Latest LAD - The Viral Mind of Susan Blackmore

Agony Agent Consultations

Crowning the March Flash Fiction King or Queen soon?

Not open for further replies.


Here is the very latest Litopia After Dark, our first and flagship podcast, over five years old now. The show notes follow, and here is a link to the show page itself and the player. Please feel free to discuss the show below.
And remember, the easiest way to ensure you get all our shows is to subscribe in iTunes, using this link.


Meet Susan Blackmore, the world’s foremost expert on memes. The intro to her seminal work The Meme Machine was written by none other than genius biologist and fundamentalist atheist blowhard Richard Dawkins. Her lectures on TED receives millions of views— even despite TED's dishwater-dull format when compared to Litopia After Dark (rowr!)

“Man becomes, as it were, the sex organs of the machine world,” said Marshal McLuhan. Never has this been more true.

(Full quote: Man becomes, as it were, the sex organs of the machine world, as the bee of the plant world, enabling it to fecundate and to evolve ever new forms.)

But do memes actually exist? Or are they simply metaphors to observe our shifting culture? And who is Susan Blackmore anyway?

After an out of body experience she studied the paranormal for 24 years, only to arrive at the conclusion it was bollocks— all of it. So who’s to say she won’t soon say the same about memes?

But wait, there’s more! Now she’d like for us to consider what she calls temes— technology assisted memes. Replicators so powerful they may yet turn our computers against us— and sooner than you think. Just ask Stephen Hawking.

Because your Macbook Pro is spreading words, tunes, images and ideas much faster than your feeble human mind can imagine.

Check everything you think you know about memes at the door. Because this show is no lecture. This show is virus inside of your mind.

Spread the word.

(PS - Blackmore's explosive article on fellow Litopia After Dark guest Susan Greenfield can be found here!)

Check out her website!

Buy her book!

Do it now!

Photo by zooterkin


Good show; I think what she says is fine as far as it goes. Which is all perfectly sensible but, as with anybody promoting a stance, and hers is, tell me something I have failed to grasp/prove/disprove after my 24 years....says more about her than the experiential phenomena she is discussing.

Lethbridge is a good read round this subject *cough*
I felt quite ambivalent about much of what she said. She threw the “no such thing as free will” googlie quite close to the end... so we didn’t explore it in much depth... but afaik, there is no way on earth to prove or disprove that. Plus, I’m always suspicious of a reductionist argument especially about human nature, i.e. just a chemical soup (I may have reduced her own argument there a bit!).
She's challenged by her terms of reference, as is often the case with reductionist thinking which cannot comfortably abide ambiguity, equating it with a problem not solved. 'The Paranormal' isn't a problem to be nailed one way or another in 1 year or 24 or several million. It's a catch -all, merely a 'working' linguistic handle for a very common kind of human experience not neatly explicable in terms of observable biology. We are all cats looking at a king, no-need for king cats to guide others on how to see and what to make of it.

Def: Paranormal denoting events or phenomena such as telekinesis or clairvoyance that are beyond the scope of normal scientific understanding.
Normal = current

Dope et al is not necessary whatsoever for these gates to creak ajar let alone fly wide open. I've never used it in my life. I've had codeine for pain and once saw something, looked at it mightily startled and thought, Gah. I don't like you, but I know it's the codeine.

Our understanding of our own biology is clearly very much on a steep upward learning curve currently, as is the understanding of our own age as a species. I dreamed of an earthquake on my road five days before it shook my house at 1.00 in the morning. It was the Market Rasen thing, tremors all the way across to the sandy Fylde and it was creepy as hell. A 'psychic?' dream. Or did I actually perceive it physically at a sub-conscious level, like the birds and animals do, and like people often do, feeling storms coming due to electro-magnetic effects?
I think 'The Paranormal' just = 'that kind of thing'... and it's so endemic, it is's got to be a capability of our evolution, probably vital to survival, since we seem as a species, to be have been hard-wired for 'that kind of thing' since the Year Dot. It's useful when it's functioning as super-instinct, the kind of thing that can save your life, when you 'smell' trouble and get out, well before the cognitive evidence is there to justify your response.

I don't like it here.
Nonsense. Lovely spot for a picnic.
No, really, I don't like it. Let's go.
Whatts the matter with you? Mad bint.
We need to get out of

Oh dear, too late. already


Oh, look! Here comes a tiger.
(God, where's it come from? Must have escaped from the zoo)
Never heard it coming, or saw it...

Nice kittykittykitty


H-e-l-p -p

Bye-bye world.
Follow your instincts, it's bound to be safer! Still, isn't that (partly) what writing (and life) is all about?
I think any kind of reduction vision is flawed as it puts a stop to further inquiry. The fundamentalist atheism of Dawkins is every bit as every bit as unhelpful and divisive as fundamentalist Christianity. But then Dawkins put together the definitive understanding of how genes determine not just proteins but behavior-- of the flesh. By ascribing no motive to genes other than to spread-- it's what they're programmed to do-- can be witnessed across all species. And I love the *idea*, best elaborated by Blackmore, that another replicator may be operating on the level of culture. That memes have no motive other than to spread. Which is harder to prove because culture is by nature abstract, subjective and impossible to prove in a laboratory. And may, as Pete pointed out in the show may not actually exist but are an intriguing angle to view our rapidly evolving digital world.

But I also take exception to reductive words like "dope" or "drugs." Which we culturally take to mean illegal drugs. But comparing an artificially manipulated morphine derivative like codeine to an endogenous hallucinogen like dimethyl tryptamine is akin to lumping aspirin and anti-retrovirals in the same pile as medicine. Or that our subjective experience of life has nothing to do with our hormones. Especially when these pathways have opened so many people up to transcendent experiences like art. There's a reason Aldous Huxley referred to the Doors of Perception. (sorry: red rag to my bull).

We all see through the glass darkly so anyone who thinks they've got the whole picture is sorely mistaken. Science is only beginning to contemplate consciousness let alone predict and describe it, let alone the paranormal as defined by Katie above.

All things considered? I love me a good meme!
Nothing to be sorry for, I'm pretty much on on board with you there, as for medicine, I'd better not start. I'd have been tempted to try dope myself, for pain, except that it send a sister psychotic pretty much immediately, when she took it for chronic back pain. She was terrified and hospitalized for 6 weeks, poor soul, and believes in Satan, because she saw him at that time. I was referring to this guest's own reference to dope, and I've often noticed, how some who have experienced such things after ingestion of any substance, booze, weed, codeine whatever, that can affect perception, have a way of later deciding such experiences are invalid, because they had been accessed or facilitated 'that way.' They might be meaningless or they might not be, but how can they be invalid?
I wonder if that's largely the point, why testing subjects in experimental conditions is probably doomed to failure, results wise. Such perceptions are enabled in the amygala and/or by a certain state of receptivity aka brain in alpha wave length mode rather than beta, or even gamma or theta.

Lethbridge was a classically trained archaeologist who practiced water-witching on digs. His book Ghost & Ghoul is really interesting on this subject.
Last edited:
Susan recently wrote to say she really enjoyed the show (yay!)-- and passed it to the organizers of the American Atheists Convention in Memphis, Tennessee where she was speaking. Says that Memphis is a great place to be an atheist... but I'ma go with sarcasm on that. Had a look at their line up and thought:
1. Would *love* to have some of the these folks on LAD &
2. How deep is Ayaan Hirsi Ali's security? She recently said the following at a lecture at the Sydney Opera House-- and it was so juicy/inflammatory I had to stop the podcast and write it down: "Multiculturalism is apartheid disguised as pluralism."
I mean day-um!
(This is Olive's impression of me wanting to play)
I felt quite ambivalent about much of what she said. She threw the “no such thing as free will” googlie quite close to the end... so we didn’t explore it in much depth... but afaik, there is no way on earth to prove or disprove that. Plus, I’m always suspicious of a reductionist argument especially about human nature, i.e. just a chemical soup (I may have reduced her own argument there a bit!).

Ah, free will. I've delved into this a bit, and am currently [vainly] trying to publish some fiction based on relevant concepts. Here is an extract from something [non-fiction] that I recently wrote:

'.... we humans are looking at free will from inside our own consciousness, that is, from the perspective of a consciousness that perceives itself to have free will. Is there an element of circularity here? What real evidence do we have for our own free will? Perhaps there is an evolutionary advantage for organisms of higher intelligence to believe that they have free will; and perhaps this belief is no more than that, no more than Darwinian sleight of hand providing an illusion of free will, an illusion that has become prevalent because selective pressure over evolutionary time has resulted in humans with that illusion doing better than humans under no such illusion. If this were the case, might we not be evolutionarily predisposed or ‘selectively pressurised’ to find evidence for our own free will? To what extent are our own investigations into our own will reliable?....This is more than just a vapid philosophical exercise in navel-gazing; it carries implications for moral and ethical accountability, for crime and punishment. For if our will is not free, then we are not responsible for our actions; and that way lies madness. As Dennett says2:

“...the doctrine that free will is an illusion is likely to have profoundly unfortunate social consequences if not rebutted forcefully.” '

The scary thing is that, from a neurophysiological standpoint, there are data which can be interpreted as suggesting that free will is substantially illusory. Naturally, this worries people [including me], and they try to get around it in various ways [e.g. by postulating 'free won't', the notion that strong unconscious predispositions can be over-ridden by a conscious act of will--but this just kicks the can down the road].

Anyway, the Blackmore interview sounds interesting, and I will give it a listen as soon as I can.
Sound/vibrations designed for targeted physical effects. Phew-y.
I once downloaded one presented as aimed at helping heal sacral chakra, because that is the centre of the problem physically with Ankylosing Spondylitis, and it did actually do something. The effect however was transient and there's only so much of this kind of thing one can spend time doing.

It just seems germane in some way to the professional interests of both Susans.

Psychadelia time:
Strangely enough this is relevant-- in a completely intangible way!
I've exchanged a few e-mails with Prof Blackmore and the one thing she's seized upon in my ramblings is my nascent meditation practice.
I really enjoyed the pontificatory part of the interview where the question was asked who's doing the meditating?

Anyway, the trippy reason the trippy video above is relevant (just lost-- improved?-- 10 minutes of my life) is after I exhaust my body and dog and finally have a sit, this is kind of what I see-- progression down a tunnel of kaleidoscopic light. And the lesson after a over a year seems to be that this experience is a parallel to the journey of life and not to keep looking ahead, looking ahead, looking ahead because that way leads, inexorably to death... but instead to pause, turn sideways and be a point of stillness. Rest my attention on the fabric of the tunnel, not where it's going. More passenger, less driver. My guess is that others need the opposite lesson!

Still, very cool video-- what were we talking about?
That, Mr Octopus. That. The oracular self is physical, and why wouldn't it be. Auras are physical too, though I've only seen them on four occasions, once was a cat. Her whiskers went turquoise.
Super trippy-- especially to see her as a young parapsychologist before she concluded it was all bollocks! But I very much agree that what's going on with Tarot has much to do with the reader's ability to size up and advise the readee (client?) which is actually an asset more than a liability. Great site btw!
Thank you :) I find her conclusions more than a tad lumpen. She's got nowt to teach you in respect of these things, that I can see.
Last edited:
Not open for further replies.

Agony Agent Consultations

Crowning the March Flash Fiction King or Queen soon?