Workshops on memes

Previous memes workshops

1. Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness 5.
Conference on “The Contents of Consciousness”. Duke University, North Carolina

2. “Consciousness and its Place in Nature: Toward a Science of Consciousness” Conference in Skövde, Sweden. For more details see

 3. “Memes and Meditation“. A weekend retreat organised by the Bristol Ch’an Group. Bristol September 29-30 2001.

Tucson 2002. Sunday April 7th 2002, 9-1.

For more information see

No prior knowledge of memetics will be assumed but if you wish to read anything beforehand here are some suggestions.


Dawkins, R. 1976 The Selfish Gene. It was at the end of this classic that Dawkins coined the term ‘meme’. This is in the last chapter in the original edition and chapter 11 in the updated 1989 edition. Pages 191-201 contain an excellent summary, not only of the invention of the term, but of some of the ideas which later formed the heart of memetics.

Dennett, D. 1991 Consciousness Explained and 1995 Darwin’s Dangerous Idea.

Dennett develops many new ideas about memes in CE, taking them further than Dawkins had done, including his idea that ‘consciousness itself is a huge complex of memes’. DDI largely repeats these, although it does include a few new ideas too.

Aunger, R.A. 2000 Darwinizing Culture Oxford University Press. Includes chapters by major proponents and critics and covers the major debates in memetics.

Online Resources

There is an online journal Journal of Memetics – Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission . See

Memes central UK provides papers and information on British researchers, as well as links to other sites

Meme theorists on the web provides the best selection of online papers and other information, with helpful evaluations.

My publications

My own work on memes includes the following (but I will not assume that participants have read any of it)

Blackmore,S. 2001 Evolution and memes: The human brain as a selective imitation device. Cybernetics and Systems, 32, 225-255

Bull,L., Holland,O. and Blackmore,S. 2001 On meme-gene coevolution. Artificial Life, 6, 227-235

Blackmore,S.J. 2000 The power of memes. Scientific American,283:4, 52-61

Blackmore,S.J. 2000 The meme’s eye view. In Darwinizing Culture: The Status of Memetics as a Science, Ed. R.A.Aunger, Oxford; Oxford University Press.

Blackmore,S.J. 2000 Memes and the malign user illusion (abstract), Consciousness and Cognition, 9, S49

Blackmore,S.J. Dismantling the selfplex: Memes machines and the nature of consciousness. “Toward a Science of Consciousness 4”. Tucson, Arizona, April 10-15 2000

Blackmore,S.J. 2000Memes and the Malign user illusion. Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness, conference, Brussels, July 2000

Blackmore,S.J. 1999 Waking from the Meme Dream. In The Psychology of Awakening: Buddhism, Science and Our Day-to-day Lives. Ed. G.Watson, S.Batchelor and G.Claxton; London, Rider, 112-122

Blackmore,S.J. 1999 Meme machines and consciousness, Journal of Intelligent Systems,9, 355-376 abstract  

Blackmore,S.J. 1998 Imitation and the definition of a meme. Journal of Memetics – Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission, 2.

Blackmore,S.J. 1997 The power of the meme meme. The Skeptic (US), 5 No 2, 43-49,

There is also information about my 1999 book The Meme Machine.

Workshop abstract

Introduction to Memetics: Memes, Minds and the Evolution of Self

The aim of this workshop is to provide an introduction to the theory of memetics and explore its relevance to the nature and contents of consciousness. By the end of the workshop participants should

(a) understand what is, and is not, a meme, and how memetics can be applied in several different fields

(b) be familiar with the major controversies and disagreements within memetics

(c) have an informed opinion on whether or not memetics is useful for the understanding of consciousness.

 There will be three sections, each including approximately half an hour’s lecture, interspersed with group and individual exercises, and with plenty of time for discussion.

Part 1 – Introduction to memetics

The term ‘meme’ was coined by Dawkins in 1976 to mean a unit of imitation or a cultural replicator. He invented the term to illustrate the theory of universal Darwinism, and to describe another replicator apart from the genes.

Selfish memes: computer and email viruses, religions as viruses, co-adapted meme-complexes and how they form.

Previous theories of cultural evolution and why memetics is different. The importance of imitation. The problems of definition, with examples (Dawkins, Dennett, Gabora etc). Brief introduction to the major controversies in memetics. The Lamarckian objection, digital v analogue systems, agency, memes as artefacts v memes as neural information.

An imitation exercise – exploring why imitation is so difficult. Levels of imitation.

Part 2 – Memes and Consciousness

Human consciousness. Memes and human evolution. Memetic drive, the origins of the big brain and language.

How memetics changes conventional views on the evolution of consciousness. Memes and their copying machinery co-evolve. Humans as meme machines. Examples of memetic engineering.

 Dennett – “Human consciousness itself is a huge complex of memes”.

Blackmore – Memes as distorting human consciousness.

Implications of these two views for the contents of consciousness. Their different predictions.

Exercise: Is there consciousness without memes?

 Animal consciousness. The debate over whether other animals have memes. Apes and sign language, birds and milk bottles, cetaceans and the imitation of sounds. Light shed on the relationship between language and consciousness?

 Machine consciousness. Do machines have memes? Copying in artificial intelligent systems. The internet as a meme machine. Memeplexes and distributed consciousness.

Part 3 – The self and self-transformation

Dennett’s ‘Benign user illusion’. Why do we suffer an illusion of self? The theory of self as memeplex. The idea of dismantling the memeplex.

Meditation and mindfulness as ‘meme-weeding’ techniques.

An exercise in mindfulness. An opportunity for people to try some short meditation exercises directed specifically at investigating the power of memes in awareness.

Practical and personal implications of a memetic theory of consciousness. Free will, morality, legal responsibility. Dawkins’ rebellion against the selfish replicators. Who rebels? Living as a meme machine.