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Susan Blackmore

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Susan Blackmore
Blackmore in 2014
Susan Jane Blackmore

(1951-07-29) 29 July 1951 (age 72)
EducationSt Hilda's College, Oxford
University of Surrey
Occupation(s)Freelance writer, lecturer, broadcaster
(m. 1977; div. 2009)
(m. 2010)

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 memetics, 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.[1]


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."[2] 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.[3] Blackmore taught at the University of the West of England in Bristol until 2001.[4] After spending time in research on parapsychology and the paranormal,[5] her attitude towards the field moved from belief to scepticism.[6][7] 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):[8][9]

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 a 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 sceptic.[10][11]

She is a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (formerly CSICOP)[12] and in 1991, was awarded the CSICOP Distinguished Skeptic Award.[4]

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."[13]

Blackmore at The Amaz!ng Meeting workshop in 2013

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.[14] 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.[15]

She acted as one of the psychologists who was featured on the British version of the television show Big Brother,[16] speaking about the psychological state of the contestants. She is a Patron of Humanists UK.[2]

Blackmore debated Christian apologist Alister McGrath in 2007, on the existence of God. In 2018 she debated Jordan Peterson on whether God is needed to make sense of life.[17]

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.[18]

Memetics and religious culture[edit]

External videos
video icon What are memes?, Web of Stories

Susan Blackmore has made contributions to the field of memetics.[19] 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."[20] Other treatments of memes, that cite Blackmore, can be found in the works of Robert Aunger: The Electric Meme,[21] and Jonathan Whitty: A Memetic Paradigm of Project Management.[22]

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.[23] 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.[24]

At the February 2008 TED conference, Blackmore introduced a special category of memes called temes. Temes are memes which live in technological artifacts instead of the human mind.[25]

Blackmore has written critically about both the flaws and redeeming qualities of religion, having said,[26][2]

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.

In 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".[27][28]

Personal life[edit]

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.[29][30] Blackmore is a patron of Humanists UK.[31] She is an honorary associate of the National Secular Society.[32]

On 15 September 2010, Blackmore, along with 54 other public figures, signed an open letter published in The Guardian, stating their opposition to Pope Benedict XVI's state visit to the UK.[33]

Regarding her personal view on a scientific understanding of consciousness, she considers herself to be an illusionist; she believes phenomenal consciousness is an "illusion" and "grand delusion".[34][35]

She is married to the writer Adam Hart-Davis.[16] Blackmore endured a bout of chronic fatigue syndrome in 1995.[1]


Blackmore at QED 2016 talking about out-of-body experiences.


  • —; Troscianko, E. (2018). Consciousness: An Introduction, (3rd ed.). London, Routledge. 2018. ISBN 1138801313. ISBN 9781317625865. OCLC 1008770304.
  • Seeing Myself : the new science of out-of-body experiences. 2018. ROBINSON. ISBN 147213737X. OCLC 1015243143.
  • Consciousness: A Very Short Introduction. Very Short Introductions. Oxford University Press. 2017 (2nd Ed). ISBN 978-0198794738. ISBN 0198794738
  • Consciousness: An Introduction, (2nd Ed). New York, Oxford University Press, Feb 2011, pb ISBN 0199739099
  • Zen and the Art of Consciousness, Oxford, Oneworld Publications (2011), ISBN 185168798X
  • Consciousness: An Introduction (2nd Ed). London, Hodder Education (2010) . doi:10.4324/9780203783986. ISBN 144410487X
  • Ten Zen Questions. Oxford: Oneworld Publications. 2009. ISBN 9781851686421. (paperback). ISBN 185168798X.
  • Conversations on Consciousness. Oxford University Press. 2005. ISBN 9780191604867.
  • Consciousness: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. 2005. ISBN 9780191578052.
  • Consciousness: An Introduction (1st ed.). London: Hodder & Stoughton. 2003. ISBN 9780340809099. (US ed.) ISBN 9780195153439.
  • The Meme Machine (1st ed.). Oxford University Press. 1999. ISBN 978-0198503651.
  • —; Hart-Davis, Adam (1995). Test your psychic powers (1st ed.). London: Thorsons. ISBN 978-1855384415. (US ed.). ISBN 0806996692.
  • Dying to Live: Science and the Near-death Experience. London: Grafton. 1993. ISBN 9780586092125. (US ed.). ISBN 0879758708.
  • The Adventures of a Parapsychologist (1st ed.). Buffalo, NY: Prometheus. 1986. ISBN 9780879753603. (2nd ed. revised). ISBN 9781573920612.
  • Beyond the Body: An Investigation of Out-of-the-Body Experiences (1st ed.). London: Heinemann. 1982. ISBN 9780434074709. (2nd ed.). ISBN 978089733-3443.
  • Parapsychology and out-of-the-body experiences. Hove, England: Transpersonal Books. 1978. ISBN 9780906326015.

Selected articles[edit]


  1. ^ a b Lisman, S.R.; Dougherty, K. (2007). Chronic Fatigue Syndrome For Dummies. John Wiley & Sons. p. 298. ISBN 9780470117729.
  2. ^ a b c "Distinguished Supporters: Dr Susan Blackmore". British Humanist Association website. Retrieved 19 July 2013.
  3. ^ John Fairley; Simon Welfare (1984). Arthur C. Clarke's world of strange powers. Putnam. p. 91. ISBN 978-0-399-13066-3.
  4. ^ a b "A Who's Who of Media Skeptics: Skeptics or Dogmatists?". Skeptical Investigations website. Association for Skeptical Investigations. Archived from the original on 17 April 2008.
  5. ^ Blackmore 1986, p. 163.
  6. ^ Berger, R.E. (April 1989). "A Critical Examination of the Blackmore Psi Experiments". The Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research. 83: 123–144.
  7. ^ Blackmore 1986, p. 249.
  8. ^ Blackmore, S. (1987). "The Elusive Open Mind". Skeptical Inquirer. 11 (3): 125–135.
  9. ^ Carroll, R. (11 January 2011). "out-of-body experience (OBE) [online]". The Skeptic's Dictionary: A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 270–271 (print). ISBN 9781118045633.
  10. ^ Blackmore, S. (2000). "First person—into the unknown". New Scientist. 4: 55.
  11. ^ Lamont, P. (October 2007). "Paranormal belief and the avowal of prior scepticism". Theory & Psychology. 17 (5): 681–96. doi:10.1177/0959354307081624. S2CID 21749711.
  12. ^ "CSI Fellows and Staff". Committee for Skeptical Inquiry website. Retrieved 19 July 2013.
  13. ^ Rowlands, B. (17 November 2001). "In the dead of the night". The Observer. Retrieved 24 July 2013.
  14. ^ Saunders, G. (December 2003). "Is Consciousness Insoluble?". Scientific and Medical Review. The Scientific and Medical Network. Archived from the original (book review of Consciousness: An Introduction) on 1 May 2008.
  15. ^ "Curriculum Vitae". Susan Blackmore official website. 15 January 2013. Retrieved 19 July 2013.
  16. ^ a b Susan Blackmore at IMDb
  17. ^ "Unbelievable? Jordan Peterson vs Susan Blackmore: Do we need God to make sense of life?". premierchristianradio.com. Premier Christian Radio. 9 June 2018. Archived from the original on 29 October 2018. Retrieved 29 October 2018.
  18. ^ Gerbic, Susan (9 February 2018). "Skeptical Adventures in Europe, Part 2". www.csicop.org. Committee for skeptical inquiry. Retrieved 29 April 2018.
  19. ^ Aunger, R. (2000). Darwinizing Culture: The Status of Memetics as a Science. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780192632449.
  20. ^ Dawkins, Richard. Foreword. In Blackmore (1999), p. xvi.
  21. ^ Aunger, R. (2002). The Electric Meme: A New Theory of How We Think. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9780743201506.
  22. ^ Whitty, J. (2005). "A memetic paradigm of project management" (PDF). International Journal of Project Management. 23 (8): 575–83. CiteSeerX doi:10.1016/j.ijproman.2005.06.005. Retrieved 19 July 2013.
  23. ^ "Susan Blackmore: Memetic Evolution". Evolution: "The Minds Big Bang" (video). 2001. PBS. WGBH.
  24. ^ Iacoboni, M. (2005). "Chapter 2: Understanding Others: Imitation, Language and Empathy". In Hurley, S.; Chater, N. (eds.). Perspectives on Imitation: From Neuroscience to Social Science. Vol. I: Mechanisms of Imitation and Imitation in Animals. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. pp. 77–100. ISBN 9780262582506.
  25. ^ Zetter, K. (29 February 2008). "Humans Are Just Machines for Propagating Memes". Wired website.
  26. ^ Blackmore, S. (2002). "Zen into Science". In Rhawn, R. (ed.). Neurotheology: Brain, Science, Spirituality, Religious Experience. San Jose, CA: University Press. pp. 159–161. ISBN 9780971644588.
  27. ^ Blume, M. (2011). "God in the Brain? How Much Can "Neurotheology" Explain?". In Becker, P.; Diewald, U. (eds.). Zukunftsperspektiven Im Theologisch-naturwissenschaftlichen Dialog (in German and English). Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. pp. 306–14. ISBN 9783525569573.
  28. ^ Blackmore, S. (16 September 2010). "Why I no longer believe religion is a virus of the mind". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 20 July 2013.
  29. ^ Blackmore, S.; Jacobsen, S.D. (22 April 2014). "Dr. Susan Blackmore, Visiting Professor, University of Plymouth". In-Sight (4.A): 91–105.
  30. ^ Paulson, S. (interviewer) (31 October 2012). "Susan Blackmore on Zen Consciousness". To the Best of Our Knowledge. NPR. Wisconsin Public Radio. Archived from the original on 28 November 2013. Transcript for Susan Blackmore uncut. {{cite episode}}: |first= has generic name (help)
  31. ^ "Dr. Susan Blackmore". Humanists UK. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  32. ^ "National Secular Society Honorary Associates". National Secular Society. Retrieved 31 July 2019.
  33. ^ "Letters: Harsh judgments on the pope and religion". The Guardian. London. 15 September 2010. Retrieved 20 July 2013.
  34. ^ Susan Blackmore (14 September 2017). Consciousness: a Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. pp. 130–. ISBN 978-0-19-879473-8. 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.
  35. ^ Blackmore, Susan (2016). "Delusions of consciousness". Journal of Consciousness Studies. 23 (11–12): 52–64. 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.

External links[edit]