The Meme Machine
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The Meme Machine

3.77 of 5 stars 3.77  ·  rating details  ·  1,921 ratings  ·  67 reviews
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 sin...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published April 8th 1999 by Oxford University Press, USA
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If you want to criticise a book you can’t go too far wrong if you call it ‘reductionist’. As Steven Weinberg points out in his book, Dreams of a Final Theory it is odd that people should think that reductionism is the perfect one word put down for a theory – given how incredibly successful reductionism has proven in Physics.

My problem is when a theory that might work quite well at one level of explanation is expanded to include other levels of explanation that do not have the same necessity beh...more
OK, Here's the good, the bad, and the ugly about this book.

The good:

1. She does a good job of summarizing the body of literature on evolutionary models of the spread of information (i.e. other people's work). The relevant chapters, therefore, are a good introduction to the subject.

2. The chapter on alien abduction is sensitive, fair, and careful about its subject (those with the illusion that they were abducted by aliens).

The bad:

Every thing else, i.e. her own theories. Example. Her theory of w...more
There is an old maxim, "The theory that explains everything explains nothing." This sums up the problem with memetics as a "science." Whenever I see a memetic explanation for some phenomenon, it always seems to either be completely incorrect or simply repackaging a result already well-known within the social sciences in pseudo-biological jargon. The same applies to Susan Blackmore's The Meme Machine.

Blackmore completely drops the meme-gene analogy, a smart move considering that it was untenable...more
Despite its age (which becomes apparent only in a select few chapters that focus on the Internet and neuroscience), and despite that I disagree with a number of the author's contentions, I really enjoyed this book. Blackmore presents a comprehensive understanding of memes, those cultural self-replicators that drive much of our behaviour in our modern social world. She makes use of a host well-articulated descriptions, examples, and scientific narratives, offering fairly weighted arguments for mo...more
I'm very happy I read this book, and I have a very high respect for Mrs. Blackmore's book. I've rarely read a book so honest about the claims it makes. Blackmore is always very careful to note that her theories and conjectures are frequently just that, and always suggests ways in which they may be disproven, or proven. It's refreshingly honest and at the same time, given the paucity of actual evidence it can work with, remarkably convincing. Definitely give it a shot.
The theory's better than the book.
Jason Mills
Jan 21, 2012 Jason Mills rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who like to think new thoughts!
Recommended to Jason by: Lots of science books
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 c...more
Bryan Jacobson
All of our brains for an environment where Memes (basically ideas) reproduce by being copied from person to person. Memes evolve and compete. Some dwindle (go out of fashion) some rapidly spread across the globe.

This book is a solid introduction to Memes (which I believe are a useful way to think about human thought). I had high hopes based on a brilliant TED video by Susan Blackmore, but I enjoyed this book less than I expected.

Early on the book makes many statements to counter arguments made...more
The Meme Machine lays out the foundation for a new science... or at least it tries too. And fails.

Blackmore is a wonderfully knowledgeable author, and the varied topics she dives in to while illustrating and describing her meme theory is one the reasons this book is still somewhat worthwhile.

But as for her theory, it just is too hard to swallow. Somehow the replicator function of memes is crucial in order to distinguish them as evolutionary, but then it turns out to be impossible to consistently...more
Apr 02, 2008 Ozten rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: memes humanoids bonobos excons
Recommended to Ozten by: Levi Fuller
This book is amazing. I highly recommend it. It is non-fiction and can be a little dry, so let me give you the hard sell.

This book is basically Susan Blackmore's PHD thesis on memetic evolution. Okay, are you sold?

Topics touched upon in this book:
* How do you explain homosexual lifestyle in the face of evolution
* What is fashion
* Why/How does tool making evolve
* Why are religions so powerful
* How/why does advertising work
* How can you stop you monkey mind

It's been 5 months, so I might be missing...more
a theory of addiction
This is the seminal text of the nascent theory of memetics. It proposes a universal-Darwinian model of culture with imitated behaviors as the replicating units. This model allows us to see culture and behavior as living, evolving, complex systems of countless networked interacting units - a type of model familiar from evolution, cognitive neuroscience, and complexity science generally. One important insight provided by this new way of understanding cultural change is the realization that culture...more
John E. Branch Jr.
There are two senses of the word “meme.” You might say there are two versions of the meme for “meme.” Probably most people know the term as lingo for an Internet theme. Cats are a persistent, practically deathless meme; it’s already been some years since an august researcher announced that “The Internet is made of cats.” Most memes on the net, though, are short-lived. Twerking was briefly a hot meme but is now—I hope—almost forgotten, like planking. There was a spell when fans of Mad Men madly p...more
Greg Collver
I had a mixed reaction from reading this book. I found much of it interesting and useful, but at times it seemed a little far fetched and I became skeptical.

In general, I think meme is useful as a new term for old ideas to remove old associations and perhaps look at multiple ideas that would not normally be associated in a new and interesting ways, as competing memes.

Interesting theory albeit ultimately just an amalgamation of conjecture. A good portion of the book is the author just surmising and making bold claims with no proof to back it all up whatsoever. Nevertheless, there are some good points made about how ideas can shape our personality and environment. A worthy read, but I'm not sold on it as a whole.

This book was worth the read. While in many ways it struggled with the burden of proof and lack of research into the field of memes, and as a result came across as a pseudo-scientific approach at debunking all sorts of current thinking, it is put together well and really walks the reader to the rather shocking conclusion.
Cheryl in CC NV
The one that started it all for me. I wasn't a big fan of non-fiction before reading this, but afterwards I tried to grapple evolutionary biology, sociobiology, pschology.... I'm so curious about this stuff now; I wish I could go back to school and get guidance from a professor.
Dave Peticolas

Blackmore presents her theory of the meme, the cultural and mental equivalent of the gene. Her approach is quite similar to Dawkin's The Selfish Gene and emphasizes the "meme's eye view" to develop theories on the origin of language, religion, and altruism, among other things.

Dawkins himself wrote the foreword for the book and he is careful to avoid endorsing the theory directly. I suspect he does not fully embrace it. Neither do I; though many of the arguments are compelling, Blackmore confuses

Dan Trachtman
Not one of the better Meme books.
Todd Allen
Richard Dawkins, in his book the Selfish Gene, provided a springboard—the idea of a meme—from which Susan Blackmore in her book expands upon and uses to better explain social phenomena that are otherwise seemingly intractable. Other biological curiosities unique only to humans—up to this point, as far as we know—are also expanded upon in this book and examined from a meme’s perspective.

Like genes, memes have no modus operandi other than their own duplication. That their duplication is not error...more
The meme is the latest addition to that old argument about nature versus nurture. To some it is an analogy which doesn’t bear scientific investigation, for others it is the multiplier effect allowing them to expand their work and apply for research support while they consider the broader significance and potential of this idea for a range of purposes.

The very fact that the person who first posited the meme is the person providing a foreword for this book, shows how memes can be constructed to be...more
Lage von Dissen
Blackmore talks about memes. This term, that is, the "meme" was first coined by Richard Dawkins (in "The Selfish Gene" which was also a good read). It is basically any idea or behavior that can be transferred from one organism to another by imitation. Much like a gene, a meme has the properties of fecundity, fidelity, and longevity. It is this replicator medium that allowed for the cultural tranformation of our species. Blackmore goes into depth asserting that our minds are best understood in te...more
The book helped me to understand memes and to think about cultures as meme-plexes.

Blackmore defines a replicator as anything that can reproduce itself with random variations. She contends that science has proven that evolution of ever more complex organisms will always result once a replicator exists.

Once humans evolved the the ability to remember and communicate ideas (memes), we became replicators. the carriers of memes. The plasticity of memory and the impossibility of perfect communication...more
Pretty awesome, this book introduced me to how ridiculously powerful and intuitive meme theory is, although some parts near the end started to stretch things a bit. But it does have THE best explanation I have ever heard for how and why humans got their big, complicated brains (It's a really elegant and beautiful description that I can't do much justice to here, but long story short: memes were born). And yes, in case you hadn't realized, the meme machines of the title are humans. It's a pretty...more
David Pratt
This book I bought about 5 years ago after it was referenced in another book a number of times as being a great study of the concept of memes. Now when I say memes I don't mean adorable picture of Grumpy Cat with clever little phrases, or photo's of Marilyn Monroe quoting stating some of the most narcissistic phrases I ever seen and treating her like some great philosopher. No I mean the concept of a second replicator in the line of genes that spread from mind to mind. Though a well researched b...more
James Boyle
The book was interesting up to a point, and some chapters were more interesting than others (although they tended to be about genetics or free will rather than memes unfortunately). Blackmore may well be on to something in a basic way, but not sure there is enough to formulate an entire new science out of it, and at times I found myself getting annoyed by how far she was taking it. If there is any truth to memetics, I think that these early ideas may prove to be incorrect and it is currently, as...more
An incredibly insightful book on memetic theory. While it can be a bit dry at times, it is worth plodding through those parts to get to the really thought provoking parts. The author provides memetic theories for everything from the origins of language and our large brains to religion and the concept of self. I should note that many of these are her own theories, but she makes a convincing case for many. The two final chapters, regarding the existence of self, really make one ask the questions:...more
Hugo Luis
Primero decían que no somos más que un vehículo para que los genes logren sus objetivos. Luego, que el pensamiento es independiente de los genes, por lo tanto nos libera de ellos. Ahora resulta que el pensamiento es un vehículo para los memes. O sea que no sólo somos esclavos de los genes, si no que también de los memes. Esto podría parecer desmotivante pero, si se lee entre lineas, implica que el proceso analítico nos ha segado a muchas cosas que podrían estar por ahí ocultas.

Le quité una estre...more
Jon Seymour
A thorough explanation of the analogy between cultural memes and biological genes.
I read this back when in came out in 1999 and am returning to it. I found it very exciting back then and the experience is repeating itself. The first chapters can be a little slow, but when she gets to explaining how the brain got so big (chapter 6), things get really rolling.

The final result is mind-boggling and heads toward a kind of Buddhism where we realize that there is no self, only conglomeration of memes, stewing about in a brain that became large because it discovered the trick of imit...more
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  • The Extended Phenotype: The Long Reach of the Gene
  • God, the Devil, and Darwin: A Critique of Intelligent Design Theory
  • The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation
  • Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea
  • How We Believe: Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God
  • What Evolution Is
  • The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History
  • The Society of Mind
  • Sociobiology: The New Synthesis
  • What Have You Changed Your Mind About?: Today's Leading Minds Rethink Everything
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Susan Jane Blackmore is a freelance writer, lecturer and broadcaster, and a Visiting Professor at the University of Plymouth. She has a degree in psychology and physiology from Oxford University (1973) and a PhD in parapsychology from the University of Surrey (1980). Her research interests include memes, evolutionary theory, consciousness, and meditation. She practices Zen and campaigns for drug l...more
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“If we take memetics seriously then the 'me' that could do the choosing is itself a memetic construct: a fluid and ever-changing group of memes installed in a complicated meme machine.” 10 likes
“Humans are often credited with having real foresight, in distinction to the rest of biology which does not. For example, Dawkins compares the 'blind watchmaker' of natural selection with the real human one. 'A true watchmaker has foresight: he designs his cogs and springs, and plans their interconnections, with a future purpose in his mind's eye. Natural selection . . . has no purpose in mind'.

I think this distinction is wrong. There is no denying that the human watchmaker is different from the natural one. We humans, by virtue of having memes, can think about cogs, and wheels, and keeping time, in a way that animals cannot. Memes are the mind tools with which we do it. But what memetics shows us is that the processes underlying the two kinds of design are essentially the same. They are both evolutionary processes that give rise to design through selection, and in the process they produce what looks like foresight.”
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