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Intelligence in Nature: An Inquiry into Knowledge Hardcover – March 3, 2005
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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.
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About the Author
Jeremy Narby, Ph.D., is the author of The Cosmic Serpent and coeditor of Shamans Through Time.
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Top Customer Reviews
This book is extraordinary in every way possible, from well-developed presentation to eye-opening examples to a truly amazing bibliography that I enjoyed item by item.
Here are my notes, sorted to provide some coherence and appreciation.
1. The bottom line is that we have wasted 50 years since WWII when we could have been studying animal and plant cognition while also cultivating collective human intelligence. Instead we have been destroying nature, indigenous populations, and the very foundations of our complex Earth system of systems.
2. Although humans have the largest brains among the living species, and hence the most *potential*, we are NOT competitive with all others when it comes to sensing, sensibility, and harmonization with nature (both animal and plant.
3. Across the book I have notes on the excellence of the author's discussion of both the human brain's form and function, and the nature of plants and other animals as sensing, communication, foraging, fighting thinking beings.
4. Invertebrates *do* learn, the author discusses how science has erected false walls, to which I would add, one cannot understand what one cannot see [see 1491 for a fantastic description of how shaman's first saw the ships of Christopher Columbus).
5. Animals learn by wathching, bees have a very short lifespan adn are very fast learners, and I have a note: all this applies to how we might innovate in educating the five billion poor without needing to stuff them into classrooms (see Earth Intelligence Network for one concept, free cell phones and call centers that educate one cell call at a time).
6. The author, who has studied shamans in relation to nature in the past, places emphasis on the importance of indigenous knowledge, especially as articulated by shamans, and especially in relation to nature, pointing out that indigenous knowledge is ultimately validated by natural sciences.
7. Humans are a very young species with only 7,000 biological gneerations in comparison to other living things, but with a language skill that is the key to adaptation. The author is persuasive in his discussion of how animals and plants *do* communicate, and suggests that we should as a species be seeking to teach language skills to other species [as some have done so well with the gorilla community].
8. The author discusses the definition of intelligence, and what stays with me is that the root of the word is about choice, about making decisions, and that many other cultures define intelligence in ways that are distinct from our own, for example, emphasizing the ability to listen, to hear, to tell stories, to havea strong sense of ethics, etc. Further on in the book he refers to the 1974 definition by New Zealand philosopher and psychologist David Stenhouse, "adaptively variable behavior within the lifetime of the indivdiual."
9. Bees understanding abstract concepts and slime solving a maze both stay with me. Although I have enjoyed Howard Bloom's work, including his chapter on Group IQ in an edited work, this book goes a long way toward deepening my appreciation for non-human intelligence in the senses of sensing, sense-making, and social action.
10. Birds in the Amazon are documented as knowing the difference between natives working with scientists and natives working with hunters.
11. I note "Wisdom is intelligence in harmonization with the past and the present, collective intelligence." This is one of the books that has persuaded me that individuals can be smart, but only groups in the aggregate can be wise.
12. I have notes on rocks having souls, on sand beaches in the aggregate having a soul. That's a bit hard for me, but worth noting.
13. Killing nature also kills spirits and communications among distinct beings and communities, and I am reminded of Buckminster Fuller and his emphasis on being able to seek out all feedback loops, seeking to assure the integrity of each.
14. The Japanese get a great deal of credit in this book for pioneering the study of animals as inherently social and intelligence, and the author notes that the differences between Western and Eastern religions appear to faciliate Eastern science and retard (my word) Western science in this regard.
I have a final note: Integrity is where you start, intention is where you end. Integrity. Intention.
This is a SUPER book for anyone interested in exploring life.
Other books that I recommend in relation to this one:
1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus
Voltaire's Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West
Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the World's Greatest Philosophers
The Lessons of History
The Fifty-Year Wound: How America's Cold War Victory Has Shaped Our World
Collective Intelligence: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace
Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century
Conscious Evolution: Awakening Our Social Potential
Ecological Economics: Principles And Applications
Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Social Movement in History Is Restoring Grace, Justice, and Beauty to the World
Mr. Narby travels all over the world, to places like the Amazon, Japan, Tokyo, Great Britain, etc..., speaking with scientists & shamans alike - learning about, and sharing with us, the evidence & experiences related to this question about intelligence. What he finds is truly amazing! In the last decade or so, it appears that science is beginning to find out what shamans have said all along - that naure is intelligent, including animals, insects, plant life, and even uni-cellular organisms.
The author also discusses the benefits of science & shamanism coming together to learn from one another, as well as some of the problems encountered when attempting to answer questions dealing with intelligence, including the problem with using the word "intelligence", as it has become a "loaded word" in many countries, and the current scientific view that all things not human must by machine-like (although he also shows that this view is starting to change, with the abundance of research being contrary to this mechanistic view of nature).
Overall, I found this to be a thought provoking, interesting read. As such, I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in the possibilities concerning intelligence in nature.