on May 6, 2012
Like nature itself, Simon G. Powell's new paradigm of Natural Intelligence is - in a word - sensible! That his very title, "Darwin's Unfinished Business" should be provocative belies the pretense to impartiality of today's guardians of evolutionary science. In fact, Charles Darwin would surely appreciate Powell's meticulous, elegant and insightful examination of the vital role of context as the driver of Natural Selection. This is not trivial. As the reader shall discover, the delicate rebalance in our calculus of chance and necessity is the most practical and essential task for our time.
For if Darwin was a secular prophet of clarity and reason, how ironic it is that some of his most influential disciples - men like Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould - have established a simplistic dogma in his name. The absurd consequence of this new reductionism, Powell patiently shows, is a sustained anthropocentric blind spot. This bias, in turn, leads directly to our ongoing degradation of Earth's magnificent biosphere. All true, and yet Powell's optimism and humor are never diminished. That is a small part of the reader's reward for a decision to cultivate conscious awareness, rather than to continue dwelling among the comfortably numb. If you harbor a floating anxiety that mankind has made a fateful wrong turn en route from Galileo to Einstein, you must agree that this book is a great place to pull over and re-calculate.
Powell neither strays from the objective nor does he apologize for the subjective. After all, he reckons, neither case has an exclusive claim on reality. So if one's intellect has been stuck between the false choices of science vs. mysticism, then the satisfaction of a fresh perspective awaits! "Darwin's Unfinished Business" is a brilliant gem of concentrated wisdom, thoughtfully crystallized for us by an original thinker who generously shares his deep scholarship and profound personal experience. Follow these 279 pages through to Powell's breathtaking conclusion, and experience an authentic renewal of human purpose that is inescapable, while at the same time, liberating.
on September 8, 2012
What is unfinished about Darwin's business? Evolution is generally defined as changes in gene frequency over time. In Darwin's Unfinished Business, Simon G. Powell argues that while this is of course true, if this is all we interpret evolution to be, we are missing the bigger picture.
Powell persuasively argues that evolution is indeed an intelligent process whereby the sensible laws of nature become accurately reflected in living organisms. Evolution is undoubtedly a creative force, wielding craftsmanship and technology far beyond the current capacity of human beings. No one should find contention there, but unlike the reductionists who myopically focus on the random mutation of genes, Powell recognizes the role of context in the process of natural selection and begins to sort out what relies on chance, and what is imperative.
Always with wit, Powell articulates his view with rich examples of "natural intelligence" found throughout the biosphere, from the microscopic to the ecological. Filled with thoughtful illustrations of natural intelligence or insightful criticism of the conventional rendering of evolution, every page of this book is thought-provoking and compels a paradigm shift. Let me make known, natural intelligence is not to be confused with supernatural intelligence, this is not Intelligent Design, but a very different understanding of nature, which I believe to be correct, and thus very important. What could be a more important question than "how did we get here?" If we define our ascent as merely a change in gene frequency, then we are denying a role that complexity obviously plays in our universe. Darwin's Unfinished Business begins to elucidate this vital role. Read this excellent book to gain deeper insight into nature, and of our place in it.
on December 9, 2012
I love this book!
The author, Simon G. Powell, has put together a well-reasoned and methodically laid-out presentation which explores the self-organizing process of evolution from a grander and more philosophical viewpoint than one generally finds. His perspective is more in tune with those of Pierre De Chardin, Brian Swimme, Goethe, Christian De Quincey, and many other philosophers, poets, and scientists who all realize that there is a larger and more dynamic aspect that is driving the process of life.
I suppose I could summarize the perspective of "Darwin's Unfinished Business" with a quote from the book:
"Whether you call it Nature, the Cosmos, or the Universe, let us admit that it
is an intelligence-driven, intelligence-wielding, and intelligence-generating system.
The bottom line is that we and all other organisms, plant or otherwise, are spun of
One key element to understanding this book is the need to open yourself to a broader definition of the word "intelligence." If you reserve the word intelligence only for humans, don't buy this book, but if you can understand intelligence as a driving and modifying "force" that builds upon itself from the smallest mote to ultimately become the human mind that is reading this review... grab a copy now.
Astrophysicist and philosopher Sir Arthur Eddington refers to "schedules of pointer readings" to describe the classical approach to scientific endeavors, but notes that "The schedule is, we agree, attached to some unknown background. Why not then attach it to something of spiritual nature of which a prominent characteristic is, 'thought'." This is precisely what Simon G. Powell does in this fascinating book. He sees intelligence in everything.
I noticed that another reviewer here gave the book a less than stellar recommendation and appears more in tune with the philosophies of Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins who take a more academic and staid approach to the same subject. Is "Darwin's Unfinished Business" the only way of looking at life? No, and perhaps the truth is an amalgam of perspectives (some as yet unvoiced). I can only repeat Einstein's declaration that "There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." And, to quote Walt Whitman, "... a mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels."
After reading this book, I went away feeling that, yes - indeed, everything truly is a miracle. I know whom I would want to explore a forest with or whom I would want to walk along the beach with, and it wouldn't be Dennett or Dawkins -- it would be Simon G. Powell.
Taking the perspective that life and all of its processes are intelligent, places an onus of responsibility on all of us to understand our position in life, and it opens the doors to a wondrous adventure that has been unfolding since the beginning of time.
Powell's book is a feast for readers who love books that hold gems of wisdom on every page. I finally got tired of using paper slips to mark interesting passages and reverted to making notes on page margins. Many, many pages are notated and I plan to reread major portions of this book. I gave this book five stars because I found it wondrous. Truly.
on March 18, 2014
Why is it that dolphins and sharks look basically the same? Pointy noses, dorsal fins, pectoral fins, split tails, elongated body shapes very clearly designed to facilitate smooth, efficient locomotion through water, etc etc? As mammals, dolphins are genetically closer to humans than they are to sharks, after all. Like all mammals, dolphins and whales are descended from a common ancestor who left the oceanic nest long ago, grew legs, and learned how to breathe air. So shouldn't they look more like us?
Well, some descendents of these creatures (that common ancestor of all mammals) went on to evolve into the thinking, intelligent beings for whom this book was intended, while their siblings went back into the water where they began to resume the physical forms of their long-forgotten cousins, the fish. Now mainstream science seems obsessed with the idea that evolution is totally chaotic, with no direction guiding it whatsoever. It's a kind of dogma in biology. If you dare to suggest anything otherwise, you are more or less cast into the hard Creationist mold and forgotten.
Simon asks us to think twice about this dogma. If evolution is so completely random, why is it that that particular body shape came to dominate the aquatic environment in two entirely independent evolutionary chains? Shouldn't the mammalian descendents of marine life have taken on some random, unrelated-to-sharks physical form as they negotiated their own path of evolutionary progress?
If questions and conundrums like this give you pause and peak your curiosity, then this book is for you. Simon does an excellent job explaining the concept of Natural Intelligence (NI), a property of Nature which influences the unfolding Cosmos to this day. When viewed through the lens of NI as articulated by Simon, many things make so much more sense. This is not to say that, upon completion of the book, one should have all the answers to all the universe's riddles...if anything, you will have more questions than before. But they will more likely then be closer to being the *right* questions than they were.
The same principle which explains the similar forms of sharks and dolphins as expanded upon and revealed as something that applies universally.
on November 1, 2015
Very interesting book. Basically goes into detail with the title. This book does get a little repetitive about half way through, the author sort of keeps driving home the same point in different ways, this is understandable however because the information in this book could potentially change our whole perception of how we see nature and it how it is imbued with intelligence. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the subject matter or as a good source for a college student.
on December 5, 2013
Had the original American Indians written a book detailing their understanding, care, and participation in Nature, it would have been very similar to this one. Not only does it expand on Darwin's theory of evolution, but it brings to light an entirely new paradigm in which Nature itself is not only intelligent, but begs our participation as a part of this intelligent design. The author goes into what seems like endless examples of Nature's workings and the importance in noticing these things in normal daily life. I seriously challenge anyone to read this book and maintain your current understanding of Nature. I recommend this book to everyone.
on October 17, 2015
Thinking we evolved from monkeys makes us humans in the same level as animals not any more importance= no regard for human life...out of all this life on earth is from blind chance..don't think so....God made science!!
on February 22, 2014
Well written and concise. Brings many divergent views of evolution into focus and makes sense of the current battle over "design" vs. random change.
on April 2, 2015
Not exactly what I anticipated but well written
on August 4, 2012
I have rarely been more disappointed in a book. I bought it because of a foreword by Dorian Sagan (son of Lynn Margulis and Carl Sagan, so I thought I could not go wrong), but -for the second time- I learned that one should not trust forewords (the other one was a recommendation by Elaine Morgan of a lunatic fringe book that is better left unmentioned).
The idea -if I got it right- is that nature has an intelligence since it makes sense. Of course Nature makes sense: anthropic principle and evolution through natural selection (deueuhh, as my 10 year old son would add), but to ascribe intelligence appears more of a semantic trick than anything of consistence.
The author clearly does not like evolution as proposed by Dawkins and Dennett : "cold and hard logic", "this selfish gene paradigm is pretty bleak", which of course has nothing to do with truthfulness or reality.
He relies on personal incredulity such as: "if a system like Nature is configured and ordered in a sensible and intelligible way, then as far as I can tell, intelligence of some kind must be bound up with it". A glaring non-sequitur, of course. In fact, it resembles Paley's design argument re-polished.
He relies on "context" and illustrates it with a 'computer model' of the eye, as recounted by Dawkins in his "Climbing Mount Improbable". He does not even mention the authors, Nilsson and Pelger, who talked about a "mathematical model" not a computer model. The "context" then is software and hardware, virtual light rays and the like, which shows he did not even take the trouble to read the article he based a substantial part of his argument on. His notes and references are scanty anyway, generally a bad sign.
There are more shortcomings eg. since he surmises some fuzzy, unconscious 'intelligence', one would expect him to tackle the examples of clearly unintelligent design in biology, he does not. He should have tackled the anthropic principle which might give a kind of Panglossian illusion of "the best of all possible worlds", he does not. You might expect some clues of how this intelligence in the living world is not explained by evolution by natural selection, he does not. I even wonder if he even grasps how evolution through natural selection works.
If he were one of my students proposing a thesis I'd have sent him straight back to the drawing board and advise him to come back with some substance.
With a title like "Darwin's Unfinished Business, The Self-Organising Intelligence of Nature" I expected something interesting, something substantial, maybe a deeper understanding, not a semantic finger-fiddeling. I positively feel ripped off buying this book.