On This Day … 29 July

People (Births)

  • 1951 – Susan Blackmore, English psychologist and theorist.

Susan Blackmore

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.

Career

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.” 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. Blackmore taught at the University of the West of England in Bristol until 2001. After spending time in research on parapsychology and the paranormal, her attitude towards the field moved from belief to scepticism. 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):

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 sceptic.

She is a Fellow of the Committee for Sceptical Inquiry (formerly CSICOP) and in 1991, was awarded the CSICOP Distinguished Sceptic Award.

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.”

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. 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 Sceptical Inquirer since 1998.

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.

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.

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 sceptical psychology which was chaired by Michael Heap.

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