Dr. Susan Blackmore:psychologist, lecturer & writer

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Sue Blackmore is a psychologist, lecturer and writer researching consciousness, memes, and anomalous experiences, and a Visiting Professor at the University of Plymouth. She is a TED lecturer, blogs for the Guardian, and often appears on radio and  television. The Meme Machine (1999) has been translated into 16 other languages; more recent books include Conversations on Consciousness (2005), Zen and the Art of Consciousness (2011), Seeing Myself: The new science of out-of-body experiences (2017) and a textbook Consciousness: An Introduction (2nd Ed 2010).

What do I do best?

Struggle with the problem of consciousness. Many times a day I wonder about the nature of mind and perception, then most evenings I smoke a joint either while pottering in my greenhouse in the summer or sitting by my log fire in the winter, and contemplate the nature of existence, what the universe is made of, the mind-body problem and the origins of consciousness, and other such wonderful questions. I’m not saying my answers are the best or even viable. Indeed, I usually have no answers, but I am good at devoting my time to such pursuits.

What makes me the best version of myself?

If you mean qualities that I just seem to have without trying, I would say determination. I don’t easily give up on things once I have begun. If you mean qualities that I have acquired, I would say gradually increasing mindfulness – but there’s a long way to go with that one!

I find it easier to think of things that make me worse. For example I could be a lot more thoughtful about other people and not so wrapped up in my own work or what other people think of me. I could take things more calmly and not rush to get everything done as fast as possible. I could be more flexible in responding to events as they come along, especially when they don’t fit my plans or expectations.

What are my aspirations?

At my age I don’t think I have any – certainly not the business goals or aspirations you ask about. I have never had any interest in business or professional success. People sometimes ask me about my ‘career’ but this word always sounds weird to me. I never set out to have a ‘career’ and never thought of my life that way. In my twenties I was obsessed with proving the existence of paranormal phenomena and nothing else mattered until I concluded (with massive disappointment) that there probably are none! Then my obsessions moved on to consciousness, memes, free will and other exciting topics. I managed to survive as a freelance then and have preferred that unpredictable way of working for most of my life. I do, however, always have ideas for more books I’d like to write but having worked on three books at once for the past couple of years I am determined not to begin any new ones for quite a while!

You also ask about personal aspirations and again I don’t think I have any. I have no ‘bucket list’. I am so fortunate in being invited to give lectures or attend conferences all over the world, so I have visited many wonderful places and have no special desire to visit more. I am more than happy to enjoy the trips and challenges that life throws at me rather than planning anything.

My Biggest Success?

My book The Meme Machine. Back in 1998 it was rejected by many, many publishers but eventually Oxford University Press took it on and it became a great success – still selling and often cited nearly twenty years on. None of my other books has ever come close.

My Most Challenging Moment?

Accepting that my first marriage was over. This was traumatic at the time, and awful for my two young children, but we all survived and after a couple of years returned to a very close and friendly relationship with their father that lasted until his premature death in 2011.

My Motto?

Stay present

My Favorite People/Role Models?

Charles Darwin, William James, Richard Dawkins

My Favorite Places/Destinations?

The Maenllwyd – the remote farmhouse in mid Wales where I go for Zen retreats. There is no gas, electricity or phone signal and this means really retreating from the modern world, and in silence of course.

Otherwise I love my home. I travel a lot but home is where I am happiest – with the cats, chickens, veg garden and river.

My Favorite Products/Objects?

My books – many thousands of them. I soon gave up my initial enthusiasm for e-books. I like the physical objects and I annotate them extensively which means they are especially valuable to me rather than anyone else. The only problem is that one day soon I am going to have to get rid of an awful lot of them!

My Current Passions?

There are many – I do tend to do too much! Here are just some:

Family – my husband, my two grown-up children and my little granddaughter are wonderful, and I love spending time with all of them.  My husband and both my kids have been much involved in my academic work. Adam and I have written one book together, Emily and I are working on another, and Jolyon has illustrated several of my books.

Gardening – we have seven acres along a little river that comes down from Dartmoor to the sea. I am often overwhelmed by the weeds, floods, slugs and snails, or failures to get seeds sown in time, but I grow most of our vegetables and find writing at home, interspersed with frantic digging and weeding, is a great way to live.

Sports – I have never been interested in sports and think of myself as a very unsporty woman. Yet I have taken up power lifting which I love – it’s extraordinary how lifting heavy weights can make me feel so well. I do Nordic walking, and keep a kayak in a small seaside town close to where I live and go out on the water as often as I can. And there’s skiing. I was so lucky that my parents took us all skiing when I was 11 and I have loved it ever since – even if that means just one week a year, usually in France, and often with my kids.

Ayahuasca – the most challenging psychedelic I have ever had. I have drunk this fearsome shamans’ brew several times and know that I am just a beginner in a journey that I hope may continue.

Meditation – I first learned to meditate in the late 1970s, went on my first Zen retreat in 1981, have attended retreats probably every year since and meditated every day for more than thirty years. I consider that I have been training in Zen all this time and much appreciate the teachings even though I am not a Buddhist and have not joined up or taken any vows.

Art – I have drawn and painted all my life, although the time available comes and goes. This year Adam and I are taking weekly drawing classes and I’ve recently gone back to painting in oils which is much messier and I’d long neglected. I think what I like best about painting is not the final, dubious, products but the concentration induced. Indeed I am coming to think that what is so valuable about all these activities it is the state of mind they require.

Drumming – this passion likewise demands concentration even though beating loudly on drums could not be more different from the silence of meditation. I play snare (and sometimes tamborim) in our village samba band ‘Crooked Tempo’, rehearsing each week in our lovely 13th century church and playing gigs for weddings, festivals, and winter events all dressed up in turquoise and lime green. Great fun and a wonderful escape.

headshot photo credit: Jolyon Troscianko