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The Meme Machine (Popular Science) (Englisch) Taschenbuch – 16. März 2000

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Habits, skills, songs, stories, ideas: humans are marvellously equipped to keep themselves and each other ceaselessly busy and it's as well, for no matter how hard we try, we humans just can't stop thinking. So, says Susan Blackmore, what if consciousness is not some esoteric genetic freebie but is itself the product of an altogether different evolutionary process?

Once humans learned to imitate each other--that is, receive, copy and retransmit "memes"--the rest, Blackmore argues, is a foregone and somewhat chilling conclusion: we are the product of our memes just as we are the products of our genes, the trouble being that memes, like genes, care only for their own propagation. The ability to imitate each other laid us open to ideas good and bad in equal measure. These proliferated in such numbers that individuals, competing to imitate the best imitators, needed bigger and bigger brains to contain the flood. Now our heads are so big, they are barely birthable.

Blackmore's brilliantly argued version of how humans became conscious--not to say downright troubled--demolishes some of the most intractable problems of human evolution and social biology, with flair. Hers is a book full of careful arguments and thrilling conjectures: riddled, in other words, with promising memes. --Simon Ings

Pressestimmen

"Well-written and personable, this provocative book makes a cognent...case for the concept of memes and for the importance of their effects on human culture."--Publishers Weekly



"Well-written and personable, this provocative book makes a cognent...case for the concept of memes and for the importance of their effects on human culture."--Publishers Weekly



"Well-written and personable, this provocative book makes a cognent...case for the concept of memes and for the importance of their effects on human culture."--Publishers Weekly


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Susan Blackmore's bold and fascinating book "The Meme Machine" pushes the new theory of memetics farther than anyone else has, including its originator Richard Dawkins. The reader should already be well-acquainted with the concepts of memes and Universal Darwinism before tackling this book. Those who are not would do well to first read Dawkins' The Selfish Gene (and even better to also read Daniel Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous Idea).
Dawkins himself wrote the Foreword to this book, giving it his enthusiastic endorsement, and providing some enlightening remarks about the origin of the meme concept. He concedes however, that his original intentions were quite a bit more modest, and that Blackmore has carried the concept further than he had envisioned.
The central thesis of this book is that imitation is what makes humans truly different from other animals, and what drives almost all aspects of human culture. A meme then, is a unit of imitation. Anything that can be passed from one person to another through imitation -- such as a song, a poem, a cookie recipe, fashion, the idea of building a bridge or making pottery -- is an example of a meme. From the meme's point of view, Blackmore claims, we humans are simply "meme machines", copying memes from one brain to another.
This book is highly speculative. That doesn't mean it's wrong. It just means the claims have not been proven scientifically. To Blackmore's credit she does clearly highlight the areas of speculation. She also points out the testable predictions made by her theory, and describes possible experiments that could be performed to validate or falsify them.
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The idea of memes is not new, but The Meme Machine gives a fresh and readable perspective to the concept, and certainly adds many new ideas. It gets really interesting from chapter 7 onwards, but do not skip the early chapters. The book will give you a fresh perspective on the world you live in.
Understanding is easier if you choose the right view point. It is no more true to say that the Earth goes round the sun as visa-versa, but if you insist on putting the Earth at the centre then it is very difficult to understand and have a mental model of the solar system or indeed the rest of the universe. The theory of memes as self replicating ideas in the substrate of human minds and co-existing with self replicating genes in the substrate of human bodies makes it easier to understand many baffling phenomena of life, from seemingly irrational religious beliefs through why people are altruistic and to which pop tunes, films, and toys sales at Christmas are the most successful.
Dr Blackmore goes on to say that physical objects (eg computers) can be considered as physical objects which self replicate by using human labour motivated by memes. She fails to make the connection between this and the peculiar behaviour of shares on the stock market in companies like Intel and Microsoft. But these sorts of links will fill the minds of readers of her book who have expertise in other areas. (No financial professional predicted the long term rise and rise of these shares - most booms end in bust.
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To me, this book filled in a gap in my understanding of humans. If you already subscribe to genetic evolution and to sociobiology, you may think meme theory is unnecessary. Many readers will no doubt tend to view Blackmore's thesis as an impressive theory that fits well with the natural world, but that meme's "aren't really what drives us." That genetic evolution, because of its unquestionble sucess (ok, not Kansas) in explaining our biological existence, is also, ultimately, responsible for our culture. What makes this theory so powerful for me is that it claims that humans truely are "different" from other biological organisms. We're not simply different by degree from other animals, we are different in kind. We aren't just smart primates, we are a different kind of primate. This is the most important implication of the theory.
It is not disputed that genes are 'replicators' that make copies of themselves and compete with eachother for a continued existence. What makes this book shocking is its claim that there is a second replicator that dominates our existence (indeed, is partly responsible for it). Ideas spread themselves, and compete for a piece of the limited thought-space in our brains.
Is this just a clever way of explaining humankind's complex behavior, or is it something real?
A friend of mine argued that Meme's couldn't be "real" because they were just the manifestation of our physiology. To this I counter, does this mean that a sound wave is not "real", after all, it's just relative motion of a bunch of air molecules (or what ever medium the wave travels in). I don't want to get into philosophy, because I never see an end to these kinds of debates.
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