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Smarts: computing slime molds, political primates, masterful plants, altruistic robots, amoeba machines, signals, spies, the brilliant life and ... the boundary-busting story of intelligence Paperback – April 16, 2015
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"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
"Coupled with the extensive documentation of published cognitive research, Dewar's gripping journalistic approach makes Smarts into a particularly rewarding book for those of us who ponder the mysteries of how living organisms can be so complex and get so much right so often."
-James A Shapiro for Plant Signaling & Behavior (a popular scholarly scientific journal)
About the Author
Elaine Dewar has been propelled since childhood by boundless curiosity and the joy of storytelling. Her first book, Cloak of Green, delved into the dark side of environmental politics and became an underground classic. Bones: Discovering the First Americans was a national bestseller. The Second Tree: of Clones, Chimeras, and Quests for Immortality won Canada’s premier literary nonfiction prize from the Writers' Trust. Dewar has been called “one of Canada’s best muckrakers” and aspires to be a happy warrior for the public good. She lives with her husband in Toronto.
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A very enjoyable read. I highly recommend it.
For Dewar – lauded journalist and award-winning author – the answer is always another question. In this case: What do you mean by smart, and who’s got it? With the vision of a philosopher and the rigor of a scientist, Dewar explores big questions, past and future, while she regales us with exciting stories and provocative conversations.
A famed founder of modern psychology, Donald Hebb once said that if we could see the world through a lion’s eyes, we wouldn’t understand a damn thing we were seeing. Dewar takes us to places that may be changing that. From signal recognition in microbes to the artificial intelligence machines of the future, Dewar guides us on a fascinating eye-opening, consciousness correcting and sometimes frightening journey. For anyone with any curiosity about what it means to be smart, or any interest in catching a glimpse of the world to come, this book is essential.
By Dawn MacDonald
A large book like Elaine Dewar’s Smarts deserves a drifty summer day, a hammock or chaise lounge, tree tops and whispering winds.
Dewar published Smarts in May, 2015 to tell her tale of journeys and conversations amongst the world’s learned concerned with the sciences of intelligence, conscious mind and evolution.
We learn that this interplay of phenomena pushes forward the emergent goals of every living thing, not just humans, and that this scientific news is not news at all, but a persistent truth of a few who insist upon it, regardless of consequence.
We learn that this would be against the wishes of scientific orthodoxy and the cadres of researchers for whom conscious thought and its physical machinery of neurons and dendrites within the brain must remain primarily a human specialization with secondary status granted to beings with spines aka the vertebrates.
A few weeks later, in June, 2015, the world’s beloved Pope Francis proclaimed in his first letter of instruction to his bishops, Laudato Si, that God exists within all living things -- a “theologically revolutionary” declaration, reports Jay Michaelson in Boston Globe’s Crux: All Things Catholic (June 19, 2015). Classical theology, from Thomas Aquinas on, saw only traces of God in the non-human.
Listen to the trees as you read and know this: in his ’seven days’ (AKA a few billion years) of creation, perhaps what God did was give us the rough cut. A cell, a tree, a plant, an animal, a human, each with the task of becoming the fine cut, never to be realized, always to be tended towards.
Dewar’s husband Stephen, along for some of the investigation that takes his wife to the labs and research centres of the world, asks of an experimenter attempting to teach dolphins human language to enhance task-learning (and I paraphrase), “Why don’t you try to decode the language the dolphin is already speaking?”
Dewar, the intrepid, the smart, the strong, the tough, gives us prose that is steady and tempered, a leisured but relentless build-up of a reality she encounters and almost none of us know about. In the process she evolved from writer to publisher, a team player who worked with the best of editing and art direction to deliver her five-years-in-the-making opus to the ether -- now run by the algorithms of social media.
Intelligence is not only human, not only living. Dewar moves us through theatres of exploration of artificial intelligence, perhaps a misnomer. Perhaps not so surprising to those theologically inclined. Intelligence at the heart of all things living may have preceded material life, a theory known as Higgs Boson. If it preceded life, why could it not continue regardless of life? When we worry about big machines reducing the human‘s importance, perhaps a reflection on how brief our hour upon the stage of intelligence is already.
But also to know that our mentations, struggles, problem-solving and communicating are the very principles of intelligence, of conscious mind and of evolution. Something keeps the whole thing moving forward. Big bang, big intelligence, big history. It is time for us all to get interested and Dewar proves with arts acquired through a lifetime that it is interesting. And perhaps imperative.
But read this book for the sheer pleasure of it. Allow Dewar to be your guide as you listen now for the languages of intelligence. All living beings speak them. Understand now, thanks to Dewar’s reporting, that each has insight, problem-solving smarts, consciousness, generativity and that these attributes prevail throughout the natural world, not as “traces” but as the alpha and omega of existence. You will become a better listener as all creation speaks its way to becoming.