Habits, skills, songs, stories, ideas: humans are marvellously equipped to keep themselves and each other ceaselessly busy--and it's as well. For no matter how hard we try, we humans just can't stop thinking. So, says Susan Blackmore, what if consciousness is not some esoteric genetic freebie, but is itself the product of an altogether different evolutionary process?
Once humans learned to imitate each other--that is, receive, copy and retransmit "memes"-- the rest, Blackmore argues, is a foregone and somewhat chilling conclusion: we are the product of our memes just as we are the products of our genes; the trouble being that memes, like genes, care only for their own propagation. The ability to imitate each other laid us open to ideas good and bad in equal measure. These proliferated in such numbers that individuals, competing to imitate the best imitators, needed bigger and bigger brains to contain the flood. Now our heads are so big, they are barely birthable.
Blackmore's brilliantly argued version of how humans became conscious--not to say downright troubled--demolishes some of the most intractable problems of human evolution and social biology, with flair. Hers is a book full of careful arguments and thrilling conjectures: riddled, in other words, with promising memes. --Simon Ings
Anyone who hopes or fears that memetics will become a science of culture will find this surefooted exploration of the prospects a major eye-opener. (Daniel Dennett
Any theory deserves to be given its best shot, and that is what Susan Blackmore has given the theory of the meme I am delighted to recommend her book. (Richard Dawkins
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