1. Strange creatures
What makes us different, this book argues, is our capacity to imitate.
We humans can pass on ideas, stories, tunes, and theories from one person
to another. All these are memes - and memes, like genes, are replicators
that undergo evolution. A brief history of the meme is given, and a few
implications sketched out.
2. Universal Darwinism
The evolutionary algorithm requires replication, heredity, and selection
to run - and when it runs it produces design out of nowhere. If memes
are replicators then the design of societies and minds is an evolutionary
process. We must remember, though, that memes and genes are different
in many ways. Their similarity is that both effectively say "Copy
me!". Examples of self-replicating "copy me" memes are
provided from chain letters to political beliefs.
3. The evolution of culture
Inventions are memes, from the origins of farming, to engines, books and
coca cola cans. But who benefits? We may think we do but according to
memetic theory it is the memes themselves who are the beneficiaries, not
the genes, and certainly not us - their creatures.
4. Taking the memes
Why cant we stop thinking ? The surprising answer from memetics
is that it is because the memes force us to keep thinking - and talking
- to spread more memes.
Some words of caution - Not everything is a meme, only those things that
are passed on by imitation are memes. Distinctions between imitation,
contagion, and social learning are made. A lot of what we experience through
perception and learning has nothing to do with memes.
5. Three problems with
Three important problems are discussed. We cannot specify the unit of
a meme, we do not know the mechanism for copying and storing memes, and
memetic evolution appears to be "Lamarckian". This last has
caused enormous controversy but rests upon a false comparison between
genetic and memetic evolution.
6. The big brain
No one knows why the human brain is so relatively enormous. The origins
of the human brain are discussed along with various theories of its origins.
A new memetic theory is proposed - that memes designed the human brain
for their own replication.
7. The origins of language
The evolution of language has been hotly debated for more than a century.
The major theories and their strengths and weaknesses are reviewed.
8. Meme-gene coevolution
A new theory of meme-gene coevolution is proposed and applied to the origins
of language. The theory suggests that language was created by the memes
as a way of improving the replication of memes by increasing fidelity,
fecundity and longevity. In other words, the purpose of language is to
spread memes. Both our big brains and our language have been meme driven.
9. The limits of sociobiology
Sociobiology has made great progress, for example in overthrowing the
Standard Social Science Model of human behaviour. However, sociobiologists
believe that the genes hold culture on a "leash". According
to memetics this is wrong - the memes have leapt off the leash and are
driving the genes. The concept of memetic drive takes us far beyond the
interests of the genes.
10. An orgasm saved my
Sex spreads memes. The sociobiology of sex is reviewed and the importance
of love, beauty, and parental investment considered. Biological approaches
can explain a lot about sex but mysteries remain.
11. Sex in the modern
From the genes point of view the major mysteries of modern human
sexual behaviour are celibacy, birth control, and adoption. Each of these
can be easily explained in terms of an advantage to memes - not genes.
12. A memetic theory
Altruism has long been a problem for genetic explanations of behaviour.
The varieties of human altruism and cooperation are reviewed. Conflict
between genes and memes appear and again can be resolved by seeing that
the meme is a replicator in its own right.
13. The altruism trick
A new theory of memetic altruism is proposed. Altruism spreads memes and
therefore thrives even at the expense of the genes. Some memes just look
like altruism, but whole memeplexes (co-adapted meme-complexes) can use
the "altruism trick". Debts, obligations, and bartering are
all affected by memes.
14. Memes of the New
Alien abduction is a memeplex, as are many other popular new age ideas.
Strong emotions and inexplicable experiences provide specially ripe conditions
for spreading false memes. Near-death experiences are another, as are
the memeplexes of divination and fortune telling. These may all be relatively
harmless but big money is involved in peddling the memes of ineffective
15. Religions as memeplexes
Religions have been used as a prime example of powerful, and usually false,
memes. Their power is explained in memetic terms. Religions and genes
have coevolved, providing us with brains that are especially likely to
pick up and enjoy religious ideas - even when they are false. The true
insights at the heart of some religions can be swamped by other more powerful
memes. Group selection (so controversial in biology) may also play a role.
Finally, what is the difference between science and religion?
16. Into the internet
The memes took a great step forward when they invented writing - and then
printing, and then other forms of communication, from railways and ships
to fax machines. The important concepts of copy-the-product versus copy-the-instruction
are explained. We can now understand how and why the internet has evolved
and guess at the direction the memes will push it in.
17. The ultimate memeplex
This is not some super-invention of the web, but our familiar and ordinary
"self". What am I? A conglomeration of memes - a massive memeplex
living in a brain. Many illusions are created by the memes and, if this
view of memetics is true, we are not really in charge of our lives at
all - the replicators are. Our "self" was created by and for
18. Out of the meme race
Our place in the universe has to be reconsidered in the light of the power
of the memes. We have no free will, and our consciousness is not the driving
force of our behaviour. Creativity and foresight owe more to memetic evolution
than to individual brilliance. In other words, we are meme machines through
and through, and we need to learn to live with it. Dawkins claims that
we alone can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators but
really, the book concludes, there is no one to rebel.
Extract from the foreword by Richard Dawkins
(Dawkins invented the term meme in 1976)
I was always open to the possibility that the
meme might one day be developed into a proper hypothesis of the human
mind, and I did not know how ambitious such a thesis might turn out to
be. Any theory deserves to be given its best shot, and that is what Susan
Blackmore has given the theory of the meme. I do not know whether she
will be judged too ambitious in this enterprise, and I would even fear
for her if I did not know her redoubtable qualities as a fighter. Redoubtable
she is, and hard nosed too, but at the same time her style is light and
personable. Her thesis undermines our most cherished illusions (as she
would see them) of individual identity and personhood, yet she comes across
as the kind of individual person you would wish to know. As one reader
I am grateful for the courage, dedication and skill she has put into her
difficult task of memetic engineering, and I am delighted to recommend
updated: Monday, 04 April 2011 15:58