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Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century Paperback – Aug 1 2001

4.4 out of 5 stars 27 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (Aug. 1 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471419192
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471419198
  • Product Dimensions: 16.7 x 2.7 x 22.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 458 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars 27 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #353,468 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

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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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Format: Hardcover
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
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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Paperback
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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