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Intelligence in Nature Paperback – March 2, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In The Cosmic Serpent, anthropologist Narby hypothesized that Amazonian shamans can "gain access in their visions to information related to DNA" comparable to what molecular biologists know. In this intriguing treatise, he carries his project of syncretizing all forms of knowledge a step further, arguing that animals and plants exhibit intelligence comparable in many ways to that of humans. His shaman friends heartily endorse the idea, regaling him, over a friendly pot of hallucinogenic ayahuasca brew, with conversations they have had in the trance state with animal and plant spirits. For further confirmation, he talks to Western scientists who have done remarkable research on cases of nonhuman intelligence, like bees with abstract reasoning, crows that manufacture standardized tools, pigeons that distinguish between the works of Van Gogh and Chagall about as well as college students do, octopuses that break out of and into their tanks and slime molds that solve mazes. Scientists may find Narby's ongoing efforts to assimilate shamanic mysticism to Western science - he associates, for example, Amazonian legends about humans turning into jaguars with Darwin's theory of evolution - naïve and illogical. But Narby has done his homework - the endnotes themselves make excellent reading - and his well-researched and engagingly presented account of the "braininess" of even literally brainless creatures raises fascinating questions about the boundaries between man and nature.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Jeremy Narby, Ph.D. is the author of The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge. He lives in Switzerland.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: TarcherPerigee; Reprint edition (March 2, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1585424617
  • ISBN-13: 978-1585424610
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #151,722 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 20, 2006
Format: Hardcover
In this immensely readable, fascinating book anthropologist author Jeremy Narby explodes the myth that 'the lower animal, insects, organisms' do not possess intelligence. Whether or not the reader subscribes to all of Narby's findings and postulates really doesn't matter. What DOES matter is the fact that this bright gentlemen has opened windows into the concept of 'knowledge', that knowledge is not the property of man, that lower animal life and plant life demonstrate an economy of putting information together that allows them to survive and outwit their predators!

Some aspects of insect and animal behavior have been observed and then relegated to Darwinian survival of the fittest without pursuing it further: camouflage techniques, heightened sense of smell, night vision are easy categories to assign as 'traits'. Narby enters the world of shaman and shares how trances induced by varied means give the shaman the ability to communicate with organisms, understanding their innate intelligence.

But the real joy of reading this treatise is the manner in which Narby relates his information. No 'from the pulpit' technique here, instead this is a conversational, open minded, keenly observant and intelligent man who encourages us to be more aware of the fellow nature creatures around us, giving them the respect that is their due. Highly recommended. Grady Harp, February 06
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Format: Paperback
Readers of Jeremy Narby's first book, The Cosmic Serpent, might wonder as I did, after reading Intelligence in Nature, why he wrote this latest book. They might also wonder what happened to the spirit of personal discovery that was so present in his previous work. Where Cosmic Serpent fairly rings with the kind of unbridled enthusiasm that comes with uncovering splendid mysteries, Intelligence in Nature reads more like a transcription from the Discovery channel.

Narby's search for intelligence in nature takes us into the biology labs of a select group of scientists around the world who are trying to identify humanlike intelligence within the plant and animal life of the natural world. From the Peruvian Amazon to Japan, we meet scientists whose investigations are undoubtedly fascinating. But Narby's inquiry begins and ends with large questions hanging in the air. We learn interesting things about how slime mold, for example, appears to make decisions, or how certain tropical birds ingest clay to prevent disease in much the same way that we use antibiotics. But then what? Why is intelligence in nature such a puzzling question to science when it seems so obvious to anyone who regularly walks in the woods with a curious and observant eye? And why should it be left to mainstream science to decree the existence of something for which scientists themselves can reach no defining consensus?

Narby asks good questions in this book but he doesn't go very far with them. His tentativeness in the company of scientists is curious given the open-minded enthusiasm he brought to his experiences with shamans in the Peruvian Amazon, which he first wrote about in The Cosmic Serpent. There, far from his academic and cultural roots, he eagerly pushed the edge of conventional knowledge.
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Format: Hardcover
I found this book to be refreshing and intriguing. It is a very pleasurable and at once, thought-provoking book to read. I highly recommend this book for its narrative approach, its well-considered thoughts and precious interviews with scientists that he has the privilege of interviewing, whereas most of us will not be traveling to Japan to discuss the sense-data of butterflies. This is much like having a well-read anthroplogy student or professor over for tea. He intuits what you would most like to ask, extensively footnotes his research and has given us the best of what leading journals like Nature have to tell us about the conciousness of other life forms. He does not inundate the reader with esoteric vocabulary and acurately and succinctly describes scietific concepts. In conclusion, while I have yet to peruse the endnotes for my next book on the subject, and I value being able to, I was so sad that those extra pages at the end weren't another chapter of Narby's writings on the subject.
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Format: Hardcover
Be prepared. As with his previous "The Cosmic Serpent" Jeremy Narby's latest work requires from the readers the unwillingness to question many of the most basic assumptions of our culture.

"Intelligence in Nature" is the work of a visionary - not of the cheap and bland type of futurologist our technoculture is so good in creating. This book re-instates Narby as a visionary in the best sense of the word. His scientifically trained anthropological gaze is, thankfully, still untamed enough to place itself outside both the usual frontiers of our institutional academic research and the comfortable safety of our socially acquired common sense.

In "Intelligence in Nature" his account of our efforts to understand and cope with the present challenges of our life amidst a multitude of other sentient life forms is built from the stand point of a consciousness that has actually been there - on "the other side" of our arbitrary cultural, existential and psychological boundaries. Having experienced first hand the meaningfulness and uniqueness of the abundant life that envelops our own restricted and partial understanding of nature Narby - as the shamans he has once learned from - is again in an ideal position to guide us through the path toward plenitude he has been gradually building with his works.

Following the best anthropological tradition Narby goes out yet again to do his field work. It is only that this time the field includes not only the rich landscapes of the Peruvian Amazon inhabited and acted upon by shamans and parrots, the French-Swiss border where the Jura Mountains are criss-crossed by purposeful scientists and earthworms or the old Estonian farm where a herbal healer and her "talking" plants share their knowledge in front of a welcoming fireplace.
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