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Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century [Paperback]

Howard Bloom
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 1 2001 0471419192 978-0471419198 1
As someone who has spent forty years in psychology with a long-standing interest in evolution, I'll just assimilate Howard Bloom's accomplishment and my amazement.-DAVID SMILLIE, Visiting Professor of Zoology, Duke University In this extraordinary follow-up to the critically acclaimed The Lucifer Principle, Howard Bloom-one of today's preeminent thinkers-offers us a bold rewrite of the evolutionary saga. He shows how plants and animals (including humans) have evolved together as components of a worldwide learning machine. He describes the network of life on Earth as one that is, in fact, a ""complex adaptive system,"" a global brain in which each of us plays a sometimes conscious, sometimes unknowing role. and he reveals that the World Wide Web is just the latest step in the development of this brain. These are theories as important as they are radical. Informed by twenty years of interdisciplinary research, Bloom takes us on a spellbinding journey back to the big bang to let us see how its fires forged primordial sociality. As he brings us back via surprising routes, we see how our earliest bacterial ancestors built multitrillion-member research and development teams a full 3.5 billion years ago. We watch him unravel the previously unrecognized strands of interconnectedness woven by crowds of trilobites, hunting packs of dinosaurs, feathered flying lizards gathered in flocks, troops of baboons making communal decisions, and adventurous tribes of protohumans spreading across continents but still linked by primitive forms of information networking. We soon find ourselves reconsidering our place in the world. Along the way, Bloom offers us exhilarating insights into the strange tricks of body and mind that have organized a variety of life forms: spiny lobsters, which, during the Paleozoic age, participated in communal marching rituals; and bees, which, during the age of dinosaurs, conducted collective brainwork. This fascinating tour continues on to the sometimes brutal subculture wars that have spurred the growth of human civilization since the Stone Age. Bloom shows us how culture shapes our infant brains, immersing us in a matrix of truth and mass delusion that we think of as reality.
Global Brain is more than just a brilliantly original contribution to the ongoing debate on the inner workings of evolution. It is a ""grand vision,"" says the eminent evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson, a work that transforms our very view of who we are and why.

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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 the depiction of frenzied bacteria passing along information packets in the form of DNA and that of 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--over 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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A vague thesis poorly argued Dec 13 2000
By A Customer
Global Brain is a bad book. Really bad. The argument therein made is that all lifeforms are part of an emerging global consciousness. Not really a novel propisition, but having liked Lucifer Principle (even though its Japan-is-gonna-kick-America's-behind prophecies are both laughably dated and entirely incorrect) I decided to pick up Global Brain and give it a shot.
The book reads like a history paper from a mediocre high school student trying to expand his 3 pages of text to the teacher's required 10 pages. Footnotes abound, often after every single sentence in a paragraph. The footnotes in the back combined with the 40+ pg bibliography make up over a third of the book.
That being said, once you begin reading you see the annoyance of all the references everywhere is a mask for the deeper problems with the book, mainly that Bloom seems to meander from point to point, with no cogent theory explained, or position argued anywhere in the book. Mr. Bloom repeatedly raises some anthropological quirk of say... cave-dwellers in France, dresses it up in memetic theory, and footnotes to death without saying anything. There's no "there" there.
This work is obviously rushed and not well thought out. Not recommended to anyone.
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5.0 out of 5 stars On the evolution of the planetary mind Sept. 26 2003
Harold 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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4.0 out of 5 stars The Networked Grand Plan of Evolution May 28 2002
This is a book that is hard to characterize. Its thesis is a radically novel interpretation of evolution. While all evolution writers agree that evolution just happens and permeates everything, Bloom sees evolution as warfare of strategies. The combatants are neither individuals, nor species, but cognitive strategies. The group with the better strategy dominates in the long term, even though different strategies have different outcomes in the short term.
While the above description seems neither novel, nor appears to correspond to the book's title, Bloom's investigation of strategies shows that the winning strategies are networked. Whether bacteria, bees, or human societies, the successful ones have mechanisms for experimenting with different strategies and communicating the results to other members of the group. This strategy applies to expansions of the group, and allows the group, along with its strategies for experimentation and communication, to dominate.
The situation is different when groups are threatened or attacked. Experimentation and communication give way to command and control. The trick is to have experimentation and communication survive during periods of threat.
All this is supported by persuasive evidence from biology and history. Bloom sees the first bacteria developing collective strategies for foraging and expanding. Human societies follow the same pattern. From Sparta versus Athens and through the ages, the evolution of civilization often matches the pattern that Bloom points out.
This point, however, is where the thesis fizzles out. After this spectacular buildup, I was ready for a dramatic ending. None was forthcoming. The competition of species has produced this networked and innovative human society, period.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking
Obviously a lot of research went into this book. This book places the meaning of our existence in its correct perspective. Read more
Published on July 4 2004
1.0 out of 5 stars Pop science
Howard Blooms "thesis" has been irresponsibly derived from a causal- functional theory of meaning first propounded by Milllikan, Ruth 1984,1986. Read more
Published on Jan. 21 2004 by S. Webb
5.0 out of 5 stars This book makes one reevaluate the human condition.
This is one of those books that you read a few paragraphs and then put it down and walk around and think about what you just read. Read more
Published on July 5 2003 by Harvalene M. Bowen
4.0 out of 5 stars Evolutionary Mechanisms
"What keeps mobs of bacteria, insects, birds, and Jurassic kings and queens from lapsing into anarchy? What so consistently turns groups into social learning machines? Read more
Published on Aug. 8 2002 by Stephanie Silva
4.0 out of 5 stars Another breakthrough work
Bloom has previously turned Darwinism on it's ear with his first book, The Lucifer Principle.
With Global Brain, he continues to "reform" Darwinism, and Wow both the... Read more
Published on Dec 26 2001 by Roy Pitta
5.0 out of 5 stars Here you thought you knew it all!
In literature there is narrative, prose and poetry. The Global Brain is all three. Aside from the content, the discourse is absolutely the best of the best. Read more
Published on Nov. 22 2001 by Robert Hauck
5.0 out of 5 stars Arguments for group selection
Really interesting arguments for group selection, including a detailed discussion of biological "self-destruct" mechanisms that occur in organisms that are isolated or... Read more
Published on May 5 2001 by JD Moyer
5.0 out of 5 stars Bloom rattles us again!
Howard Bloom has shattered neo-Darwinist by proving once again that survival of the fittest is usually not survival of the individual, rather survival of the GROUP! Read more
Published on March 6 2001
5.0 out of 5 stars Global Brain: Another Pythoragean
Many of us, obscure or famous, have grand dreams but few of us will have the same one. "Global Brain" is Howard's and will appeal to one third of a scientifically... Read more
Published on March 6 2001 by James Brody
5.0 out of 5 stars Need a Chilton's Manual?
Here we are: sitting behind the wheel of a beater idling uneasily along the wayside of a desert road. The engine's sputtering and more and more idiot lights are flashing on. Read more
Published on March 6 2001 by mark mulligan
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