ALPHABETICAL BRAIN™ VOCABULARY
HUMANIST SECULAR SCIENCE STAR
June 3, 2021
The Secret Life of the Brain.
by Susan Blackmore with
Foreword by Richard Dawkins.
Oxford University Press, 1999
(i-xx, 264 pages)
FOREWORD by Richard Dawkins (v-vii)
1) STRANGE CREATURES (1-)
2) UNIVERSAL DARWINISM (10-)
3) THE EVOLUTION OF CULTURE (24-)
4) TAKING THE MEME'S EYE VIEW (37-)
5) THREE PROBLEMS WITH MEMES ()
6) THE BIG BRAIN ()
7) THE ORIGINS OF LANGUAGE ()
8) MEME-GENE CO-EVOLUTION ()
9) THE LIMITS OF SOCIOBIOLOGY ()
10) AN ORGASM SAVED MY LIFE ()
11) SEX IN THE MODERN WORLD ()
12) A MEMETIC THEORY OF ALTRUISM ()
13) THE ALTRUISM TRICK ()
14) MEMES OF THE NEW AGE ()
15) RELIGIONS AS MEMEPLEXES ()
16) INTO THE INTERNET ()
17) THE ULTIMATE MEMEPLEX ()
18) OUT OF THE MEME RACE ()
AUTHOR NOTES, SUMMARY,
AND BOOK DESCRIPTION
AUTHOR NOTES = 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.
SUMMARY = What is a meme? First coined by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene (1976), 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 Darwin's book, The Origin of Species appeared nearly 150 years ago.
BOOK DESCRIPTION = In the book, 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. Dawkins had described how biological design arises as genes compete selfishly to replicate themselves. In his final chapter of the book, The Selfish Gene (1976), Dawkins suggested that memes are also "replicators," and that they compete to get themselves copied into as many brains as possible. Examples include tunes, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, and new ways of building arches.
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 cannot stop thinking, why we behave altruistically, how we choose our mates, and much more. This approach provides new theories of "memetic altruism," the development of language and the origins of the enormous human brain. If memes are true replicators, then our minds are fashioned by memes just as our bodies are fashioned by genes. With controversial implications for our religious beliefs, our free will, our very sense of self, Blackmore's book offers a provocative theory everyone will be talking about.
EDITORIAL BOOK REVIEWS
LIBRARY JOURNAL REVIEW = If Blackmore is correct, then imitation is much more than just the highest form of flattery. It 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.
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY REVIEW = 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 cogent --- if not wholly persuasive --- case for the concept of memes and for the importance of their effects on human culture.
CHOICE REVIEW = Over the centuries, there have been many theories about the origin and development of cultures. Ever since God was conceived as the ultimate cause of everything, the reductionist urge has tempted the human mind. Richard Dawkins introduced the concept of the meme in 1976, a sort of nonmaterial gene to keep cultures and civilizations going and growing. It is based on the extension of the Darwinian notion of evolution, from purely biological entities to anything at all "that makes imperfect copies of itself only some of which survive." Like all revolutionary and potentially powerful ideas, this too has been attacked, criticized, even ridiculed, but also explored and expanded by fellow experts. Now Blackmore's book systematically introduces "memetics" as a new scientific field. The key idea is simple: if Darwin said human beings evolved from apes, memeticists claim that human culture evolved from aping. Based on scholarly research and considerable expertise, the book is written with great clarity and conviction, even though from a partisan perspective. Only the chapter on religion is disappointing, where the author tries to defend her contention that "science is, in some sense, superior to religion." This is somewhat naive; still, readers will learn a great deal from this very informative and persuasive book. All levels. V. V. Raman; Rochester Institute of Technology.
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