The Meme Machine (Popular Science)
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
What is a meme? 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. The meme is also one of the most important--and controversial--concepts to emerge since The Origin of the Species appeared nearly 150 years ago.
In The Meme Machine Susan Blackmore boldly asserts: "Just as the design of our bodies can be understood only in terms of natural selection, so the design of our minds can be understood only in terms of memetic selection." Indeed, 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.
about their experiences). Disbelievers in life after death and researchers who pursue brain-based explanations are treated as nasty people who, if only they were nicer, would come to The Truth – another tactic that gives heavenly NDE memes the edge. No one wants to share the beliefs of a nasty person. The most successful NDE memeplex in North America today is a rather sickly Christian version. Experiencers describe heavenly scenes, a classic Jesus, judgements based on the most narrow
precise locations on chromosomes, memes presumably exist in brains, and we have even less chance of seeing one than of seeing a gene (though, in an article referred to by Blackmore, the neurobiologist Juan Delius had pictured his conjecture of what a meme might look like). As with genes, we track memes through populations by their phenotypes. The ‘phenotype’ of the Chinese junk meme is made of paper. With the exception of ‘extended phenotypes’, such as beaver dams and caddis larva houses, the
surplus to keep all this going. A smaller brain would certainly save a lot of energy, and evolution does not waste energy for no reason. As Steven Pinker (1994, p. 363) said ‘Why would evolution ever have selected for sheer bigness of brain, that bulbous, metabolically greedy organ? . . . Any selection on brain size itself would surely have favored the pinhead’. Second, the brain is expensive to build. The neurons are surrounded by a THE BIG BRAIN 71 fatty sheath of myelin which insulates them
order to have babies. We have largely divorced the act, and joy, and marketing of sex, from its reproductive function. There are two major ways of accounting for this divorce. The first is sociobiology’s answer: modern sexual behaviour is still gene-driven and our use of birth control is (from the genes’ point of view) a mistake, made possible because the genes could not anticipate how we would use our intelligence. The second is memetics’ answer: modern sexual behaviour is meme-driven. Although
and for buying them drinks. Psychological experiments confirm that people are more likely to be influenced and persuaded by people they like (Cialdini 19949 Eagly and Chaiken 1984). So his friends will imitate his popular behaviour and thus his altruism will spread. And the more friends he has, the more people can potentially pick up his ways of making himself popular. We could call Kevin a meme-fountain (Dennett 1998). Meanwhile, Gavin has few friends. He makes few opportunities for talking to