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The Meme Machine  By  cover art

The Meme Machine

By: Susan Blackmore,Richard Dawkins - foreword
Narrated by: Esther Wane
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Publisher's Summary

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. 

Susan 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.

©1999 Susan Blackmore; foreword copyright 1999 by Richard Dawkins (P)2019 Tantor

What listeners say about The Meme Machine

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memes are gut bacteria, not godlike puppet masters

there are a few things that really bug me about this book. but i suppose they are all just intellectual disagreements. we do see imitation in other animals, such as chimpanzees bashing nuts with stones. this meager start of "imitation" does not then give way to a new all powerful replicator that brings the species into dominance, it is a meme, but it is stagnant.
i suspect the root issue is that me and the author disagree about the primary selection pressures on humans. to me, memes in humans have become a dominant force because we are a very rare large eusocial species. eusociality causes communication to become much more complex and abstract. it is when memes are added to this situation, with the addition of large brain size and selection for constant "memetic warfare", that human memes evolve.
additionally, humans do have another brand of replicator, they are the bacteria in the gut. but these bacteria do not control us like a dog on a leash, the only reason they are allowed to exist is because our body has figured out how to regulate them so that on average they benefit our fitness. the exact same almost certainly takes place in our brains. we should be studying the brains immune defenses from memes, rather than a complete subservience as implied by this book.
finally for such a speculative field, i feel more attention should have been placed on real examples. the evolution of science, religions, cultures, computer science. (online dna can be translated into a virus, so you can "catch" diseases over the internet. and memes can be turned into viruses as well, showing these are one and the same).
but i suppose strong disagreement on the fundamentals is still to be expected at this point

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Narrator kinda killed the book

Never has this been an issue for me in any of the audiobooks i own. I always thought of it as a petty critique that many point out in otherwise great books. This one is unbearable though. Apologies to the narrator but honestly it feels Luke it's being read by a text to speech software. completely monotonical throughout the entire listen. Will trade for another after 30mins in. Writing it to save others from the hassle.

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simultaneously illuminating as well as confusing

close to Richard Dawkins style of thinking and writing.
takes some of his ideas further.
loved it.

Not sure how much I agree with. But it does make I think about what really goes on inside.

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Deep and well argued

This is a deep and well argued conceptualization of memes. It is a great starting point for further thought.

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Insightful but incomplete

This had some interesting thoughts, but I felt like Blackmore never quite defined what a meme was in her usage, and her apology for not quite defining it was not quite satisfactory. She also didn't clearly show how memes are truly independent of genes, because I don't think they are, and a lot of what she ascribed to memes could just be complex neurology and biology dependent on genes. If memes are a new separate replicator, how are they different from, say, human bodies, which also replicate? Biologists would say that genes make human bodies in order to make more genes, but Blackmore didn't clearly demonstrate why memes aren't also the creation of genes for making more genes.

I appreciated her discussion at the end about Self. It's an important discussion, and I think she's on the right track. I'm not sure I love her conclusion about how to live in light of the absence of self, but she's probably logically consistent there. If there's no self and no suffering, there's no enjoying. Ergo, nihilism. Food for thought.

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Essential reading on Evolution

An essential read for anyone interested in evolution. My question to Susan would be - "Was it necessary to inject your destroy-the-self-meme meme at the end?"

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odd blend of l sociology and neo buddhism

though quite enjoyable and even intriguing at times, I am so deeply unconvinced by the attempt to create a unified thesis around selftranscendence, determinism, ethics, and computational sociology.
this is not my first encounter with the notion of lack of self and free will. many scientists and thinkers like to toy with these ideas, or place them ornamentally next to their theses so to make them appear modern, ancient, and overall more profound. but what exactly is the explanatory value of this claim? furthermore, what exactly is its scientific proof? how exactly is science suppose to disprove a philosophical concept like the self? anyone trying to dissect the claims made in the last chapter could point out that the author cannot even phrase her thoughts from the selfless perspective or even from a place of determinism. I'm sorry, it sounds even more preposterous than the religious claims it mocks.
otherwise, the book provides adequate account for the evolutionary process underlying culture change. I wish the author went into further examples of virtue signaling in politics, costly signaling in religion, how things fall out of fashion, and the power of advertisements. a bit more mathematical modeling would have been a nice garnish too.

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I'm a mf meme machine

I have never felt more up-to-date on meme then I am right now. praise the meme!

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British accent of narrator may not appeal

I normally like listening to books where narrators have British accents.

This book is an exception.

It reached a point that I shuddered every time I heard the word EEEEE-volution.

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  • George
  • 03-08-20

OMG

This is the single most thought provoking book I have ever read! Mind blown! Beautifully read.

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  • Xander
  • 02-18-20

important insights

Memetics is an important concept. Having read "the selfish gene" that was already very clear to me. If you properly understand what is said in that book, the first 60% of this book will not he very new to you. otherwise it is a decent clarification.

The last 20% is very good and adds to understanding. but this book needs an update. given the way our digital world has changed in the last 20 years.

the author has now coined the term "tremes" for the technical memes and the third replicator. this book could do with an epilog explaining these concepts or (even better) a sequel.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 10-12-20

How the ape got his big brain...

Should have been a Nobel prize, but it's just a book. The evolution of altruism, the development of our inordinately enormous cranial cavities, Susan draws research from everywhere to weave a cohesive and comprehensive theory for it all and ties it in an elegant bow. This memeplex is most grateful.