Up From Dragons: The Evolution of Human Intelligence

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9780071378253: Up From Dragons: The Evolution of Human Intelligence

A breathtaking account of the "unnatural" history of consciousness and human intelligence

Taking its cue from The Dragons of Eden, Carl Sagan's 1977 classic and New York Times bestseller, Up from Dragons traces the development of human intelligence back to its animal roots in an attempt to account for the vast differences between our species and all those that came before us. In a book that will spark a storm of debate, neuroscientist John Skoyles and awardwinning author Dorion Sagan introduce a controversial theory of the origins of human intelligence that may hold the answers to questions that have haunted scientists about mind, consciousness, and the evolutionary odyssey of humankind. It also introduces the revolutionary concept of "mindware"­­the human, evolutionary equivalent of computer software­­and describes how the evolution-accelerating symbol-using programs that make it up have empowered us with the unprecedented ability to take charge of our own evolutionary destiny.

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From the Back Cover:

One of the most exciting discoveries to emerge from the recent explosion in brain research is the phenomenon of neural plasticity. With the discovery of neural plasticity, the traditional view of the brain as a hard-wired collection of modules, virtually fixed for life by early childhood, is being replaced by a revolutionary new image of an amazingly versatile biocomputer able to quickly adapt and reshape itself in response to its external environment and, more significantly, to its internal, symbolic environment.

Now, in a book that is sure to have a profound impact on the contemporary discourse on consciousness and its origins, John Skoyles, a neuroscientist working at the cutting edge of brain-mind research, and coauthor, award-winning science writer, Dorion Sagan, explain how the discovery of the brain's remarkable flexibility changes the entire story of the evolution of human intelligence, consciousness, and culture. In the process they deal a devastating blow to currently fashionable concepts of genetically programmed minds promulgated by evolutionary psychologists such as Steven Pinker.

Bringing together a vast array of hitherto unconnected facts from the fields of neuroscience, computing and artificial intelligence, cognitive science, developmental psychology, anthropology, art history, and more, the authors reconstruct the 100,000-year evolutionary odyssey of the human mind. Beginning with our simian forebears, they trace the parallel developments of the neocortex­­the brain's symbol-using "conductor"­­and increasingly complex primate societies held together by symbolic bonds. Step by step, Skoyles and Sagan reconstruct the slow evolution of increasingly sophisticated symbolic systems and show how the process eventually led to the development of a set of evolution-accelerating, symbol-using programs called mindware­­the evolutionary equivalent of a Windows or Macintosh operating system, and the basis for consciousness. Drawing on startling new insights into the brain's workings yielded by new brain-scanning technologies, the authors reveal how mindware functions to provide us with the sense of an "I" and the world in which it resides, and how the neocortex deploys mindware to supersede genetically programmed behaviors and impulses and to alter the very structure of the brain.

Taking its cue from Carl Sagan's 1977 classic, The Dragons of Eden, Up from Dragons is a breathtaking account of the "unnatural" history of consciousness and human intelligence.

"This endowment, this changeling nature, this plasticity, makes us unique among animals. Other species, for the most part, remain as they were when they evolved; we instead broke that older pattern of nature and went on to discover new forms of life, thought and enjoyment. No other animal species before us has traveled so much evolutionary territory in so little time. And yet, the ticket for this immense trip is not genetic; genetically when you look in the mirror what you see could be a hunter gatherer who was living at the beginning of our species. Another kind of ticket existed that was to purchase the journey on this great evolutionary odyssey. What was it? In our view, this question is one of the greatest scientific mysteries. It can perhaps be answered simply, even glibly, with notions such as "culture " or "ideas." But until now science has not been able to provide any sort of detailed answer. Here we shall explore what happened to that hunter gatherer in the mirror. How did that person get here? What had evolved earlier in their brain to help them? And how did they get here so damned fast."

About the Author:

John Skoyles, Ph.D., a polymath who has been compared to Stephen Hawking, was misdiagnosed as mentally handicapped as a child. Dr. Skoyles holds degrees from The London School of Economics and University College London. A former researcher funded by the British Medical Research Council, he has chosen to become an independent scholar. He has made significant contributions in the areas of neural network models, right hemisphere literacy, the alphabet and the brain, motor perception, and the mirror neuron. Dr. Skoyles has written numerous articles on an array of subjects, including early astronomy, open society, and the origin of classical Greek culture; these have appeared in Nature, New Scientist, Trends in NeuroScience, American Psychologist, PSYCOLOQUY, Journal of Memetics, and other prestigious journals.

Dorion Sagan, son of Carl Sagan, is an award-winning science writer. He is the author of several critically acclaimed books, including Microcosmos, Slanted Truths: Essays on Gaia, Evolution and Symbiosis, The Diversity of Living Organisms, What is Life?, and Origins of Sex. His articles have appeared in Wired, The New York Times, Smithsonian, The Sciences, and other leading publications.

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