Susan Blackmore: The Meme Machine, 1999

We humans are strange creatures. There is no doubt that our bodies evolved by natural selection just as other animals’ did. Yet we differ from all other creatures in many ways. For a start we speak. We believe ourselves to be the most intelligent species on the planet. We are extraordinarily widespread and extremely versatile in our ways of making a living. We wage wars, believe in religions, bury our dead, and get embarrassed about sex. We watch television, drive cars and eat ice cream. We have had such a devastating impact upon the ecosystems of our planet that we appear to be in danger of destroying everything on which our lives depend. One of the problems of being a human is that it is rather hard to look at humans with an unprejudiced eye.

On the one hand, we are obviously animals comparable with any others. We have lungs, hearts and brains made of living cells; we eat and breathe and reproduce. Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection can successfully explain how we, along with the rest of life on this planet, came to be here and why we all share so many characteristics. On the other hand we behave quite differently from other animals. Now that biology has so successfully explained much of our similarity with other creatures we need to ask the opposite question. What makes us so different? Could it be our superior intelligence, our consciousness, our language, or what?

Blackmore, Susan. The Meme Machine. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.