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The Meme Machine
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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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If Blackmore is correct, then imitation is much more than just the highest form of flatteryÄit is the basis of all human culture. "Memes" are hypothesized as discrete units of ideas or behaviors that can be imitated, thereby replicating in a manner similar to genetic replication. The theory is controversial, but if correct it may explain phenomena as diverse as why humans have such large brains and how language developed. Blackmore, a British psychologist, expounds this theory in a very literate style, with examples and anecdotes that are vivid, informative, and sometimes downright charming. This is one of the rare popular science books that presents a new theory in lay terms while also postulating original ideas worthy of scholarly debate. Its publication is a sure sign that the science of memetics has come of age. For most libraries.ÄGregg Sapp, Univ. of Miami Lib., Coral Gables

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

Over a decade ago, Richard Dawkins, who contributes a foreword to this book, coined the term "meme" for a unit of culture that is transmitted via imitation and naturally "selected" by popularity or longevity. Dawkins used memes to show that the theory known as Universal Darwinism, according to which "all life evolves by the differential survival of replicating entities," applies to more than just genes. Now, building on his ideas, psychologist Blackmore contends that memes can account for many forms of human behavior that do not obviously serve the "selfish gene." For example, a possible gene-meme co-evolution among early humans could have selected for true altruism among humans: people who help others (whether or not they are related) can influence them and thus spread their memes. Meme transmission would also explain some thorny problems in sociobiology. From a gene's point of view, celibacy, birth control and adoption are horrible mistakes. From a meme's point of view, they are a gold mine. Few or no children free up the meme-carrier to devote more energy to horizontal transmission to non-relatives (monks and nuns the world over figured that out long ago), something the gene is incapable of. With adoption, memes can even co-opt vertical transmission between generations. Blackmore posits that, in modern culture, meme replication has almost completely overwhelmed the glacially slow gene replication. Well written and personable, this provocative book makes a cogentÄif not wholly persuasiveÄcase for the concept of memes and for the importance of their effects on human culture. (Apr.)

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