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Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century 1st Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 62 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0471419198
ISBN-10: 0471419192
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

When did big-picture optimism become cool again? While not blind to potential problems and glitches, Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind From the Big Bang to the 21st Century confidently asserts that our networked culture is not only inevitable but essential for our species' survival and eventual migration into space. Author Howard Bloom, believed by many to be R. Buckminster Fuller's intellectual heir, takes the reader on a dizzying tour of the universe, from its original subatomic particle network to the unimaginable data-processing power of intergalactic communication. His writing is smart and snappy, moving with equal poise through depictions of frenzied bacteria passing along information packets in the form of DNA and nomadic African tribespeople putting their heads together to find water for the next year.

The reader is swept up in Bloom's vision of the power of mass minds and, before long, can't help seeing the similarities between ecosystems, street gangs, and the Internet. Were Bloom not so learned and well-respected--more than a third of his book is devoted to notes and references, and luminaries from Lynn Margulis to Richard Metzger have lined up behind him--it would be tempting to dismiss him as a crank. His enthusiasm, the grand scale of his thinking, and his transcendence of traditional academic disciplines can be daunting, but the new outlook yielded to the persistent is simultaneously exciting and humbling. Bloom takes the old-school, sci-fi dystopian vision of group thinking and turns it around--Global Brain predicts that our future's going to be less like the Borg and more like a great party. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Bloom's debut, The Lucifer Principle (1997), sought the biological basis for human evil. Now Bloom is after even bigger game. While cyber-thinkers claim the Internet is bringing us toward some sort of worldwide mind, Bloom believes we've had one all along. Drawing on information theory, debates within evolutionary biology, and research psychology (among other disciplines), Bloom understands the development of life on Earth as a series of achievements in collective information processing. He stands up for "group selection" (a minority view among evolutionists) and traces cooperation among organismsAand competition between groupsAthroughout the history of evolution. "Creative webs" of early microorganisms teamed up to go after food sources: modern colonies of E. coli bacteria seem to program themselves for useful, nonrandom mutations. Octopi "teach" one another to avoid aversive stimuli. Ancient Sparta killed its weakest infants; Athens educated them. Each of these is a social learning system. And each such system relies on several functions. "Conformity enforcers" keep most group members doing the same things; "diversity generators" seek out new things; "resource shifters" help the system alter itself to favor new things that work. In Bloom's model, bowling leagues, bacteria, bees, Belgium and brains all behave in similar ways. Lots of real science and some historyAmuch of it fascinating, some of it quite obscureAgo into Bloom's ambitious, amply footnoted, often plausible arguments. He writes a sometimes bombastic prose ("A neutron is a particle filled with need"); worse yet, he can fail to distinguish among accepted facts, scientifically testable hypotheses and literary metaphors. His style may guarantee him an amateur readership, but he's not a crank. Subtract the hype, and Bloom's concept of collective information processing may startle skeptical readers with its explanatory power. (Aug.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (August 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471419192
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471419198
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #172,026 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert David STEELE Vivas HALL OF FAME on July 13, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Very very few books actually need to be read word for word, beginning with the bibliography and ending with the footnotes. This is one of those books. While there are some giant leaps of faith and unexplained challenges to the author's central premises (e.g. after an entire chapter on why Athenian diversity was superior to Spartan selection, the catastophic loss of Athens to Sparta in 404 BC receives one sentence), this is a deep book whose detail requires careful absorbtion.
I like this book and recommend it to everyone concerned with day to day thinking and information operations. I like it because it off-sets the current fascination with the world-wide web and electronic connectivity, and provides a historical and biologically based foundation for thinking about what Kevin Kelly and Stuart Brand set forth in the 1970's through the 1990's: the rise of neo-biological civilization and the concepts of co-evolution.
There are a number of vital observations that are relevant to how we organize ourselves and how we treat diversity. Among these:
1)The five major elements of global inter-species and inter-group network intelligence are the conformity enforcers; the diversity generators; the inner-judges; resource shifters; and inter-group tournaments. You have to read the book to appreciate the breadth and value of how these work within all species from bacteria to homo sapiens.
2) Bacteria have extraordinary strategies for rapid-fire external information collection and exchange, quick-paced inventiveness, and global data sharing. Species higher up on the evolutionary scale do not always retain these capabilities--they internalize capabilities while losing organic connectivity to others.
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Format: Paperback
Howard Bloom's Global Brain is one of those books, like Edward O. Wilson's Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (1998), Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (1997), and Ray Kurzweil's The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence (1999), that presents the distillation of a lifetime of learning by an original and gifted intellect on the subject of who we are, where we came from, and where we might be going, and presents that knowledge to the reader in an exciting and readable fashion.

By the way, the very learned and articulate Howard Bloom (our author) is not to be confused with the also very learned and articulate literary critic Harold Bloom.

Bloom's theme is the unrecognized power of group selection, interspecies intelligence, and the dialectic dance down through the ages of what he calls "conformity enforcers" and "diversity generators." These diametrically opposed forces, he argues, actually function as the yin and yang of the body politic, active in all group phenomena from bacteria to street gangs. He is building on the idea that a "complex adaptive system," such as an ant colony or an animal's immune system is itself a collective intelligence. He extends that idea by arguing that a population, whether of humans or bacteria, is a collective intelligence as well. Put another way, intelligence manifests itself as an emergent property of a group. Furthermore, intelligence manifests itself as an emergent property of a collection of interacting groups.

This idea is certainly not original with Bloom--indeed it is part of the Zeitgeist of our age--but his delineation of it is the most compelling and thorough that I have read. It runs counter to the prevailing orthodoxy in evolutionary theory.
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Format: Paperback
Books about science: for the majority of them, the layman reader will either be overwhelmed, bored, or both. Regardless of the topic, may that be evolution, the string theory, astronomy, you name it.

This one here is decidingly different. It is so, because of the uncanny talent of the author to present one big and complex theory written almost laid back , with very creative style, one that grabs you and doesnt let go, first page to last.

H.Bloom had a formidable task ahead of him as he started his book. His theory alone was such that he needed to time-travel with the reader, while deviating in such diverse sectors as history, biology, psychology, sociology. All in a book's work.

Bloom claims that evolution's crucial leaps are based on the collective mind of a species and how it adapts, predicts and organises its society members in various situations. That's a controversial view to begin with as many evolutionists dont abide to this thought.

But Bloom does a tremendous job in not only the way he lays forth his expansive arguments but very convincingly showing that his arguments thoroughly work.

Bloom's thesis was in desperate need of strong paradigms from the get-go and he provides them in abundance. He shifts through the microbe and bacteria world to show that the incredible adaptiveness and survivability of these micro-organisms is due to their ability to "work" as a mass mind. The chapter on this is one of the most fascinating of the book.

Bloom knew all too well, that bacteria alone wouldn't do the trick. Nor would his examples of certain monkey species which owe their survival to pure imitation be ebough, examples which also include elephants and other species as well.
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