Susan Blackmore

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Susan Blackmore
Susan Blackmore (2014).jpg
Susan Blackmore
Born Susan Jane Blackmore
(1951-07-29) 29 July 1951 (age 65)
Education St Hilda's College, Oxford,
University of Surrey
Occupation Freelance writer,
Spouse(s) Tom Troscianko (m. 1977, div. 2009, 2 children)
Adam Hart-Davis (2010–present)

Susan Jane Blackmore (born 29 July 1951) is a British parapsychologist, freelance writer, lecturer, sceptic, and broadcaster on psychology and the paranormal, and 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 believed herself to have undergone 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 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.[10][11]

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."[12]

She is a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (formerly CSICOP)[13] and in 1991, was awarded the CSICOP Distinguished Skeptic Award.[4]

Blackmore at a workshop at The Amaz!ng Meeting 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 the British Humanist Association.[2]

Blackmore debated Christian apologist Alister McGrath in 2007, on the existence of God.


Susan Blackmore has made contributions to the field of memetics.[17] 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."[18] Other treatments of memes, that cite Blackmore, can be found in the works of Robert Aunger: The Electric Meme,[19] and Jonathan Whitty: A Memetic Paradigm of Project Management.[20]

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.[21] 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.[22]

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.[23]

Personal life[edit]

Blackmore[24] is a practitioner of Zen, although she identifies herself as "not a Buddhist".[25] Blackmore is an atheist who has criticised religion sharply, having said, for instance,[26]

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."

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.[27] On 16 September 2010, Blackmore wrote in The Guardian that she no longer believed that religion is a maladaptive by-product of consciousness ("virus of the mind") but is evolutionarily adaptive. Blackmore changed her position when she saw data correlating numbers of children with the frequency of religious worship, showing that believers have higher birth rates. She was also persuaded after learning 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".[28][29]

She is married to the writer Adam Hart-Davis.[16]

Blackmore was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome in 1995.[1]


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


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 "Distinguished Supporters: Dr Susan Blackmore". British Humanist Association website. Retrieved 19 July 2013. 
  3. ^ page 91, Arthur C. Clarke's World of Strange Powers, John Fairley and Simon Welfare, Putnam, 1984
  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" (PDF). Theory & Psychology. 17 (5): 681–96. doi:10.1177/0959354307081624. 
  12. ^ Rowlands, B. (17 November 2001). "In the dead of the night". The Observer. Retrieved 24 July 2013. 
  13. ^ "CSI Fellows and Staff". Committee for Skeptical Inquiry website. Retrieved 19 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 the Internet Movie Database
  17. ^ Aunger, R. (2000). Darwinizing Culture: The Status of Memetics as a Science. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780192632449. 
  18. ^ Dawkins, Richard. "Foreword". In Blackmore (1999), p. xvi.
  19. ^ Aunger, R. (2002). The Electric Meme: A New Theory of How We Think. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9780743201506. 
  20. ^ Whitty, J. "A memetic paradigm of project management" (PDF). International Journal of Project Management. 23 (8): 575–83. doi:10.1016/j.ijproman.2005.06.005. Retrieved 19 July 2013. 
  21. ^ "Susan Blackmore: Memetic Evolution". Evolution: "The Minds Big Bang" (video). 2001. PBS. WGBH. 
  22. ^ Iacoboni, M. (2005). "Chapter 2: Understanding Others: Imitation, Language and Empathy". In Hurley, S.; Chater, N. 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. 
  23. ^ Zetter, K. (29 February 2008). "Humans Are Just Machines for Propagating Memes". Wired website. 
  24. ^ Blackmore, S.; Jacobsen, S.D. (22 April 2014). "Dr. Susan Blackmore, Visiting Professor, University of Plymouth. In-Sight". In-Sight (4.A): 91–105. 
  25. ^ Paulson, S. (interviewer) (31 October 2012). "Susan Blackmore on Zen Consciousness". To the Best of Our Knowledge. Transcript for Susan Blackmore uncut. NPR. Wisconsin Public Radio. 
  26. ^ Blackmore, S. (2002). "Zen Into Science". In Rhawn, R. Neurotheology: Brain, Science, Spirituality, Religious Experience. San Jose, CA: University Press. pp. 159–161. ISBN 9780971644588. 
  27. ^ "Letters: Harsh judgments on the pope and religion". The Guardian. London. 15 September 2010. Retrieved 20 July 2013. 
  28. ^ Blume, M. (2011). "God in the Brain? How Much Can "Neurotheology" Explain?". In Becker, P.; Diewald, U. Zukunftsperspektiven Im Theologisch-naturwissenschaftlichen Dialog (in German and English). Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. pp. 306–14. ISBN 9783525569573. 
  29. ^ Blackmore, S. (16 September 2010). "Why I no longer believe religion is a virus of the mind". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 20 July 2013. 

External links[edit]