Susan Jane Blackmore (born 29 July 1951) is a British writer, lecturer, sceptic, broadcaster, and a Visiting Professor at the University of Plymouth. Her fields of research include memes, evolutionary theory, psychology, parapsychology, consciousness, and she is best known for her book The Meme Machine. She has written or contributed to over 40 books and 60 scholarly articles and is a contributor to The Guardian newspaper.
Susan Blackmore in 2014
Susan Jane Blackmore
29 July 1951
|Education||St Hilda's College, Oxford |
University of Surrey
|Occupation||Freelance writer, lecturer, broadcaster|
(m. 1977; div. 2009)
In 1973, Susan Blackmore graduated from St Hilda's College, Oxford, with a BA (Hons) degree in psychology and physiology. She received an MSc in environmental psychology in 1974 from the University of Surrey. In 1980, she earned a PhD in parapsychology from the same university; her doctoral thesis was entitled "Extrasensory Perception as a Cognitive Process." In the 1980s, Blackmore conducted psychokinesis experiments to see if her baby daughter, Emily, could influence a random number generator. The experiments were mentioned in the book to accompany the TV series Arthur C. Clarke's World Of Strange Powers. Blackmore taught at the University of the West of England in Bristol until 2001. After spending time in research on parapsychology and the paranormal, her attitude towards the field moved from belief to scepticism. In 1987, Blackmore wrote that she had an out-of-body experience shortly after she began running the Oxford University Society for Psychical Research (OUSPR):
Within a few weeks I had not only learned a lot about the occult and the paranormal, but I had an experience that was to have a lasting effect on me—an out-of-body experience (OBE). It happened while I was wide awake, sitting talking to friends. It lasted about three hours and included everything from a typical "astral projection," complete with silver cord and duplicate body, to free-floating flying, and finally to a mystical experience. It was clear to me that the doctrine of astral projection, with its astral bodies floating about on astral planes, was intellectually unsatisfactory. But to dismiss the experience as "just imagination" would be impossible without being dishonest about how it had felt at the time. It had felt quite real. Everything looked clear and vivid, and I was able to think and speak quite clearly.
In a New Scientist article in 2000, she again wrote of this:
It was just over thirty years ago that I had the dramatic out-of-body experience that convinced me of the reality of psychic phenomena and launched me on a crusade to show those closed-minded scientists that consciousness could reach beyond the body and that death was not the end. Just a few years of careful experiments changed all that. I found no psychic phenomena—only wishful thinking, self-deception, experimental error and, occasionally, fraud. I became a skeptic.
In an article in The Observer on sleep paralysis Barbara Rowland wrote that Blackmore, "carried out a large study between 1996 and 1999 of 'paranormal' experiences, most of which clearly fell within the definition of sleep paralysis."
Blackmore has done research on memes (which she wrote about in her popular book The Meme Machine) and evolutionary theory. Her book Consciousness: An Introduction (2004), is a textbook that broadly covers the field of consciousness studies. She was on the editorial board for the Journal of Memetics (an electronic journal) from 1997 to 2001, and has been a consulting editor of the Skeptical Inquirer since 1998.
She acted as one of the psychologists who was featured on the British version of the television show Big Brother, speaking about the psychological state of the contestants. She is a Patron of Humanists UK.
In 2017, Blackmore appeared at the 17th European Skeptics Congress (ESC) in Old Town Wrocław, Poland. This congress was organised by the Klub Sceptyków Polskich (Polish Skeptics Club) and Český klub skeptiků Sisyfos (Czech Skeptic’s Club). At the congress she joined Scott Lilienfeld, Zbyněk Vybíral and Tomasz Witkowski on a panel on skeptical psychology which was chaired by Michael Heap.
|What are memes?, Web of Stories|
Susan Blackmore has made contributions to the field of memetics. The term meme was coined by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene. In his foreword to Blackmore's book The Meme Machine (1999), Dawkins said, "Any theory deserves to be given its best shot, and that is what Susan Blackmore has given the theory of the meme." Other treatments of memes, that cite Blackmore, can be found in the works of Robert Aunger: The Electric Meme, and Jonathan Whitty: A Memetic Paradigm of Project Management.
Blackmore's treatment of memetics insists that memes are true evolutionary replicators, a second replicator that like genetics is subject to the Darwinian algorithm and undergoes evolutionary change. Her prediction on the central role played by imitation as the cultural replicator and the neural structures that must be unique to humans in order to facilitate them have recently been given further support by research on mirror neurons and the differences in extent of these structures between humans and the presumed closest branch of simian ancestors.
All kinds of infectious memes thrive in religions, in spite of being false, such as the idea of a creator god, virgin births, the subservience of women, transubstantiation, and many more. In the major religions, they are backed up by admonitions to have faith not doubt, and by untestable but ferocious rewards and punishments."
...most religions include at least two aspects which I would be sorry to lose. First is the truths that many contain in their mystical or spiritual traditions; including insights into the nature of self, time and impermanence [...] The other is the rituals that we humans seem to need, marking such events as birth, death, and celebrations. Humanism provides a non-religious alternative and I have found the few such ceremonies I have attended to be a refreshing change from the Christian ones of my upbringing. I am also glad that these ceremonies allow for an eclectic mixture of songs, music and words. In spite of my lack of belief I still enjoy the ancient hymns of my childhood and I know others do too. We can and should build on our traditions rather than throwing out everything along with our childish beliefs.
On 16 September 2010, Blackmore wrote in The Guardian that she no longer refers to religion simply as a "virus of the mind", "unless we twist the concept of a 'virus' to include something helpful and adaptive to its host as well as something harmful, it simply does not apply." Blackmore modified her position when she saw beneficial effects of religion, such as data correlating higher birth rates with the frequency of religious worship, and that "religious people can be more generous, and co-operate more in games such as the Prisoner's Dilemma, and that priming with religious concepts and belief in a 'supernatural watcher' increase the effects".
Blackmore is an advocate of secular spirituality, an atheist, a humanist, and a practitioner of Zen, although she identifies herself as "not a Buddhist" because she is not prepared to go along with any dogma. In regards to her personal views on consciousness, she considers herself to be an illusionist; she believes phenomenal consciousness is an "illusion" and "grand delusion". Blackmore is a patron of Humanists UK.She is an honorary associate of the National Secular Society.
My own view is this. Consciousness is an illusion: an enticing and compelling illusion [...] This, I suggest, is how the grand delusion of consciousness comes about.
Frankish’s illusionism aims to replace the hard problem with the illusion problem; to explain why phenomenal consciousness seems to exist and why the illusion is so powerful. My aim, though broadly illusionist, is to explain why many other false assumptions, or delusions, are so powerful.
2011 in philosophyAdam Hart-Davis
Adam John Hart-Davis (born 4 July 1943) is an English scientist, author, photographer, historian and broadcaster, well known in the UK for presenting the BBC television series Local Heroes and What the Romans Did for Us, the latter spawning several spin-off series involving the Victorians, the Tudors, the Stuarts and the Ancients. He was also a co-presenter of Tomorrow's World, and presented Science Shack. Currently he presents How London Was Built and Just Another Day on History UK.
Hart-Davis was awarded an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society in 2007. These are awarded to distinguished persons having, from their position or attainments, an intimate connection with the science or fine art of photography or the application thereof.Alien implants
Alien implants is a term used in ufology to describe a physical object placed in someone's body after they have been abducted by aliens. Claimed capabilities of the implants range from telepresence to mind control to biotelemetry (the latter akin to humans tagging wild animals for study). As with UFO subjects in general, the idea of "alien implants" has seen very little attention from mainstream scientists.Astral projection
Astral projection (or astral travel) is a term used in esotericism to describe an intentional out-of-body experience (OBE) that assumes the existence of a soul or consciousness called an "astral body" that is separate from the physical body and capable of travelling outside it throughout the universe.The idea of astral travel is ancient and occurs in multiple cultures. The modern terminology of 'astral projection' was coined and promoted by 19th century Theosophists. It is sometimes reported in association with dreams, and forms of meditation. Some individuals have reported perceptions similar to descriptions of astral projection that were induced through various hallucinogenic and hypnotic means (including self-hypnosis). There is no scientific evidence that there is a consciousness or soul which is separate from normal neural activity or that one can consciously leave the body and make observations, and astral projection has been characterized as a pseudoscience.Blackmore (name)
Blackmore is a surname. Notable people with the surname include:
Amy Blackmore, Canadian impresario
Ben Blackmore (born 1993), English rugby league player
Bill Blackmore, English footballer, active 1912–1920
Clayton Blackmore (born 1964), Welsh international footballer
David Blackmore (1909–1988), Welsh cricketer
Denis Blackmore, American mathematician
Edwin Gordon Blackmore (1837–1909), South Australian parliamentary secretary and horseman
Elizabeth Blackmore (born 1987), Australian actress
Emilie Blackmore Stapp (1876–1962), American children's author and philanthropist
Ernest Blackmore (1895–1955), English cricketer
Frank Blackmore (1916–2008), British airman and traffic engineer
George Blackmore (1908–1984), English cricketer
George Blackmore Guild (1834–1917), American politician
Ginny Blackmore (born 1986), New Zealand singer-songwriter
Harold Blackmore (1904–1989), English footballer
Hedley Blackmore (1901–1992), Australian rules footballer
Hugh Enes Blackmore (1863–1945), British opera and concert singer
Jake Blackmore (died 1964), Welsh rugby union player
John Blackmore (fl. 1634–1657), English politician
James Blackmore (1821–1875), American politician
John Horne Blackmore (1890–1971), Canadian politician
Jürgen Blackmore, British guitarist, son of Ritchie Blackmore
Leigh Blackmore (born 1959), Australian horror writer and critic
Lewis Blackmore (1886–1916), Australian rules footballer
Mahia Blackmore (born 1949), New Zealand singer and band leader
Neil Blackmore, British novelist
Penelope Blackmore (born 1984), Australian Olympic gymnast
Peter Blackmore (footballer) (born 1879), English footballer
Peter Blackmore (politician) (born 1945), Australian politician and mayor of Maitland
R. D. Blackmore (1825–1900), English novelist
Richard Blackmore (1654–1729), English poet and physician
Richard Blackmore (American football) (born 1956), American football player
Richie Blackmore (rugby league) (born 1969), New Zealand footballer and coach
Ritchie Blackmore (born 1945), British rock guitarist
Rod Blackmore (born 1935), Australian magistrate
Roger Blackmore (born 1941), English politician
Selwyn Blackmore (born 1972), New Zealand cricketer
Sophia Blackmore (1857–1945), Australian missionary
Stephen Blackmore (born 1952), British botanist
Steve Blackmore (born 1962), Welsh rugby union player
Susan Blackmore (born 1951), British parapsychologist, writer, and lecturer
Thomas Blackmore (fl. 1659–1652), English politician
William Blackmore (minister) (died 1684), English ejected minister
William Henry Blackmore (1827–1878), English lawyer
Winston Blackmore, Canadian leader of a polygamous Mormon fundamentalist groupCarl Sargent
Carl Lynwood Sargent (1952 – 12 September 2018) was a British parapsychologist and author of several roleplaying game-based products and novels, using the pen name Keith Martin to write Fighting Fantasy gamebooks.Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion
The Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion (CSER) was based at the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, New York. According to its mission statement, CSER was a research consultation devoted "to the study of religion and ethics from the standpoint of philosophical naturalism and to the critical, nonparochial, and humanistic study of religious truth claims." The Committee professed to serve both a "watchdog" function in relation to church-state and educational issues, and the academic community through generating original research and promoting religious literacy. The CSER was disbanded in 2010.
CSER was described as a nonprofit educational organization which "locates its values in the humanistic principles of the American and European Enlightenment and the liberal critical traditions of post-Enlightenment culture." The Committee consisted of approximately one hundred elected fellows chosen from academe and the professions. Past fellows included Van Harvey, Joseph L. Blau, Carol Meyers, Morton Smith, Karen Armstrong, Vern Bullough, Joseph Fletcher, Lewis Feuer, Theodor Gaster, Gerd Luedemann, Antony Flew, John Hick, David Noel Freedman, John Dominic Crossan, Alan Ryan, Don Cupitt, Margaret Chatterjee, Richard Taylor, Susan Blackmore, Robert Carroll, Arthur Peacocke, Clinton Bennett and Peter Atkins.Independent scientist
An independent scientist (modern gender-neutral term historically also known as gentleman scientist) is a financially independent scientist who pursues scientific study without direct affiliation to a public institution such as a university or government-run research and development body. The expression "gentleman scientist" arose in post-Renaissance Europe, but became less common in the 20th century as government and private funding increased.
Most independent scientists have at some point in their career been affiliated with some academic institution, such as Charles Darwin, who was affiliated with the Geological Society of London.Journal of Cosmology
The Journal of Cosmology describes itself as a peer-reviewed open access scientific journal of cosmology, although the quality of the process has been questioned. The journal has been closely related historically with a similar online website, Cosmology (or Cosmology.com). The journal was established in 2009 and is published by Cosmology Science Publishers. Rudolph Schild is the editor-in-chief and executive editor.Meme
A meme ( MEEM) is an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture—often with the aim of conveying a particular phenomenon, theme, or meaning represented by the meme. A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices, that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena with a mimicked theme. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures.Proponents theorize that memes are a viral phenomenon that may evolve by natural selection in a manner analogous to that of biological evolution. Memes do this through the processes of variation, mutation, competition, and inheritance, each of which influences a meme's reproductive success. Memes spread through the behavior that they generate in their hosts. Memes that propagate less prolifically may become extinct, while others may survive, spread, and (for better or for worse) mutate. Memes that replicate most effectively enjoy more success, and some may replicate effectively even when they prove to be detrimental to the welfare of their hosts.A field of study called memetics arose in the 1990s to explore the concepts and transmission of memes in terms of an evolutionary model. Criticism from a variety of fronts has challenged the notion that academic study can examine memes empirically. However, developments in neuroimaging may make empirical study possible. Some commentators in the social sciences question the idea that one can meaningfully categorize culture in terms of discrete units, and are especially critical of the biological nature of the theory's underpinnings. Others have argued that this use of the term is the result of a misunderstanding of the original proposal.The word meme is a neologism coined by Richard Dawkins. It originated from Dawkins' 1976 book The Selfish Gene. Dawkins's own position is somewhat ambiguous: he welcomed N. K. Humphrey's suggestion that "memes should be considered as living structures, not just metaphorically" and proposed to regard memes as "physically residing in the brain". Later, he argued that his original intentions, presumably before his approval of Humphrey's opinion, had been simpler.Memeplex
Much of the study of memes focuses on groups of memes called meme complexes, or memeplexes. Like the gene complexes found in biology, memeplexes are groups of memes that are often found present in the same individual. Applying the theory of Universal Darwinism, memeplexes group together because memes will copy themselves more successfully when they are "teamed up". Examples include sets of memes like singing and guitar playing, or the Christmas tree and Christmas dinner.
Unlike inherited gene complexes, memeplexes do not have to benefit the individuals expressing them in order to replicate. Rather, because memes and memeplexes replicate virally (i.e., by horizontal transmission), they can be beneficial, inconsequential, or pathogenic to their carriers -- memes and memeplexes do not have to be true or useful to replicate.
Philosopher Daniel C. Dennett, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and consciousness researcher Susan Blackmore (author of The Meme Machine) are proponents of memetics.Memetics
Memetics is the study of information and culture based on an analogy with Darwinian evolution. Proponents describe memetics as an approach to evolutionary models of cultural information transfer. Critics regard memetics as a pseudoscience. Memetics describes how an idea can propagate successfully, but doesn't necessarily imply a concept is factual.The term meme was coined in Richard Dawkins' 1976 book The Selfish Gene, but Dawkins later distanced himself from the resulting field of study. Analogous to a gene, the meme was conceived as a "unit of culture" (an idea, belief, pattern of behaviour, etc.) which is "hosted" in the minds of one or more individuals, and which can reproduce itself in the sense of jumping from the mind of one person to the mind of another. Thus what would otherwise be regarded as one individual influencing another to adopt a belief is seen as an idea-replicator reproducing itself in a new host. As with genetics, particularly under a Dawkinsian interpretation, a meme's success may be due to its contribution to the effectiveness of its host.
The Usenet newsgroup alt.memetics started in 1993 with peak posting years in the mid to late 1990s. The Journal of Memetics was published electronically from 1997 to 2005.Near-birth experience
A near-birth experience refers to a recollection of an event which occurred before or during one's own birth, or during the pregnancy. Under this usage, the term "near-birth experience" is analogous to the term "near-death experience."Perrott-Warrick Fund
The Perrot–Warrick Fund is administered by Trinity College, Cambridge, and awards grants for research in parapsychology. According to Susan Blackmore, it is the second largest source of grants for psychical research in the UK, after the University of Edinburgh's Koestler Parapsychology Unit. Caroline Watt of the University of Edinburgh has been Perrott–Warrick Senior Researcher since 2010. The position was previously held by Rupert Sheldrake, Richard Wiseman and Nicholas Humphrey.Peter Fenwick (neuropsychologist)
Peter Brooke Cadogan Fenwick (born 25 May 1935) is a neuropsychiatrist and neurophysiologist who is known for his studies of epilepsy and end-of-life phenomena.The Meme Machine
The Meme Machine (2000) is a popular science book by psychologist Susan Blackmore on the subject of memes. Blackmore attempts to constitute memetics as a science by discussing its empirical and analytic potential, as well as some important problems with memetics. The first half of the book tries to create greater clarity about the definition of the meme as she sees it. The last half of the book consists of a number of possible memetic explanations for such different problems as the origin of language, the origin of the human brain, sexual phenomena, the internet and the notion of the self. These explanations, in her view, give simpler and clearer explanations than trying to create genetic explanations in these fields.
The idea of memes, and the word itself, were originally speculated by Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene although similar, or analogous, concepts had been in currency for a while before its publishing. Richard Dawkins wrote a foreword to The Meme Machine.
In the book, Blackmore examines the difficulties associated with the meme including its definition and how to spot one as well as the difficulties which arise from seeing it as being like the gene. She sees the meme in terms of being a universal replicator, of which the gene is but an example, rather than being like the gene itself. Universal replicators possess three key characteristics: high fidelity replication, high levels of fecundity (and so lots of copies) and longevity. She believes that these are earlier days for memes than genes, and that while memes have attained/evolved a sufficiently high level of these characteristics to qualify as replicators, they are not as effective replicators as genes by these key characteristics.
While others have accepted the possible existence of memes, they are sometimes seen as subordinate to genes. The author suggests that this is not the case now and that memes are independent replicators. Indeed, she suggests that memes may now in some cases be driving genetic evolution and be the cause of the abnormally large brain in Homo sapiens. Blackmore notes that human brains began expanding in size at about the same time that we started using tools and suggests that once individuals began to imitate each other, selection pressure favored those who could make good choices on what to imitate, and could imitate intelligently.The Skeptic (UK magazine)
The Skeptic is a British magazine and is billed as "the UK’s longest running and foremost sceptical magazine, which examines science, skepticism, secularism, critical thinking and claims of the paranormal."Tom Troscianko
Tomasz Stanisław Trościanko (1953–2011) (Tom) was born in Munich, Germany, of Polish parents, Anna and Wiktor Trościanko. As a stateless child, aged nine, he travelled alone to England to attend Fawley Court Polish school in Henley-on-Thames. He studied Physics at the University of Manchester and a subsequent job with Kodak led to a PhD in optometry and visual science at City University, London. From 2000 onward he was Professor of Psychology, first at the University of Sussex and then at the University of Bristol, where he worked until his death in 2011.Zen and the Art of Consciousness
Zen and the Art of Consciousness (2011), originally titled Ten Zen Questions (2009), is a book by Susan Blackmore. It describes her thoughts during zazen retreats and other self-directed meditative exercises, and how those thoughts relate to the neuroscience of consciousness. Most chapters in the book center around a Zen question and describe Blackmore's inner monologue contemplating the question's implications for subjective experience. The final chapter features a response by Blackmore's Zen teacher.