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new book – ‘The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge’ by Matt Ridley

November 2, 2015

Evolution of Everything

The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge by Matt Ridley (Harper, 2015)

(kindle ed.), (amazon.co.uk), (UK kindle ed.)

Book description from the publisher:

The New York Times bestselling author of The Rational Optimist and Genome returns with a fascinating, brilliant argument for evolution that definitively dispels a dangerous, widespread myth: that we can command and control our world.

The Evolution of Everything is about bottom-up order and its enemy, the top-down twitch—the endless fascination human beings have for design rather than evolution, for direction rather than emergence. Drawing on anecdotes from science, economics, history, politics and philosophy, Matt Ridley’s wide-ranging, highly opinionated opus demolishes conventional assumptions that major scientific and social imperatives are dictated by those on high, whether in government, business, academia, or morality. On the contrary, our most important achievements develop from the bottom up. Patterns emerge, trends evolve. Just as skeins of geese form Vs in the sky without meaning to, and termites build mud cathedrals without architects, so brains take shape without brain-makers, learning can happen without teaching and morality changes without a plan.

Although we neglect, defy and ignore them, bottom-up trends shape the world. The growth of technology, the sanitation-driven health revolution, the quadrupling of farm yields so that more land can be released for nature—these were largely emergent phenomena, as were the Internet, the mobile phone revolution, and the rise of Asia. Ridley demolishes the arguments for design and effectively makes the case for evolution in the universe, morality, genes, the economy, culture, technology, the mind, personality, population, education, history, government, God, money, and the future.

As compelling as it is controversial, authoritative as it is ambitious, Ridley’s stunning perspective will revolutionize the way we think about our world and how it works.

Google Books preview:

See also: Author’s website

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new book – ‘The Secret of Our Success: How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter’ by Joseph Henrich

October 23, 2015

Secret of Our Success

The Secret of Our Success: How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter by Joseph Henrich (Princeton University Press, 2015)

(kindle ed.), (amazon.co.uk), (UK kindle ed.)

Book description from the publisher:

Humans are a puzzling species. On the one hand, we struggle to survive on our own in the wild, often failing to overcome even basic challenges, like obtaining food, building shelters, or avoiding predators. On the other hand, human groups have produced ingenious technologies, sophisticated languages, and complex institutions that have permitted us to successfully expand into a vast range of diverse environments. What has enabled us to dominate the globe, more than any other species, while remaining virtually helpless as lone individuals? This book shows that the secret of our success lies not in our innate intelligence, but in our collective brains–on the ability of human groups to socially interconnect and learn from one another over generations.

Drawing insights from lost European explorers, clever chimpanzees, mobile hunter-gatherers, neuroscientific findings, ancient bones, and the human genome, Joseph Henrich demonstrates how our collective brains have propelled our species’ genetic evolution and shaped our biology. Our early capacities for learning from others produced many cultural innovations, such as fire, cooking, water containers, plant knowledge, and projectile weapons, which in turn drove the expansion of our brains and altered our physiology, anatomy, and psychology in crucial ways. Later on, some collective brains generated and recombined powerful concepts, such as the lever, wheel, screw, and writing, while also creating the institutions that continue to alter our motivations and perceptions. Henrich shows how our genetics and biology are inextricably interwoven with cultural evolution, and how culture-gene interactions launched our species on an extraordinary evolutionary trajectory.

Tracking clues from our ancient past to the present, The Secret of Our Success explores how the evolution of both our cultural and social natures produce a collective intelligence that explains both our species’ immense success and the origins of human uniqueness.

Google Books preview:

See also: Author’s faculty webpage

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new book – ‘Changing the Subject: Art and Attention in the Internet Age’ by Sven Birkerts

October 6, 2015

Changing the Subject

Changing the Subject: Art and Attention in the Internet Age by Sven Birkerts (Graywolf Press, 2015)

(kindle ed.), (amazon.co.uk), (UK kindle ed.)

Book description from the publisher:

Trenchant, expansive essays on the cultural consequences of ongoing, all-permeating technological innovation

In 1994, Sven Birkerts published The Gutenberg Elegies, his celebrated rallying cry to resist the oncoming digital advances, especially those that might affect the way we read literature and experience art–the very cultural activities that make us human.
After two decades of rampant change, Birkerts has allowed a degree of everyday digital technology into his life. He refuses to use a smartphone, but communicates via e-mail and spends some time reading online. In Changing the Subject, he examines the changes that he observes in himself and others–the distraction when reading on the screen; the loss of personal agency through reliance on GPS and one-stop information resources; an increasing acceptance of “hive” behaviors. “An unprecedented shift is underway,” he argues, and “this transformation is dramatically accelerated and more psychologically formative than any previous technological innovation.” He finds solace in engagement with art, particularly literature, and he brilliantly describes the countering energy available to us through acts of sustained attention, even as he worries that our increasingly mediated existences are not conducive to creativity.
It is impossible to read Changing the Subject without coming away with a renewed sense of what is lost by our wholesale acceptance of digital innovation and what is regained when we immerse ourselves in a good book.

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new book – ‘Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature’ by Alva Noë

September 22, 2015

Strange Tools

Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature by Alva Noë (Hill and Wang, 2015)

(kindle ed.), (amazon.co.uk),

Book description from the publisher:

A philosopher makes the case for thinking of works of art as tools for investigating ourselves

In his new book, Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature, the philosopher and cognitive scientist Alva Noë raises a number of profound questions: What is art? Why do we value art as we do? What does art reveal about our nature? Drawing on philosophy, art history, and cognitive science, and making provocative use of examples from all three of these fields, Noë offers new answers to such questions. He also shows why recent efforts to frame questions about art in terms of neuroscience and evolutionary biology alone have been and will continue to be unsuccessful.

Google Books preview:

See also: Author’s website

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new book – ‘Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will’ by Geoff Colvin

August 17, 2015

Humans Are Underrated

Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will by Geoff Colvin (Portfolio, 2015)

(kindle ed.), (amazon.co.uk), (UK kindle ed.)

Book description from the publisher:

As technology races ahead, what will people do better than computers?

What hope will there be for us when computers can drive cars better than humans, predict Supreme Court decisions better than legal experts, identify faces, scurry helpfully around offices and factories, even perform some surgeries, all faster, more reliably, and less expensively than people?

It’s easy to imagine a nightmare scenario in which computers simply take over most of the tasks that people now get paid to do. While we’ll still need high-level decision makers and computer developers, those tasks won’t keep most working-age people employed or allow their living standard to rise. The unavoidable question—will millions of people lose out, unable to best the machine?—is increasingly dominating business, education, economics, and policy.

The bestselling author of Talent Is Overrated explains how the skills the economy values are changing in historic ways. The abilities that will prove most essential to our success are no longer the technical, classroom-taught left-brain skills that economic advances have demanded from workers in the past. Instead, our greatest advantage lies in what we humans are most powerfully driven to do for and with one another, arising from our deepest, most essentially human abilities—empathy, creativity, social sensitivity, storytelling, humor, building relationships, and expressing ourselves with greater power than logic can ever achieve. This is how we create durable value that is not easily replicated by technology—because we’re hardwired to want it from humans.

These high-value skills create tremendous competitive advantage—more devoted customers, stronger cultures, breakthrough ideas, and more effective teams. And while many of us regard these abilities as innate traits—“he’s a real people person,” “she’s naturally creative”—it turns out they can all be developed. They’re already being developed in a range of far-sighted organizations, such as:

• the Cleveland Clinic, which emphasizes empathy training of doctors and all employees to improve patient outcomes and lower medical costs;
• the U.S. Army, which has revolutionized its training to focus on human interaction, leading to stronger teams and greater success in real-world missions;
• Stanford Business School, which has overhauled its curriculum to teach interpersonal skills through human-to-human experiences.

As technology advances, we shouldn’t focus on beating computers at what they do—we’ll lose that contest. Instead, we must develop our most essential human abilities and teach our kids to value not just technology but also the richness of interpersonal experience. They will be the most valuable people in our world because of it. Colvin proves that to a far greater degree than most of us ever imagined, we already have what it takes to be great.

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