order to build a theory around it. The reason this is not an example of natural selection working on genetically based behaviors, she writes, is because many of these behaviors don't serve the reproductive interests of the organism, but of the memes. However, none of her examples effectively demonstrate anything other than behavior that, in a social species like H. sapiens (the only species, she claims which truly imitates - which is another argument with problems), are either vital components of social life or natural extensions of the temperament needed for such a communal dynamic. These are just forms of behavior, and behavior is targeted by natural selection. Upon close inspection, all her examples appear more like types of behavior snipped out, placed in a memetic context for analysis, then renamed as memes with their genetic origins forgotten, but not disproved. Ironically, a more prudent way to approach these phenomena comes from Dawkins' own 'Extended Phenotype' theory, which explains genetically much of what Blackmore labors to ascribe to the meme. I looked forward to this book because I think the new science of memetics has promise in terms of what we find worthy of imitation, and its possible applications to evolutionary psychology; it was very interesting, but I feel Blackmore's error is simply one of point of view - she approcahes forms of behavior as those which either assist reproduction or not, and forms judgments as to the genetic bases of the behavior based on that assessment; but reproduction doesn't work in a vacuum - there are other factors in determining genetic success, and for a social species those factors consists largely of forms of behavior which facilitate social bonds, alliances, etc., and as far as these factors are concerned, I think the gene still has the floor.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2000

    Gripping

    Just when you thought you understood the application of science in seeing the world, Susan Blackmore comes along and directs you to unchartered territory. She sheds new light on some of the most thought provoking questions of human existence and human behavior i.e., why we have language, why are brains are so big, to why we behave, think, and act as we do. So gripping is this book I now understand homo sapiens in new ways for the remainder of my life. Don't even think of reading something else until you've read this book. I read books in all disciplines and I promise, hands down, this book is so shocking you won't be able to read though each chapter without having to digest the new information in silence. Thanks Dr. Blackmore!

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