X-Message-Number: 11948
Date: Sat, 12 Jun 1999 10:18:45 +0100
From:  (John de Rivaz)
Subject: Book Review: The Meme Machine

Book Review: The Meme Machine, by Dr Susan Blackmore

Cryonics enthusiasts cannot understand why the idea is not obvious to 
everyone, not just themselves. Robert Ettinger thought circulating a copy of 
a paper to a few influential people would have companies like Frigidaire 
taking up the concept. When this didn't work, publishing a book didn't have 
a beneficial effect either. Theories about whether it is too expensive, too 
disgusting, too intrusive, or too peculiar abound.

What follows is a review of a book that discussed memes in great detail. 
This book may help to explain the place of cryonics in the collective human 
consciousness. I hope that many cryonicists read it and comment on it in 
Cryonet and perhaps from the discussion some useful ideas can emerge that 
will strengthen the movement.

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 

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. Once 
you understand how memes affect physical objects, and couple this with an 
understanding of how computers design newer and bigger computers and you can 
see why these stocks really are different from food retailers, hospitality 
stocks and even car and white goods manufacturers, taking the point of view 
of a long term investment strategy.)

Dr Blackmore introduced a plausible theory of altruism which seemed very 
logical to me, but disappointing no doubt to the "sack cloth and ashes" 
brigade motivated by The Parable of the Widows Mite. Incidentally she did 
have things to say about the motivation of people like Bob "give till it 
hurts" Geldorff,. Mother Teresa, and Diana, Princess of Wales, that may 
offend some. However any sensible person will see the comments not as 
personal criticism or insults, but an honest attempt to explain the 
phenomena of certain world figures in a scientific manner.

Her discussion of the subject of scientific and artistic creativity and the 
cult of the inventor agrees with what I and some inventors already know 
about the process of invention. [AH Reeves, the inventor of PCM, said 
something similar a public lecture in 1962 about the equilibrium process (a 
sort of one dimensional neural network). Invention is like seeing paintings 
in a gallery - you may tell your friends that you have seen a nice painting, 
but you don't pat yourself on the back for painting it. I think what he 
meant is that the ideas that make up an invention exist outside individuals, 
the individual credited with "making an invention" just points them out to 
the rest of humanity.] But there is a world of difference between a gut 
reaction and a carefully worded argument with references. Dr Blackmore gives 
us this argument. Intellectual property rights enthusiasts and patent and 
copyright lawyers will have cause for thought at the ideas in this book. If 
shares could be bought in legal institutions, I would not regard these areas 
of law as one for long term investment if Dr Blackmore's work gets 
incorporated into the way our modern civilisation functions. Linux is a very 
relevant phenomenum.

However in the face of these superlatives, I did feel let down by the final 
two chapters when she went on to discuss the nature of self and the nature 
of consciousness. She tried to cram too much into a short section - these 
need further thought and work and certainly one or more whole books. She 
produced a theory of self, expressed in terms of "memeplexes", and then went 
on to discuss how to thwart the self and switch it off, which I must say I 
found a non-sequitur. (Or maybe I totally misunderstood what she is getting 
at.) You don't after all, discover a useful mechanism to describe the 
behaviour of something and then immediately try to exterminate it.

Memetics is undoubtedly a useful too to understand humanity, but just 
because we understand ourselves better is no sensible reason to deny 
ourselves existence. It should be a tool to enable people to lead more 
fulfilling lives and live in better harmony. The fact that it is yet another 
scientific finding that denies the existence of a personal god is not a 
reason to deny the self, by whatever means the concept of self actually 

But these final moans aside, I would say that if you read one science fact 
book this year, chose this one - you will never see yourself or anyone else 
in quite the same way again, and if you read it late at night be prepared 
for some strange dreams.

To read further reviews and possibly by The Meme Machine

UK:	http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0198503652/longevityreport
Rest of World:	

Sincerely, John de Rivaz
Homepage:         http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/JohndeR
Longevity Report: http://www.geocities.com/HotSprings/Sauna/3748/lr.htm
Fractal Report:   http://www.longevb.demon.co.uk/fr.htm 
PCS - a  Singles listing sheet for people in Cornwall

Rate This Message: http://www.cryonet.org/cgi-bin/rate.cgi?msg=11948