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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 Sep 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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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The meme machine unleashed!, 15 Sep 2002
By 
Simon Laub (Aarhus, Denmark, Europe) - See all my reviews
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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 intriguing, and certainly Susan Blackmore argue well for the idea. The (evolutionary) pressure for imitation skills requires big brains. So we evolve big brains, as people mate with the ones with the most memes. Language is invented in order to spread memes. Film stars, journalists, writers, singers, politicians and artists become the most attractive, as they are the ones who spread the most memes. Things that are hard to explain in a genetic context (such as adoption, birth control, celibacy) are easy to explain in a meme context (the memes are happy with it, as it help spread more memes). Science becomes a process to distinguish true memes from false memes. Fax-machines, telephones, etc. are created (by the memes) in order to spread more memes. Writing is a battleground in the head between memes wanting to be spread etc.
It all rings true to me. Except Susan Blackmores claim that the self is a complex meme. Certainly it is puzzling that blind people are reported thinking that Their "I" is located at their fingertips, when they read Braille. Still there are other explanations to what a human "I" is than memes. Personally, I prefer Antonio Damasios, as he explain edit in the book "the feeling of what happens". Nevertheless, Susan Blackmores book is a very exciting read, with lots of clever thoughts. Or should I say memes?
-Simon
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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., 27 May 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: The Meme Machine (Hardcover)
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 assertions, such as the development of large brains in humans being a function of memes' imperative, while possibly correct in part, lose the force of their argument by their overstatement. Humans are thinking machines, not copying machines, and brains evolved to think. Memes ride along, for better or worse, on the waves created by the constant motion of our thoughts. Not the other way around. I believe memetics will someday prove to be a valuable tool for understanding some cultural and behavioural aspects of humans. But right now, they still more resemble Gould's "meaningless metaphor" description.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Very valuable ideas in parts too much speculation in others, 2 July 2009
I feel quite ambivalent about the book. In parts I was introduced or reminded of some great concepts and ideas. In other it felt like there was too much speculation. I would be interested to know whether any of the ideas have been tested experimentally.

It may be that to explain the ideas a very complex subject had to be vastly simplified. I kept finding myself thinking of other possible explanations for things to the ones provided.

However it is worth a read and does make you think at its best it can help allow a kind of detachment from your thoughts and also help with them flowing through the mind.

This is probably where alot of the ideas in the book are stemming from Susan Blackmore's experience of Zen meditation mixed in with her vast academic knowledge.

It could have done with someone critically review the text and looking for weakness in arguments.
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15 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Book of Common Sense, 21 Feb 2005
By 
Stephen A. Haines (Ottawa, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Meme Machine (Hardcover)
It will be interesting to see how long it takes for the term 'meme' to surpass the lexicon of phrases previously used to convey cultural ideas. "Shibboleth" is, of course, too 'foreign' for the WASP mind to grasp intuitively. "Myth" is nice and brief, but again has been relegated to minor considerations. It's something 'pagan' or out of time. "Cultural icon" conjures up images of rock stars or charismatic politicians. "Meme" has the advantages of universality; it's easy to remember, and isn't carrying any prior cultural overtones. In an age of fast moving technologies, 'meme' is timely - after all, how many readers here haven't heard something about genetic research. It's only shortcoming is the hesitation one hears when others are trying to say it: is it 'meem' or 'meemee'. The former is correct, of course, but you might have to have read Dawkins first to pick up on that.
Alien abductions and Near Death Experiences as expressions of memeplexes, complex, irrational memes. In 'Religions As Memeplexes' Blackmore explains how memes modify the genetic mechanism for altruism among kin by extending benificence to those who are 'like us'. This give great strength to religious memes, extending their influence over disparate groups. Religious memes did not set out to be successful, they have no more ability to foresee the future than do genes. Religious memes flourish in a given environment, with group selection rising above selection of individuals. The link of memetics to genetics and the reinforcing feedback loop of their interaction is the basis for successful religions.
It's a useful exercise to read this book in company with Richard Brodie's VIRUS OF THE MIND. Where Blackmore takes Dawkins' idea and fleshes it out with additional background information, Brodie applies practical applications of how memes impact our lives, and what, if anything, the reader might wish to do about that.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great theory, let's apply it., 30 Jun 2007
By 
Stephen Parry "Author of Sense and Respond" (Lean Service Transformation Designer London) - See all my reviews
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I found this book both thought provoking and slightly disturbing. The arguments are well constructed and make perfect sense. The implications of the meme 'mind virus' are far reaching, I guess intuitively we all know this happens but now have a theory about the mechanism (like natural selection for genes) that illuminates the process. I am now wondering how this might help in my work in the area of organisational change...? I have a lot of thinking to do, perhaps create a meme or two.

Great Book.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Read Susan Blackmore's other books, 1 Jan 2014
By 
Mr. J. Ballard "Jazz Lover" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Meme Machine (Popular Science) (Kindle Edition)
I was impressed by Susan Blackmore's A Very Short Introduction to Consciousness, so thought I'd give this book a whirl.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Appreciation of The meme machine, 20 Nov 2013
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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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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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3.0 out of 5 stars A bit flat, 26 Nov 2012
Like many other reviewers I found this book a bit flat. The first third of the book is actually very interesting and has some exciting ideas. I like the idea that meme-gene co-evolution caused our big brains. There are certainly a few ideas that memetics sits well with. Culture does evolve and many of things we do do not offer us any particular biological advantage. This book attempts to address the reason why we do those things. It is in some ways a theory of how human culture developed: of interest to those studying art and culture.

What this book lacks however is science. A lot of the ideas are pure speculation and it's hard to take a lot of it seriously without good evidence. As the book progresses, the theory of memetics becomes weaker and weaker until Dr Blackmore ditches the theory altogether. Mid-way she spends some time on religion and alien abduction explaining why people believe in such fallacies. However, none of this really has anything to do with memes and these subjects certainly don't deliver any exciting memetic theory. I don't need to read a book on memetics to learn that most alien abduction stories probably aren't true.

And that's another thing this book lacks: a point. Although the idea of memetics is an interesting one, what grand theory does it really deliver? I was hoping for some exciting and controversial explanation for humanity but this book doesn't offer that. In fact, since memetics is largely concerned with mimicry, I think most people will find more answers and more science in books on psychology which certainly deal with mimicry and learning but use evidence to back their claims.

In a sense memetic theory gives a reasonably good explanation to why humans are distracted by culture, and why some pieces of culture work and others do not. At one time mimicry provided a genetic advantage (copying the tools other people made, etc.) but the idea-as-a-replicator gave us brains that are constantly distracted by things other than procreation so gave birth to art and religion. But for me the theory stops there. There's really not much else it can say that is of any use or interest. It's a bit flat. The first third is worth a read but the theory just fizzles out.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A very intriguing look at how ideas shape us., 21 Jan 2012
By 
Jason Mills "jason10801" (Accrington, UK) - See all my reviews
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Dawkins briefly introduced the term 'meme' in "The Selfish Gene" in 1976, principally to show that the process of natural selection was not dependent on a particular underlying 'technology' such as genes. Blackmore here expands on his thought, at the core of which is the recognition that the spread and persistence of an idea is not dependent solely on its utility: for instance, I have in my head advertising jingles from decades ago, possession of which never served my interest and has long since ceased to serve even the interests of the manufacturers. The ideas and behaviours which spread and persist are those which are good at doing so, and truth and usefulness are by no means the only factors determining that. A catchy tune or a memorable soundbite might suffuse our minds and our culture in spite of ourselves. ("I know a song that'll get on your nerves, get on your nerves, get on your nerves...")

(Interesting to note that some people think memetics is an empty idea, with no explanatory power. How then to explain its now widespread familiarity in our culture, if not by appealing to its ability to spread regardless of its usefulness..?)

This book is generally regarded as 'giving memetics its best shot', as Dawkins puts it in his appreciative foreword. Blackmore argues carefully and cumulatively, her application of the memetic perspective growing more ambitious as she proceeds. She begins by teasing out an argument that skill at imitation is essentially unique to humans, providing an ecology in which 'imitable things' can perpetuate themselves, solely or in combination with others (in a 'memeplex'). The concept of the meme, under scrutiny, can be tricksy and elusive: Blackmore gives the example of learning from someone how to bake a cake: what is being copied? The cake, the behaviour, the recipe, spoken instructions, a neurological structure? She chooses to set aside the question, observing that copying and spreading of 'information' clearly does occur between humans (and storage media), which is enough to justify pursuing the ramifications. This step might be criticised, although it's worth noting that the term 'gene' is also subject to multiple definitions, which has not impeded or invalidated genetics.

In due course Blackmore takes plausible stabs at the origins of language, the persistence of religions and even the notion of self-identity: the last chapter is especially thought-provoking, presenting a view of the mind cluttered with and constituted by competing memes (though she has some differences with Dennett's take on the matter). On creativity:

"Replicator power is the only design process we know of that can do the job, and it does it. We do not need conscious human selves messing about in there as well."

Her tone is reasoned and reasonable, her style a model of clarity and accessibility. The insights she offers are sometimes counter-intuitive and slippery (particularly the unwelcome but increasingly common suspicion that we are passengers in our own minds), but that is not itself a counter-argument: the same could be said of quantum physics or tectonic plates. However, much of what she says is crying out for further practical research, which hopefully academia will take up (if it hasn't already - this was published in 1998).

Some readers will disagree with her thesis (with or without justification), but I doubt anyone would regret having read it. Well worth your time.
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