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The Meme Machine [Format Kindle]

Susan Blackmore , Richard Dawkins
5.0 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (1 commentaire client)

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Revue de presse

Anyone who hopes or fears that memetics will become a science of culture will find this surefooted exploration of the prospects a major eye-opener. (Daniel Dennett)

Any theory deserves to be given its best shot, and that is what Susan Blackmore has given the theory of the meme I am delighted to recommend her book. (Richard Dawkins)

Présentation de l'éditeur

Humans are extraordinary creatures, with the unique ability among animals to imitate and so copy from one another ideas, habits, skills, behaviours, inventions, songs, and stories. These are all memes, a term first coined by Richard Dawkins in 1976 in his book The Selfish Gene. Memes, like genes, are replicators, and this enthralling book is an investigation of whether this link between genes and memes can lead to important discoveries about the nature of
the inner self. Confronting the deepest questions about our inner selves, with all our emotions, memories, beliefs, and decisions, Susan Blackmore makes a compelling case for the theory that the inner self is merely an illusion created by the memes for the sake of replication.

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1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 exposé général de la mèmétique 20 novembre 2010
Par Guy Walch
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
La portée générale potentielle est exposée avec beaucoup de clarté, en particulier la complémentarité avec la génétique dans le cadre de l'évolution par la sélection naturelle. La nécessité d'un second réplicateur est solidement étayée.
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 The Meme Machine 1 août 2000
Par Panini - Publié sur Amazon.com
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.
One such prediction is that specific neural mechanisms would be found in the brain that support imitation -- the key requirement for replication of memes. The recent discovery of mirror neurons seems to satisfy this prediction and provide a powerful validation of the theory.
This book is ambitious. It purports to be nothing less than a comprehensive scientific theory which answers such major scientific questions as the "big brain" problem, and the evolutionary origins of language, altruism, and religion -- all currently unresolved problems. Blackmore's presentation of these issues to be persuasive and insightful, though in some instances she has overstated her case. For example, while memes may have been a significant causal factor in the origin of language, it is not necessary to adopt a purely non-functional explanation for language.
The most controversial part of the book is likely to the last two chapters, where Blackmore discusses the concept of the "self", the real you which holds beliefs, desires, and intentions. Like Dennett, Blackmore believes the idea of a "self" is an illusion but unlike Dennett she does not see it as benign and a practical necessity. In her view, the illusion of the self (what she calls the "ultimate memeplex") obscures and distorts consciousness, and advocates adopting a Zen-like view to actively repel the self illusion.
After having read the book you may feel, that Blackmore has gone too far; that she has pulled some sleight-of-hand and come up with an outlandish conclusion. However, upon further reflection, the thoughtful reader will be forced to admit that Blackmore has made a forceful case and told at least a plausible, if not utterly convincing story.<P....
59 internautes sur 67 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 It's All About Imitation 15 mars 1999
Par Liane Gabora (lgabora@vub.ac.be ) - Publié sur Amazon.com
It is exciting that Oxford has come out with a book on memetics, and Blackmore does a nice job of fleshing out the basics. The Meme Machine follows through on Dawkins' (1976) fascinating suggestion that culture, like biology, evolves through the processes of variation, selection, and replication. It explores how viewing culture as a hereditary system can shed light on many aspects of the human experience, such as why we gossip, believe in alien abduction, and get enthusiastic about sex. (Though the chapter titled 'An orgasm saved my life' never gets around to explaining how an orgasm saved someone's life.)
Her central thesis is that what makes humans unique is their ability to imitate, and she takes the 'imitation is where it's at' thesis very seriously. The idea is: once humans became able to imitate, ideas could be transmitted, and cultural evolution took off. Unfortunately, there are deep problems with this proposal. First, the claim that animals don't imitate is highly controversial, and current consensus seems to sway in the opposite direction. (An article by Byrne & Russon in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 21, 1998, and accompanying commentary, provide an insightful review.) Second, Blackmore correctly notes that the archeological record reveals a sudden INCREASE in tool variety. However, if imitation were the bottleneck, then prior to the origin of culture there would have been variation everywhere, and the onset of imitation would have funneled this variation in the most useful directions, i.e. variety would have DECREASED. The evidence is, in fact, consistent with the thesis that creativity, rather than imitation, was the bottleneck to culture.
The 'imitation drives culture' hypothesis leads Blackmore to restrict the definition of a meme to something that can be transmitted from one human to another by imitation. So, for example, if a child learns to peal a banana by watching her mother, a meme has replicated. But if the child learns this skill from a cartoon character on tv, no replication has taken place. By the end of the book (particularly in the chapter on the internet) she eases up on this a bit. Human-made artifacts now seem to play a role in her vision, though elements of the natural world still don't. Thus if a child gets the idea for how to peal a banana by watching the petals of a flower unfold, her flower-inspired 'how to peal a banana' meme is NOT transmittable. In the blink of an eye, Blackmore discards the possibility that any experience can be food for thought and thus food for culture, on the grounds that it is "extremely confusing" (p. 45). The worldview impled by the Shroedinger equation is extremely confusing too, but its batting average as a predictor of experimental outcomes is unsurpassed. 'Confusing' is not synonymous with 'wrong'.
Blackmore also claims that "perceptions and emotions are not memes because they are ours alone and we may never pass them on" (p. 15). It follows that the feeling evoked by a painting of a stormy night at sea has no relationship to what the artist was feeling at the time... that a teacher's attitude of compassion has no impact on the cultural dynamics of the classroom. Thus it is not clear how Blackmore's narrow definition of meme clears up the confusion.
Readers should be aware that, despite the Oxford label, the book the book does not reflect the current level of sophistocation in the field. It presents many ideas without referencing where they were first introduced, or mentioning influencial work in the area (e.g. memetic altruism, memetic explanations of the origin of culture, memes & language, memes & the internet, etc.). Blackmore does not delve deep into evolutionary theory, on the grounds that borrowing concepts from biology could lead cultural theorists astray. To my mind, this is like ignoring what we already know about snow skis when developing the first prototype for waterskis. In fact there is some disparity between the 'science rules' attitude and the lack of theory or data. If the title leads you to expect material on computer models, cognitive science, complexity, information theory, etc. you will be disappointed. There isn't much on the workings of the memetic machinery. But if you like examples of manipulative memes, you will find it interesting. And the potential significance of memetics should not be underestimated. It is not inconceivable that the next century will usher forth more books on cultural evolution than this century has on biological evolution.
42 internautes sur 48 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Piques the interest for a future science 9 décembre 1999
Par Jake Sapiens - Publié sur Amazon.com
This book is a little too ambitious. Although Blackmore does not succeed in making the case for a science of memetics, she does a fantastic job trying to. With things like "Campbell's rule" and copying of instructions vs. copying of the product, she makes some good conceptual headway. She provides some good behaviorist insight on true imitation as a potential basis for memetic theory. The speculative field of memetics has yet to pull all the threads together, though Blackmore does a very good job setting the stage. I think the field as a whole could use a lot more immersion in cognitive science beyond the interesting forays of Daniel Dennett("Darwin's Dangerous Idea" highly recommended). I think the cognitive roles of language while not overlooked, could use more attention. In this vein I recommend to those interested to read "Philosophy in the Flesh" by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, after you finish "The Meme Machine."
The Meme Machine reads very well. It doesn't leave me seeing how memetics will get from here (speculative) to there (real science), but it leaves me thinking that there must be a way. Blackmore backs up her own ideas with some good scientific background, but doesn't lay any real empirical foundations for a science of memetics. I think until we have a better idea of the neurological organization underpinning our conceptual thinking that foundation will not appear. For some possible headway on that, again I suggest you read "Philosophy in the Flesh" after you read "The Meme Machine." I think perhaps both of these books may be converging on some similar problems from different perspectives.
I think Blackmore sets some goals that are entirely too ambitious, and fails to achieve them. Instead of laying a foundation, she merely piques our interest. Don't let that stop you from enjoying "The Meme Machine." It is very interesting. Read this book. You will be glad that you did.
24 internautes sur 28 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Femme du meme 2 janvier 2000
Par Ronald P. van Ammers - Publié sur Amazon.com
Philosophy should leave everything as it is -- Wittgenstein
Susan Blackwell's tour de force, 'Meme Machine', leaves everything as it is. There are no tricks of words, there's no technical jargon, everything's in plain ENglish. As it turns out, her account hangs together quite well.
For humans, besides DNA, there is a 2nd replicating entity, the meme. A meme is a communicable brain program or unit of human behavior and is, in fact, communicated (replicated) via the uniquely human faculty for imitation.
Selfish genes replicate in a chemical environment, selfish memes replicate in a neural environment (today's computer viruses replicate in electronic environments). When we consider evolution we're as justified in metaphorically ascribing intentions to memes as to genes*.
Leaving her progenitors, Dawkins and Dennett, in the dust, Blackwell argues that meme evolution and gene evolution interact and this is responsible for several Baldwin** effects, among which big brains, homosexualism, and the language instinct.
She makes the startling claim that true altruism is possible, that under the influence of memes people can behave selfsacrificially. Somewhat less controversially, she concludes that consciousness, freewill, god, etc are illusions that benefit the propagation of genes and memes.
She ends with some fashionable suggestions on how to make life bearable once the monstrous truth of her theory has sunk in: If you meditate and empty your mind you can come to live in peace with the idea that YOU dont exist, that youre only some genes and memes replicating.
Then there's the picture of Susan Blackmore on the back flap. Attractive, smart looking, 40ish punkette. Hair painted flaming red!
* There's nothing new in Blackmore's use of the intention metaphor in connection with genes and memes, everybody does it. Still, the metaphor may sometimes not apply and leave us to conclude what we shouldnt.
** The Baldwin effect is a way genetic evolution can be made to seem as if by Lamarckian forces, ie, inheritance of acquired characteristics.
26 internautes sur 31 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
2.0 étoiles sur 5 An unconvincing and useless new myth 20 septembre 2010
Par Matthias Berg - Publié sur Amazon.com
Dear prospective reader! Here's a little test for you to find out if you will like this book We've got two versions of the same story: which version do you prefer?
A: Human brains invented printing in order to facilitate communication and to spread ideas more easily.
B: In order to replicate themselves more easily, Books (and the ideas encoded in them) made human brains invent printing .

The book of Susan Blackmore is all about version B, applied to all kinds of cultural phenomena (= memes). Memes (i.e. tunes , poems, behaviour, recipes etc...), we are told, are the true Agents. They enter human being like viruses enter bodies, hijacking them in order to replicate themselves. Humans are their puppets ; memes pull the strings. According to Blackmore, memes even created our big brain and our language to enhance processing and replicating capacities (how strange! the Upper Palaeolithic evolution, with all its inventions of art, tools etc. took place 100,000 years AFTER the human brain had reached its modern size. Therefore, logically the driving force of memes must have been hidden for 100,000 years, maybe as spirits, acting from some transcendental realm of Platonic Ideas? )

In Blackmore's system, it all boils down to imitation. As human beings with our social brain we imitate other people right from the first days of our live (unless the child suffers from autism). Imitation is compulsive, but the object of imitation is not given but (unconsciously) chosen. To imitate is not to copy, but to adapt something to my world, according to principles of my existence. Those who present imitation as a equivalent for (genetic) mitosis reveal their ignorance of the last thirty years of research in psychology. The mind is constantly `cooking the facts', modifying incoming stimuli according to its needs, even on the perceptual level. We've left the Skinner-Box long, long ago!

Does a tune copy itself when I keep it in mind and then whistle it to my friend? Is the tune the Agent? Blackmore thinks so. Psychologists disagree. All the tune (or any other cultural unit like a recipe of a soup or a fashion fad) can do is appealing to the brain, and something inside the brain (certainly not the conscious Subject; we agree that we have scrapped that long ago), with all its needs, preferences, desires, emotions etc.. decides whether it likes the tune or not, whether it will memorize it, and spread it to other people. A tune in itself has no qualities that make it stick in the mind. It's the mind that invests the tune with certain qualities that makes it sticky.

Did the meme "baggy pants" hijack the brain of millions of kids? No: millions of kids desperately want to be cool. If they are puppets (and I think they are), it's their desire to be an accepted member of their peer-group that is pulling the strings, not the Meme `baggy pants' or `hip-hop music'. Memes are on the receiving end of this desire, if they correspond to anything, it's the phenotype, not the genes. They are signs, not agents.
That's the reason why likening memes to viruses is such a bad metaphor: viruses do hijack their hosts, and the host is at the mercy of the virus (if the immune system fails). But a brain confronted with a pesty meme can just say "I'd prefer not to" and the meme is helpless.

Memes (=> Culture) and genes (=> biology) can collide in their interests. We knew that fact before. But Blackmore gives it a weird twist: just have a look at her explanation for birth-control : memes and genes fight over women's life and time: those who invest in rearing offspring cannot be busy spreading memes. But modern birth-control means that memes have won the battle: modern women are more and more participating in cultural and economic activities, therefore spreading more memes than those who stay in the kitchen with kids clutching their skirts. Blackmore sums it up: Sex has been taken over by memes. Really? I'd say: Sex has been taken over by fun for fun's sake! Having as much sex as one can get without worrying about the outcome is certainly a much stronger incentive than being an efficient instrument of meme proliferation. (By the way: in traditional `Western' societies like Japan or Spain, where women are leading a more hidden life, - i.e. not conducive to meme replication - the birth-rate is much lower than in modern societies like Sweden , where women are almost equal to men when it comes to their presence in the economy or the media. These facts can't be accounted for by memetics. You have to take a closer look at the details, but details are necessarily drowned in the insipid soup of Imitation-Spreads-Memes. That's the basic flaw: the would-be master-key of cultural studies offers insufficient explanations, on all levels of description)

Memeticists are driven by the desire to provide a master-key explanation for everything in culture, like Darwin's theory of Natural Selection, where everything boils down to variation, heredity and selection, makes sense of the evolution of living structures. But unfortunately there is no such thing as The Theory of Cultural Selection or The Great Unified Theory for Cultural Evolution. What we call culture (and its units, the memes) is at the crossroads of biology, economy, psychology and maybe a dozen other fields that all generate or influence a certain meme.

Conclusion: Memetics is just one of those intellectual fads that keep popping up now and then, like Deconstructionism in the Seventies. Although memeticists use scientific language, their concepts are totally useless in a scientific context. Richard Dawkins all started it as a nice intellectual game, a metaphor ("contagious ideas"; "this tune keeps haunting me"). But in Blackmore's book, MEME is a metaphor running wild, an analogy hopelessly blown out of proportion. .
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