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The Watchman's Rattle: Thinking Our Way Out of Extinction [Englisch] [Gebundene Ausgabe]

Rebecca D. Costa , E. O. Wilson

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12. Oktober 2010
Why can't we solve our problems anymore? Why do threats such as the Gulf oil spill, worldwide recession, terrorism, and global warming suddenly seem unstoppable? Are there limits to the kinds of problems humans can solve? Rebecca Costa confronts- and offers a solution to-these questions in her highly anticipated and game-changing book, The Watchman's Rattle. Costa pulls headline for today's news to demonstrate how accelerating complexity quickly outpaces that rate at which the human brain can develop new capabilities. With compelling evidenced based on research in the rise and fall of Mayan, Khmer, and Roman empires, Costa shows how t ht tendency to find a quick solutions- leads to frightening long term consequence: Society's ability to solve its most challenging, intractable problems becomes gridlocked, progress slows, and collapse ensues. A provocative new voice in the tradition of thought leaders Thomas Friedman, Jared Diamond and Malcolm Gladwell, Costa reveals how we can reverse the downward spiral. Part history, part social science, part biology, The Watchman's Rattle is sure to provoke, engage and incite change.

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Geri Spieler, NY Journal of Books If there were a "Watchman" to protect us from danger, he would be shaking his rattle vigorously right now. We are in danger of becoming extinct, for the signs of the collapse of our civilization are obvious, according to Rebecca Costa's excellent and thought provoking new book, The Watchman's Rattle. The theme for The Watchman's Rattle can be summed up in the story of the sophisticated and scientifically developed Mayan society: Unproven beliefs became the substitute for facts. Once this happens, as the practice of beliefs cannot result in real solutions, the inevitability of failure takes place, and disaster is the only outcome. Our inherent hubris about our being as evolved as we can possibly ever be, is another message that one can take from The Watchman's Rattle. If we do not heed the lessons of the past, if we continue to ignore all the warning signs that threaten human existence-such as global recession, powerful pandemic viruses, terrorism, rising crime, climate change, rapid depletion of the earth's resources, nuclear proliferation, and failing educational systems-we are doomed to extinction. However, if we do pay attention, Costa lays out a plan that places us in an excellent position to change a repetitive pattern of decline. This is an excellent book, rich with challenging thoughts as well as perceptive solutions. Costa offers excellent research in this fully developed dissertation on the warning signs and potential solutions to human and global destruction. Highly recommended. Tina Brown, Editor-in-Chief and Founder, The Daily Beast "The Gulf is drowning in oil, the housing market stumbles along, the Afghanistan conflict nears a decade long...why do all these problems seem so intractable and unstoppable? How did we get to this point of gridlock? Instead of hand-wringing we should all read Rebecca Costa's The Watchman's Rattle and start figuring out how to really solve these messes. Few other books have so clearly and sharply captured how our symptom-obsessed society means we're always looking for the quick-fix and easy cure rather than searching for the deeper, longer lasting solutions. Her analysis of how we got to this point mixes history, biology, economics and much more to paint a picture of a society overwhelmed by tremendous problems, but with her Silicon Valley rationality and novel guide to intuitive thinking, Costa has pointed a way forward for all of us." E. O. Wilson, Two-Time Pulitzer Prize Winner "I am on the side of Rebecca Costa. Let us become realists-in-search-of-a-solution rather than doomsayers." Dr. James Watson, Nobel Laureate "Problems eventually become too complicated for the average intelligence-in The Watchman's Rattle, Rebecca Costa depicts the challenges this presents." Donald J. Trump, Real Estate Developer and Entrepreneur "Rebecca Costa has written a riveting examination of our world's most dire and complex issues. Her message for mankind is an ultimately hopeful one as she explores her fascinating theory about the brain's ability to develop advanced problem solving techniques in times of crisis. A must read!" Library Journal "Costa presents innovative messages about dealing with the many issues facing modern civilization...a warning and a resource. It will give concerned readers new hope in human capability."


A groundbreaking and game-changing 'Big Ideas' book in the tradition of Thomas Friedman and Jared Diamond -- Dieser Text bezieht sich auf eine andere Ausgabe: Taschenbuch .

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3.0 von 5 Sternen Interesting throughout, but flawed conclusion 16. Dezember 2010
Von Coffee Klatch Reviews - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
In The Watchman's Rattle: Thinking Our Way Out of Extinction, Rebecca D. Costa gives us the following premise: that as societies advance they invariably run up against a cognitive threshold, "the point at which a society can no longer think its way out of its problems." This seems bizarre on the face of it because how else can you solve problems but by thinking? But she offers an alternative: insight. In contrast to left- and right-brain thinking, which have us search through pre-existing solutions and problem solving techniques, insight seems to occur to us out of thin air (though usually after the correct mental preparation). Insight, Costa claims, is "evolution's gift to us."

Once Costa has introduced the idea of insight being the solution to our problems and points out that many people already do have answers, she asks, what stands in our way from acting on these solutions? Costa says that what stands in our way of acting on good, insightful solutions are supermemes. Supermemes are ideas that have such strong support or opposition that the mere mention of them clouds peoples' thinking or prevents people from even looking at alternatives.

(An example she uses of an insightful solution for global warming, for example, is that of releasing sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere to form sulfate particles that would, in effect, shade the earth. The reason this solution is saved as a last resort, I've heard, is because there is much worry about whether we could tip the environment too much the wrong way and lose control of our planet's temperature.)

In a separate chapter for each, the five supermemes she sees as preventing us from solving our problems are:

Irrational Opposition - This is when people criticize vehemently, but without offering solutions of their own. This has led to, among other things, politicians basing entire careers on attacking their one main opponent (in a two-party system) rather than proposing their own ideas, because proposing their own ideas would leave them open to attack. With no one proposing ideas for fear of losing their seats in the house or senate, no progress can ever be made.

The Personalization of Blame - Costa argues that most of our problems today are systemic problems. Yet, most Americans were raised with the idea of rugged individualism. So we tend to find scapegoats rather than solve our problems systemically and permanently. One example she uses is obesity. We like to blame overweight people for being lazy hedonists without self-discipline. But we don't factor in our constant bombardment of advertisements designed by the best cognitive experts in the world, our unsafe neighborhoods, our environments that may have no place to play or ride bikes safely, our sedentary jobs and long commutes, or the comparative cheapness of processed and fast food over natural produce due to the way we subsidize farmers.

Counterfeit Correlation - Most people confuse correlation with cause and thus want to go off spending society's limited resources on the wrong things. An example might be blaming teachers for our nation's poor performance in education, when the real reasons might include both parents working, English as a second language, dysfunctions at home, inadequate diets, violent neighborhoods, lack of school supplies, etc.

Silo Thinking - This is where government agencies, departments within corporations, or scientific specialties either don't communicate with each other or deliberately hold onto information and power. This "separate territories" idea was what allowed 9/11 to happen when, together, if only they shared information, both the FBI and CIA had enough information to prevent it. Another example she gives is NASA's developing an extremely cheap satellite solar solution for energy that would beam energy down to every house in the country much the way TV is beamed by satellite. Yet, when NASA approached the Department of Energy they were accused of mission creep and told to stick to space exploration.

Extreme Economics - In this chapter she concisely shows how and why money came into being and the results of an experiment asking, what happens when chimps are exposed to money and inflation? (Answer: depression, aggression, hoarding, robbery, and prostitution.) Though the chapter's title might lead you to expect otherwise, she avoids the words capitalism and socialism. Instead, she says extreme economics occurs when "simple principles in business, such as risk/reward and profit/loss, become the litmus test for determining the value of people and priorities, initiatives and institutions." She is not totally against capitalism (one of her solutions will be to use venture capitalists), but she is when it interferes with the greater social good. In this chapter, she also explains why the West has such a difficult time in its dealings with countries in the Middle East: we use an economics supermeme in trying to deal with a region that lives by a religious supermeme. One example of differing beliefs is that many countries in the Middle East, Pakistan and Iran among them, have outlawed charging interest on loans. She says, "Can we in the West imagine outlawing something as fundamental as the right to charge interest on a loan? Ridiculous!"

In a chapter called "Surmounting the Supermemes," she gives an example of what can be achieved when one is not locked into the accepted memes of an industry. She tells us the story of Muhammad Yunus who, in 2006, won the Nobel Prize for perfecting and popularizing microfinance. Whereas normal banks operate under the beliefs/memes that it's a waste of time and money to make small loans; loans should only be made to individuals so they can be held accountable; and since poor people are so desperate they can be charged more interest and, therefore, should be; Yunus made loans as small as $1.50; charged very low rates of interest; and loaned, mostly, to groups of five or six people, recognizing that people might not feel bad about defaulting to a faceless banking institution, but wouldn't want to leave their friends and peers holding the bag. Using his own ideas rather than following banking memes without thinking, his Grameen Bank has loaned more than $6 billion (U.S.) and boasts a staggering 97% repayment rate.

And now, finally, Costa arrives at her solutions.
1. Implied in the entire book is the notion that we should monitor our memes and continually evaluate whether they're true or not.
2. Additionally, presidents should get independent, scientific counsel on a frequent basis in behind-closed-door meetings (so that the scientists can speak freely) as presidents Truman through Kennedy used to do, until Nixon ended the practice.
3. We should use the venture capital model where many ideas are invested in simultaneously to see what works or not.
4. Each of us should be developing our insight. In fact, she devotes her final two chapters to this topic--"Bridging the Gap: Building Better Brains," and "Invoking Insight: Conditions Conducive to Cognition."--which implies that she thinks developing insight is the most important solution of them all and, thus, the subtitle of the book: "Thinking Our Way Out of Extinction."

I actually agree with the majority of Costa's discussions on the supermemes. The problem comes in her main focus of insight as the solution. But lack of insight isn't the problem. As she herself shows, we have many people around the world who have and continue to come up with insightful solutions to problems. One of the real problems is one she never even addresses: that of vested interests, the issue of personal gain over public good. (It's only hinted at in the extreme economics chapter.) Take the NASA example mentioned above, for example. Is it possible that the heads of oil, coal, and nuclear energy wouldn't want this cheap energy made available to the public because their personal profits would decrease?

Additionally, if, as she claims earlier in the book that the evolution of the brain is slow and technological progress is fast and evolution can't keep up with it (which is what leads to the "cognitive threshold"), then it doesn't make sense to do insight workouts. Because either insight is something dependent upon evolution or it can be developed through effort, exercise, and diet, etc. The two arguments contradict each other.

I like her first solution, about the scientists, but we can see how that closed door policy was so easily corrupted when presidents began to take more meetings with corporate lobbyists than scientists. The "try lots of solutions simultaneously venture capital model" could work on some problems, but others are complex enough that a whole bunch of solutions at once could interact with each other in counterproductive ways.

In fact, this leads me to one of the main problems I have with the book: the supermemes chosen feel a tiny bit arbitrary. Huge problems that don't get mentioned in this format are 1) (as other reviewers have brought up) overpopulation, 2) vested interests and disinformation campaigns, 3) sheer ignorance (often religion-based) about the importance of keeping the planet healthy, and 4) the focus on principles rather than consequences. It wouldn't be difficult to think of the memes that lead to these conditions.

As much as her memes might be correct so far as they go, each of us individually developing insight is not going to solve the above problems. The only way this book can help is if the greedy and the ignorant read it and question and change their views. But as usually happens, the people who most need it would be the least likely to read it.

The book is highly readable and phrased in as non-partisan way as possible so I would recommend it even if I wish it offered a solution that was more guaranteed to work.
76 von 83 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen The Big Picture and How to Fix It 18. Oktober 2010
Von Ed Brodow - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Verifizierter Kauf
Rebecca D. Costa thinks about the big picture. What is wrong with our planet, and what, if anything, can we do about it? This is a huge bite to chew on, yet Ms. Costa does a commendable job of looking at our most serious problems in innovative ways. She takes on global warming, terrorism, economic recession, depleted resources, and nuclear proliferation. Applying evolution, history, psychology, politics, and economics, she helps us understand why we are so screwed up.

Costa's thesis is that conditions are evolving faster than our brains, so we are unable, with our limited gray matter, to solve the problems of an incredibly complex world. She gives us a history lesson in how the Mayan, Roman, and Khmer empires crashed because as each society grew in complexity, the fallible human beings that ran the show were unable to adapt. Instead of basing their solutions on knowledge and fact, they substituted theological and other irrational belief systems that masked their sense of fear and impotence, giving false hope and leading to catastrophe. Costa observes that humans still don't take the time to distinguish facts from beliefs. Her example is the decision to attack Iraq because of "weapons of mass destruction." In retrospect, we know that the WMD theory was bogus and that a major decision with world-shaking consequences was made without verification of the facts.

One of my favorite parts of WATCHMAN'S RATTLE is the chapter that explains how our culture is addicted to "irrational opposition." Listen to your average politician, says Costa, and what you hear is a lot of opposition to any and all ideas but very little in the way of constructive solutions. Ms. Costa cites her own daughter's eloquent opposition to the war in Iraq, but when asked how we should leave Iraq, the daughter has no idea and simply ignores the question. Similarly, Costa attributes Barack Obama's victory in the 2008 presidential election to a vague platform of "change" without any substantive positions that would have been vulnerable to attack by his opponents.

Costa does not make this mistake. She offers a solution for dealing with contemporary complexity and avoiding the fate of earlier societies. In the past, Costa says, human cognition has been based on either left-brain organized thinking or right-brained creativity. Now she advocates greater reliance on a third way of thinking, the "Eureka" moment of insight, or what I refer to in my book BEATING THE SUCCESS TRAP as intuition or "gut feeling." Costa hails insight as "evolution's gift," a more sophisticated way of solving complex problems. The Romans did not understand how to use insight, she suggests, but we do - and this awareness has the potential to save us.

Here is where I take issue with Ms. Costa's conclusions. As I read WATCHMAN'S RATTLE, I had the feeling that the writer was experiencing a kind of intellectual temper tantrum. "This is so obvious to me, how come the rest of you don't get it?" While it may be an evolutionarily superior decision-making technique, insight in and of itself will not save the planet in time to head off the potential catastrophes Costa fears, and to make this argument exposes a certain naïveté. For many years, I have looked to the Malthusian concept of overpopulation as the real cause of most of our ills. In my own lifetime, I have witnessed the human population practically triple, which borders on pure insanity. As Costa is quick to point out, the Mayan, Roman, and Khmer societies functioned quite well as smaller entities. When Rome was merely one city-state among other Italian city-states, it flourished, but when it burgeoned into the Roman Empire, it became unmanageable. Our planet is unmanageable with seven billion or more human inhabitants. A smaller population would result in less competition for the planet's resources, which would in turn make it easier to deal with all of the issues Ms. Costa has placed on the table. Costa actually brushes over this solution without recognizing its elegant simplicity, which ironically is one of her main criticisms of current thinking. Her rebuttal, I suspect, is that insight can help us deal with the problem of overpopulation. Which came first, the chicken or the egg, and does it matter?

Having expressed my skepticism, the bottom line is that I still regard WATCHMAN'S RATTLE as an articulate work that forces us to think about what we ought to be doing to save ourselves. I enjoyed reading it immensely. Ms. Costa and I are acquainted and although we have argued vigorously over some of the issues in her book, in the final analysis, I admire her intellectual courage and hope the feeling is mutual. Whether or not future generations will remember WATCHMAN'S RATTLE is not revealed in my crystal ball, but for our generation and for our time, this is a book that has the potential to awaken new attitudes and new kinds of thinking - exactly the kind of solution that Costa claims is crucial to our survival as a species.
26 von 30 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
1.0 von 5 Sternen lots of bogus factoids adding up to a nutty solution to everything 31. Juli 2011
Von Mark - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
I got this book with high hopes after hearing the author interviewed on NPR--what a disappointment.
The author tries to create a grand theory of everything and how we could solve all of our problems if we could just talk to one another openly, stop blaming individuals for systemic problems, etc.
When I read the section about my area of expertise, Emergency Medicine, it became clear to me that the author had no idea what she was talking about and was just cherry picking a few facts here, a few there, etc. She painted a picture of Emergency Departments as a place where you would get misdiagnosed at high cost because the doctors have no idea what your past medical history is, and this is all because of our dysfunctional health care system. If only the docs in different fields of medicine would talk to one another, our health care problems would be solved! (Why didn't I think of that!)
One example of a solution for our many problems is to pipe down free solar energy from space into antennas on the roofs of houses. She gives the impression that this technology is feasible, if only the folks at the Dept of Energy would have talked openly to the folks at NASA. So closed-mindedness apparently stopped this research in its tracks.
Another example of a great solution is for people to have meetings at their houses similar to book clubs in which they could openly discuss issues in an intellectual way.
She has a lot of germs of ideas with limited data and somehow tries to jam them all together into a grand theory which really makes no sense.
27 von 32 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
2.0 von 5 Sternen A Disappointing (Missing?) Conclusion 27. Dezember 2010
Von Murray A. Sondergard - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
I bought this book right before Christmas, thinking that it was the kind of expansive thinking that one should engage in over the holidays. The first two-thirds is pretty interesting, with the discussion of the various supermemes and their implications. The conclusion, however, was very disappointing. We start out with the premise that things have become so complex that they exceed our "cognitive threshold" which leads us to make certain errors in our judgment and thinking with respect to determining how to respond to these complex issues. I thought that was a very good thesis, and was well-argued.

But instead of proposing some concrete solutions to dealing with this ever-increasing complexity, Costa informs us that the answers will come from neuroscience and the development of insight, which are expected to spring forth from somewhere if we only cultivate the right conditions for its production. I don't think that's a good enough answer, or that we can afford to just cross our arms and hope that someone will figure it all out, based on their creative insights. If it were that easy, it would have happened by now. The book has a "deus ex machina" quality to it - someone will come along to save us from ourselves, but we just don't know who or how. I would have enjoyed reading Costa's take on how to systematically address the supermemes she defines (in fairness, some of this is addressed in the discussion of the each of the supermemes). Perhaps her next book will provide the solutions that were missing here.
16 von 18 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
1.0 von 5 Sternen problems 17. Oktober 2011
Von Bos Vinamou - Veröffentlicht auf
There's a good spectrum of reviews here. I will just note a couple of points that speak to scholarship issues:

pp. 155-58 relates an undocumented "chimpanzee study" that appears to have been lifted--and embellished--from SuperFreakonomics (this 2005 Yale study was with Capuchin monkeys; the original has no mention of animal advocates).

The author also defends Cold Fusion and states that "the results of [Fleischmann and Pons] experiments have been confirmed by so many independent laboratories around the world" to the point of certainty (p.180). This is blatantly false.
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