- Paperback: 340 pages
- Publisher: Cambridge University Press (October 28, 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0521663830
- ISBN-13: 978-0521663830
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 16 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #391,022 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Figments of Reality: The Evolution of the Curious Mind
Use the Amazon App to scan ISBNs and compare prices.
This month's Book With Buzz: "The Lying Game" by Ruth Ware
From the instant New York Times bestselling author of blockbuster thrillers "In a Dark, Dark Wood" and "The Woman in Cabin 10" comes Ruth Ware’s chilling new novel, "The Lying Game." See more
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
Customers who bought this item also bought
In Figments of Reality, mathematician Ian Stewart and biologist Jack Cohen's thesis (or schtick) is that human minds are produced by complicity between human brains and culture. In their earlier book The Collapse of Chaos, Stewart and Cohen used the power of Humpty Dumpty to redefine complicity to mean properties that emerge from the mutual interaction of complex systems. "Our minds, our societies, our cultures, and our global multiculture, are all evolving within a reality that we mould in images of our own creation. We are a figment of reality--but reality is increasingly a figment of us."
Reality is not the only figment in the book. Stewart and Cohen use a group of eight "weird alien beings from the planet Zarathustra, resembling fluffy yellow ostriches but with much stranger habits" as a sounding board, as comedy relief, and as a philosophical-experimental playpen. To quote:
"Ringmaster: What is this?Read it and think, read it and giggle, read it and come back for more. At long last, a worthy successor to Gödel, Escher, Bach, updated, twisted, and put through a Monty Python filter. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Liar-to-children [=teacher]: A continuing educational narrative of some kind, Ringmaster. Based upon a revered/reviled (delete whichever is inapplicable) ancient text. [Watches the screen and interprets the tale that unfolds--a long and dramatic story of an exploding universe, elements born in stars, complex carbon-based molecular machines, a doubly-helical genetic molecule, the origins of life, evolution, sense organs, brains, minds, and intelligence.]
R: What a fascinating narrative.
LtC: And such a convincing story.
Destroyer-of-facts [=scientist]: Such vigor and power! Such unified scientific insight!
R: Not a word out of place, no loose ends--amazing!
ALL: [In unison] Must be wrong, then."
From Library Journal
Mathematics and geometry professor Stewart, who writes the "mathematical recreations" column in Scientific American, and biologist Cohen are witty, erudite, clever, at times funny, and generally clearheaded in this rationalist's view of the universe and human evolution. Their thesis is that the human mind evolved in response to the complexity of the world and that language?and, indeed, culture?are inextricable parts of this process: there could be no mind without evolution but no evolution without mind. As is apparently mandatory in books on this subject, the authors include examples, anecdotes, and samples from literally every field of human and animal endeavor to illustrate, illuminate, and elucidate their thesis, making their case by seemingly having on hand millions of bits of information. A delightful but heavy read that is excellent for academic collections and general collections with a highly literate readership.?Mark L. Shelton, Univ. of Massachusetts Medical Ctr., Worcester
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Browse award-winning titles. See more
Top customer reviews
Clearly written, with wit and parody where appropriate. There are dialogs which recall Goedel Escher Bach (although with perhaps fewer levels of meaning), and depth.
The authors clearly distinguish between facts and their opinions, and confess to less than absolute certainty on occasion, which is refreshing.
--Richard Brodie, author, Virus of the Mind: The New Science of the Meme
Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen are a biologist and a mathematician team who have worked together to write a book on evolution; and not just biological evolution either. They discuss the origin of life, intelligence, consciousness, concepts of reality, social order, cities, and global civilization all within a 299 page volume.
Each chapter is opened with a charming quote, usually drawn from the lore of the behavioral sciences, that illustrates in capsule the content of the chapter. My favorites were the woman scientist and her chimpanzee subject, the viper with its "dead snake" pose, and the parrot whose protest over going through a boring word list made his intelligence far more apparent than reciting the list ever could.
Addressed in these chapters were some pretty heavy duty concepts. It's not that I hadn't come across them before in my reading, but that the authors' approach was novel, at least to me. Their treatment of the statistics of evolution and especially their analysis of the "Mitochondrial Eve" hypothesis were particularly enlightening. Until they likened it to the opening and ending moves of a chess game, with it's myriads of potential moves between beginning and end, I had not given much thought to how misleading are the cladal diagrams of evolutionary trees. They point out that the reductionist view, that looks for a core and a root to everything, is misleading because it neglects the total picture of what is going on in the environment and the emergent aspects of the interactive parts.
In the instance of the mitochondrial studies, they point out that a breeding population would probably have been at least 100,000 individuals, and the theory of 1 Eve and 99999 Adams, doesn't make much sense. As they note, it's much more likely that there were 50,000 of each gender, some of whom carried a particular stretch of DNA. Pointing out that there is a difference between the descent of a molecular sequence and the descent of a species they write, "Possibly there did exist a Mitochondrial Eve, but she is not the Mother of Us All: she represents a particular molecular sequence for mitochondrial DNA, embodied in a population of women possessing the molecule, from whom all modern mitochondrial DNA molecules descend (p. 88)."
More intriguing still was their discussion of complicity, which is a synergy among constituent parts that gives rise to unexpected results, sort of the old saw "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts." They feel that this type of unpredictable interaction among complex variables is what has given rise to human consciousness and even to the group think that occurs in crowd behavior. As they write, "One of the universal features of complicity is the emergence of new patterns, new rules, new structures, new processes that were not present, even in rudimentary form, in the separate components (p. 245)." They note that a complicity between language and intelligence might have worked synergistically, in a lock step fashion, enhancing both characteristics and in combination with what they term "extelligence," the variously stored knowledge of generations of humans, may possibly have lead to consciousness and civilization.
In their comparison of cellular evolution and village/town evolution, they again appeal to a complicity among parts, in this case individuals-or more correctly among professions-that created towns from villages. As unspecialized bacteria specialized and commingled to form nucleated cells, the members of villages began to specialize and create a larger more resilient town and as that grew, cities.
The most unique concept they presented-at least not one I'd heard before-was the possible explanation for the god phenomenon. They suggest that someone, Abraham for instance, might have been impressed by the extelligence of the environment, that "something outside himself" that knew more than he did. As they write, "It is a very small step from `There is Something out there' to `There is a Being out there (P. 264).'"
Steven was right again. This is a wonderful book. It definitely gets one thinking along new channels.