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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The meme machine unleashed!
Human bodies evolved by natural selection, just as other animals. But still we are different. According to Susan Blackmore thats because we are capable of imitation. We can thereby copy ideas, habits, inventions, songs and stories. I.e. memes. And now memes are as powerful, if not more powerful, than the good old genes, in directing human evolution. I find the idea...
Published on 15 Sept. 2002 by Simon Laub

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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The world is still waiting for "the book" on memes.
Ever since Dawkins wrote his chapter on memes in The Selfish Gene, people have become captivated by the meme meme. Several people have attempted to wrap their minds around the concept, and present it in a useful and comprehensive way. While Blackmore's attempt is, I think, the best yet, it tries to do too much, and ends up collapsing under its own weight. Some of the...
Published on 27 May 1999


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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Engaging Read with Comprehensive References, 15 Mar. 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: The Meme Machine (Hardcover)
ECT, or evolutionary culture theory is now over a century old, and Blackmore provides an engaging and comprehensive review of its present incarnation as MEMETICS. Heredity in humans is not only a biological process, it is also a cultural or, to use the neologism, a memetic process. Whether or not you happened to be born on the cool side of the uterus, memetics shows how a gene-centric understanding is a partial and woefully inadequate explanation of human interaction. The memetic message is that you're only related to your brothers and sisters on your parents' side, genes are only one side of the evolutionary coin. Memetically, your relations are your brothers and sisters in arms, those that share your culture but not your genes. We share our culture, and imitate those who are like us culturally, and whilst nepotism counts, we have evolved to help our cultural kin as much as our biological kin. The Meme Machine is a good read, and a welcome rebuttal of genetic determinism. Highly recommended.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Appreciation of The meme machine, 20 Nov. 2013
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This review is from: The Meme Machine (Popular Science) (Paperback)
The book was well written but a bit repetitive in its presentation.
I liked it because it gave a different slant on replication from that provide by gene theory.
I was a little sceptical because it did not have a clear way of explaining in physical terms how memes work
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5.0 out of 5 stars a book worth reading, 14 Jun. 2013
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Turi Cane (Giarre, CT Italy) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Meme Machine (Popular Science) (Paperback)
this book is a very dense but yet readable and good introduction to the field of "Meme theory", basically established 30 years ago by Richard Dawkins, great scientist, author and advocate for secular values. Blackmore does a good job in following this path opened by him.
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18 of 25 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Very disappointing, 25 Jan. 2010
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This review is from: The Meme Machine (Popular Science) (Paperback)
Generally, I avoid reviewing books which I haven't read all the way through, as I want to give the authors as much benefit of doubt as possible. This book, though, is so bad that I just can't help writing about it.

The book is about memes aka mind viruses - the phenomenon that sometimes a certain way of acting compels other people to start acting the same way, so that a behavioural pattern spreads through the population, "infecting" new people like a virus.

Apart from a brief mention of memes in the fabulous "The Selfish Gene", I had read "Virus of the Mind" which I didn't like at all, mostly because the author so aggressively pushed his own ideological preferences on the reader. He appeared to be thinking that his personal opinions were the objective truth and differing opinions were mind viruses.

I really wanted to learn more about memes, so I bought this book, as it was the only one I could find.

I have rarely been so disappointed.

Before getting to her actual topic - memes - Ms. Blackmore quite unnecessarily spends some pages meditating about the question what makes humans human, that is, what is the essential factor that distinguishes humans from animals.
Could it be intelligence? Ms. Blackmore dismisses that on the grounds that computers can already beat humans at chess. Soon they will, in all likelihood, be more intelligent than us, but that doesn't make them human, does it? So what makes humans human has to be something else.
That something else, Ms. Blackmore suggests, is the ability to imitate.

That idea is so blatantly, strikingly stupid that I almost closed the book right then and there. But I read on for a while anyway. Then I really couldn't take it anymore.

Ms. Blackmore is making one small mistake, one bigger mistake and one really big mistake.

Her small mistake is that she apparently has a completely wrong idea of what intelligence is. (Read the book "On Intelligence" to learn more about why the ability to play chess is not necessarily an indicator of intelligence.)

The bigger mistake is the way how Ms. Blackmore blatantly contradicts herself, by bringing an example of animals imitating each other (a cat teaching another cat how to flush a toilet). She says casually that that's not imitating, without bothering to explain what makes her think so. In my opinion, that is most definitely imitating, and, as such imitation is abundant in animal kingdom, Ms. Blackmore has herself provided a crystal-clear rebuttal of her own hypothesis.

Ms. Blackmore's worst mistake is her ignorance of computer science. The reason why she dismisses intelligence as the defining characteristic of humans is that computers can play chess. Obviously, it would make little sense to say that something distinguishes humans from everything else, if that something can be taught to computers.
However, by suggesting that it's the ability to imitate that makes us human, Ms. Blackmore ignores the fact that it's very easy to make a computer imitate. People who have written computer programs should be familiar with the "tit for tat" strategy, and it's rather obvious that it's very easy to program.
Ms. Blackmore seems to think that we can't make a robot, for instance, smile whenever it sees a smiling person. That's ridiculous. The reason why we don't have smiling robots is because we don't have produced robot faces that are physically capable of making facial movements a human being could make. If we had such a robot face, we could, of course, write the software that makes the robot face imitate the facial expressions of a human. It would be really hard to make the robot recognise what is called a smile and what isn't (that would have something to do with intelligence), but to imitate whatever facial expression it sees - that's really a piece of cake.

Now, I am not suggesting that the answer to the question "what makes us human?" IS intelligence, but the ability to imitate is definitely not the answer either. The point of my harsh citicism is that if an author says something as absurd as that, I don't think she can be trusted to say anything intelligent about anything, which is why I don't think this book would be worth reading.

If anybody knows a good book on memes, please let me know. I'm really keen to learn more about them - preferably, from an intelligent book.
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11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It's All About Imitation, 14 Mar. 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: The Meme Machine (Hardcover)
It is exciting that Oxford has come out with a book on memetics, and Blackmore does a nice job of fleshing out the basics. The Meme Machine follows through on Dawkins' (1976) fascinating suggestion that culture, like biology, evolves through the processes of variation, selection, and replication. It explores how viewing culture as a hereditary system can shed light on many aspects of the human experience, such as why we gossip, believe in alien abduction, and get enthusiastic about sex. (Though the chapter titled 'An orgasm saved my life' never gets around to explaining how an orgasm saved someone's life.)
Her central thesis is that what makes humans unique is their ability to imitate, and she takes the 'imitation is where it's at' thesis very seriously. The idea is: once humans became able to imitate, ideas could be transmitted, and cultural evolution took off. Unfortunately, there are deep problems with this proposal. First, the claim that animals don't imitate is highly controversial, and current consensus seems to sway in the opposite direction. (An article by Byrne & Russon in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 21, 1998, and accompanying commentary, provide an insightful review.) Second, Blackmore correctly notes that the archeological record reveals a sudden INCREASE in tool variety. However, if imitation were the bottleneck, then prior to the origin of culture there would have been variation everywhere, and the onset of imitation would have funneled this variation in the most useful directions, i.e. variety would have DECREASED. The evidence is, in fact, consistent with the thesis that creativity, rather than imitation, was the bottleneck to culture.
The 'imitation drives culture' hypothesis leads Blackmore to restrict the definition of a meme to something that can be transmitted from one human to another by imitation. So, for example, if a child learns to peal a banana by watching her mother, a meme has replicated. But if the child learns this skill from a cartoon character on tv, no replication has taken place. By the end of the book (particularly in the chapter on the internet) she eases up on this a bit. Human-made artifacts now seem to play a role in her vision, though elements of the natural world still don't. Thus if a child gets the idea for how to peal a banana by watching the petals of a flower unfold, her flower-inspired 'how to peal a banana' meme is NOT transmittable. In the blink of an eye, Blackmore discards the possibility that any experience can be food for thought and thus food for culture, on the grounds that it is "extremely confusing" (p. 45). The worldview impled by the Shroedinger equation is extremely confusing too, but its batting average as a predictor of experimental outcomes is unsurpassed. 'Confusing' is not synonymous with 'wrong'.
Blackmore also claims that "perceptions and emotions are not memes because they are ours alone and we may never pass them on" (p. 15). It follows that the feeling evoked by a painting of a stormy night at sea has no relationship to what the artist was feeling at the time... that a teacher's attitude of compassion has no impact on the cultural dynamics of the classroom. Thus it is not clear how Blackmore's narrow definition of meme clears up the confusion.
Readers should be aware that, despite the Oxford label, the book the book does not reflect the current level of sophistocation in the field. It presents many ideas without referencing where they were first introduced, or mentioning influencial work in the area (e.g. memetic altruism, memetic explanations of the origin of culture, memes & language, memes & the internet, etc.). Blackmore does not delve deep into evolutionary theory, on the grounds that borrowing concepts from biology could lead cultural theorists astray. To my mind, this is like ignoring what we already know about snow skis when developing the first prototype for waterskis. In fact there is some disparity between the 'science rules' attitude and the lack of theory or data. If the title leads you to expect material on computer models, cognitive science, complexity, information theory, etc. you will be disappointed. There isn't much on the workings of the memetic machinery. But if you like examples of manipulative memes, you will find it interesting. And the potential significance of memetics should not be underestimated. It is not inconceivable that the next century will usher forth more books on cultural evolution than this century has on biological evolution.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Memes have a lot to answer for., 22 May 2004
This review is from: The Meme Machine (Popular Science) (Paperback)
The concept and idea of memes is such a simple, but extraordinary idea, originally hatched by Dawkins. The cultural Gene is expanded on, and explained to make an interesting and provoking subject by Blackmore. Full of strong arguments for memes as an evolutionary component and force to the increase in brain development, and therefore of consciousness. Weather the meme played such a role is hard to say, but undoubtable the meme presented as successful ideas, evolving through people and cultures certainly exists, and it is very interesting to consider the effects they have and which become successful and which don't and how they have, and continue to shape humanity. The beauty of the book is that fundamentally the meme is a simple concept to grasp and to follow and to understand how Blackmore reached her conclusions. An intelligently written and enjoyable book to read.
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8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A bold attempt to turn an excellent idea into a good theory., 16 Mar. 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: The Meme Machine (Hardcover)
Are people suddenly catching on to the idea of memes? Or is the idea of memes suddenly catching on to people? Memes, having been in the doldrums for at least 20 years, has certainly started to gain more interest - and I hope this book will help to stimulate still more. There is, in my opinion, a long way to go before memetics can call itself 'the science of culture'; currently meme theory is an excellent idea, but not a very good theory. However, given the ability and enthusiasm of many of its proponents, this situation may soon change. This book may mark a turning point in the way that science approaches the subject of human culture.
The Meme Machine is a carefully researched book and lays a useful foundation stone for the future of meme theory. It is also an excellent read! It systematically explores many of the issues and problems of meme theory, and carefully builds up to conclusions which are fascinating, and in some cases shocking. Like The Selfish Gene, The Meme Machine changes the way you think about the world and your place in it. I'm happy to give it a full 5 star recommendation.
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10 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book and great hair, 22 Aug. 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: The Meme Machine (Popular Science) (Paperback)
The fantastic Susan Blackmore, who has the best hair in replicator science (apart from Steven Pinker) has written a fine introduction to memetics. It's even more terrifying than The Selfish Gene - in fact, its a horror classic.
The Meme Machine is very readable, and also serves as a great introduction to evolutionary psychology. Buy a copy for a teenager in your life who believes in UFOs, or someone you want to give sleepless nights to.
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8 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good introduction to Memetics; but not 100% convincing..., 25 July 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: The Meme Machine (Hardcover)
I really did like Susan Blackmore's direct and very surefooted approach. I treat The Meme Machine as one of the better things written on memetics, a discipline that I am trying to add to my personal 'spectrum'. Susan Blackmore goes a long way in introducing memes as the second replicator (next to the genes of course) and does make a strong case. It did not yet convince me for the full 100%, mainly because her -quite clever- analysis that the large brains in humans and language development are not necessarily the only explanations that I have come accross (try reading Cohen and Stewart's Figments of Reality, for instance).
I thought the book became better as it went along, and I certainly feel that memetics will be major social science, and that Blackmore has been added to the list of 'people to read' in the area.
Perhaps my main concern is not the 'second replicator' proposition, but merely the 'selfishness' of it, reflecting Dawkins' Selfish Gene. I love that book also, but I also don't believe that genes rule the evolution, so why memes as well? Susan Blackmore perhaps draws too many parallels between genes and memes to allow me to use the same objections (and these are NOT religious) to her theory!
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8 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating theory carried to doubtful extremes., 13 Oct. 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: The Meme Machine (Popular Science) (Paperback)
Susan Blackmore's latest work provides the potential for making sense of many things which have long seemed to defy logic and understanding. I thought that she perhaps got a little carried away, with an almost religious zeal, and forced her fascinating theory into a kind of 'Professional Sceptic's totally Revised History of the Universe.' I found the ideas so fascinating that I did not see the need to support it with subjective opinion. Whilst sharing her obvious scepticism regarding religion, the occutl, parapsychology, etc. I am nevertheless reminded of Isaac Newton's much quoted rejoinder when being riduculed for his interest in Astrology; "I have studies Sir," he said. "you have not." Similarly, lumping alien abduction together with homeopathy and her altogether unconvincing explanation of altruism, with regard to animals, took the edge off an otherwise excellent book. Having said that I look forward to her next work.
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The Meme Machine (Popular Science) by Susan Blackmore (Paperback - 16 Mar. 2000)
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