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Todd I. Stark "Cellular Wetware plus Books" (Philadelphia, Pa USA)

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Living with Our Genes: The Groundbreaking Book About the Science of Personality, Behavior, and Genetic Destiny
Living with Our Genes: The Groundbreaking Book About the Science of Personality, Behavior, and Genetic Destiny
von Dean H. Hamer
  Taschenbuch
Preis: EUR 17,34

3.0 von 5 Sternen Behavioral genetics in isolation: useful but incomplete, 10. Juli 2000
This book contains a good introduction to the concepts underlying behavioral genetics research, and its contribution to culture, but I can't recommend it as a source of scientific understanding about human nature.
It does touch on research from other fields, but not in a consistent or thorough way, except to support its rhetorical purpose of popularizing the research explaining behavior in terms of genes.
One of the great success stories of the science of our age has been the growing conceptual integration that has let us edge slowly past the philosophical anachronism of "nature or nurture ?"
We no longer think that schizophrenics are people who had bad mothers, nor that there is a gene for nose-picking. We are learning to better define the categories we assign to people, and understand the context for our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, rather than applying simplistic labels like "creative," "moody," and even "intelligent."
We are coming up with better combinations of methods for studying the contributions of the genome and the contribution of particular kinds of events in developmental and life history in determining the way we respond to particular kinds of situations. The young but energetic science of evolutionary psychology for example attempts to find patterns in human thinking that may have been adapted from uses in our evolutionary past, and therefore link our genome to influences on behavior.
All of this is fascinating good science, even if it has a long way to go. On the other hand, the authors of this book appear to have no patience for things like the significance of context on behavior nor even the complexities of how different gene patterns combine to create multiple linked patterns in human behavior.
They continue to search for specific genes for complex behaviors, in spite of the history of behavioral genetics being so far a series of claims to have found the magic gene for this or that, and then failing to replicate the finding.
They continue to feed our hunger for simplistic explanations like a gene for women loving other women, or a gene for cigarette smoking, or for divorce or for overeating.
The failure of this book to do justice to the vast science doesn't make it useless. Admittedly it would be a daunting task to truly cover all of the research and thinking that pertains.
Certainly many people will find it satisfying to hear "at last" that their bad habits, obesity, social isolation, and unhappiness can be blamed on their genes. We all suspect this, in some way, and we are certainly at least partly right. But it is a hollow victory in the end. Gene patterns themselves are surely important, but not quite that important that we can abdicate responsibility for living up to committments, living a healthy lifestyle, and generally treating each other with humanity and morality.
For those who don't realize the legitimate advances made in recent decades through twin studies and other behavioral genetics techniques, this provides a readable introduction to that field. But the reader has to understand that behavioral genetics research, left in a vacuum, leads to very misleading conclusions when it meets our human need for simplified explanations about why some people rape or steal or murder under certain conditions, why we marry and divorce, and why we act in particular ways with people in various situations.
Good science dealing with complex human behaviors has to pull from a multitude of methods before solid conclusions can be drawn from it. When we pull from social sciences, behavioral sciences, evolutionary biology, anthropology, and genetics, among other fields, we get an emerging picture very different from the one presented in this book.
We find human beings responding to their environment according to rough "ranges" and extremely complicated rules that link patterns of culture and biology over evolutionary time and cannot exist solely within either our genes or our culture.
In spite of what we've learned, we still find ourselves entertained and engaged by popular literature that makes extreme claims about complex behaviors being in our genes, or in our free will, or in our "environment." We live largely within the stories of our own making. That's our genetic and evolutionary heritage, to be storytellers. We build the mythology of our time from engaging popular science writing like this, so we had better be careful to make that mythology one that empowers us rather than limits us unneccessarily.


As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as A Girl
As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as A Girl
von John Colapinto
  Gebundene Ausgabe

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3.0 von 5 Sternen Extraordinary and revealing, yet also missing context, 5. Juli 2000
This is one of the most revealing books ever written regarding the pure drama of human experience. That's why it has been so popular and prize-winning. But the cost of portraying great drama is often sacrificing other interpretations and historical elements.
Not only does this book chronicle the sad compelling story of a child born male, forced to live as a little girl, and then rising from the ashes as a man, but also the drama of medicine and human foibles in trying to deal with this human life.
However, it is missing the historical context of the story in terms of sex research and the people involved in it. That omission has an effect with two reprecussions: it makes the story much more dramatic because it makes John Money an unambiguous villian, and it misrepresents the doctor's state of mind at the time (in fact, few readers of this story will be inspired to care about the doctor at all because of his portrayed villiany).
Perhaps most revealing of all is our own intense reaction to the villian of the story, Dr. John Money. Carefully portrayed at every instance as a self-obsessed, evil, uncaring demon, Money becomes the "cause" of the child's worst problems as we read the story.
Clearly, the story is partly an expose of Money's attempts to cover up his failure to reassign a boy as a girl through extreme measures. There is no justifying cover-up of scientific data, and the crime surely seems worse when not only "data" but a human life is at stake. Yet if covering up or distorting data to support a theory we are deeply committed to is itself a crime, very few scientists or doctors would avoid prison. The man we love to hate in this book is not so different from the rest of us.
The literary problem is that the historical context of the story is missing, the all-important zeitgeist of sexuality research which existed at the time the story took place. The courage and sheer hardheadedness it took at that time to even admit to being a doctor studying sexuality and trying to address its problems was the background that led John Money to first propose his reassignment theory based on other kinds of cases now known to be very different, and then seek to support it at cost to his patients. Yes, he was completely wrong and he attempted to hide that fact from others, if not from himself as well.
But his story is far more interesting and important than just one an egotist or "pervert." It is also a story of a pioneering doctor and researcher of unusual courage in a wildly unpopular and even frequently demonized field of medicine, caught between the motive to help patients by advancing his theories in spite of overwhelming resistance to his work, and the need to be sensitive to the needs of each individual special child.
There were mistakes of several types made, especially by Money, but the appearance of villiany really seems to arise when Money's dedication and ego meets with a patient who seems to refuse to get better. Money's work on "lovemaps" is still widely considered among the best scientific models of psychosexual development, one of the few that even tries to explain how fetishes arise.
That Money was completly wrong about when and how our sense of sexual identity appears, and how stable it is, would have been an understandable theoretical mistake at the time. He was among the very few who even tried to theorize about it. However, having to act on "theory" and affect the life of a human being put him into the unenviable position of becoming either the unsung hero who helped children adjust to unfortunate circumstances, or the widely publicized villian who convinced parents to let their child be treated to bizarre and unsuccessful attempts to reassign their gender.
I certainly don't consider Money the hero in this story, but my view of him as villian is tempered by the compelling stories that weren't told, as well as the one that was.


The Private Life of the Brain: Emotions, Consciousness, and the Secret of the Self
The Private Life of the Brain: Emotions, Consciousness, and the Secret of the Self
von Susan Greenfield
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5.0 von 5 Sternen Elegant theory, excellent writing, 26. Juni 2000
This is excellent science writing. Many complex ideas are made understandable through clear analogies, while clearly pointing out the limitations of those analogies.
The author tries to describe how brain states relate to states of experience; by finding common ground between many extreme experiences. Her elegant (if not original) thesis is that patterns of connectivity between massive numbers of neurons determine our overall state of consciousness. States vary, according to this theory, by how large the interconnected clusters of neurons are, and how rapidly they turnover from one cluster to another. Neuroses and depression reflect a kind of stuckness in wide scale static networks of associations. States of intense sensation all involve "losing our mind" in the sense of dismantling these widespread networks and replacing them with many small networks that rapidly switch from one to another, keeping us trapped in the here and now.
We peer into the life of drug addicts, the fearful, the schizophrenic, and small children, to find some remarkable similarities in their experience. Then we see how the experience is so different for the depressed and those in pain. By comparing these extremes, and comparing the extremes to the way we normally feel, the authors' thesis begins to come to life.
This is a fascinating attempt at a framework for relating brain states and states of consciousness that has a lot of potential, but is clearly still a skeleton. It does, however, make a number of testable predictions discussed in the final chapters, which distinguish this book still further from the usual speculations about how the brain produces conscious experience.


Three Seductive Ideas
Three Seductive Ideas
von Jerome Kagan
  Taschenbuch
Preis: EUR 14,40

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5.0 von 5 Sternen Much needed perspective on behavioral and social sciences, 22. Juni 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Three Seductive Ideas (Taschenbuch)
After a hundred years of trying to understand human behavior in scientific terms through very different fields, we are left with a confusing array of largely unconnected theories. Science is about finding unifying principles among diverse but compatible ideas, but our temptation is to settle too quickly for the next simple theory that comes along and sounds plausible and compelling.
Kagan starts with the perspective that physical sciences have been around for three hundred years, but psychological science as such for only a century, placing psychological science at the historical place where physical sciences were in the 17th century. While the analogy is questionable, the point that psychological science is, for all its vitality and productivity, truly in its infancy, is made powerfully between the lines throughout this book.
Kagan informs this situation elegantly by not only pointing out our need for telling simplifying stories but also showing how some of the grandest simplifying stories, which theorists often take for granted: (1) the notion of essential individual traits, (2) the early influences on the formation of the mind, and (3) the asssumed root of motivation in pleasure seeking, underlie roadblocks in our understanding of ourselves.
The book points out that we apply ideas like intelligence, fear, and consciousness to a wide variety of different agents, situations, and classes of evidence, prematurely assuming that we have found essential qualities in these things. That many of these abstractions are not so broadly applicable in the same way is demonstrated by a select set of experimental and clinical observations that make the point clearly.
While "Three Seductive Ideas" is oddly disappointing for not providing its own grand simplifying theory for human behavior, it does make specific suggestions for addressing the current assumptions he believes are mistaken.
In response to our passion for abstraction and premature creation of psychological essences built on a house of sand, Kagan emphasizes more rigorously specifying the agent, context, and class of evidence when we talk about these qualities. The experience of fleeing from a predator is not the same thing as the experience of worrying about a mortgage payment, even though the same drug might mitigate some of the "fear" in both cases. The situation and the history are in fact important in understanding what is going on.
In response to our tendency to emphasize the role of very early experience, Kagan emphasizes how we are more influenced by what is discrepant than what we expect. This limits the degree to which the adult mind can be meaningfully influenced by very early experience.
In response to the widespread assumption that we are motivated to seek pleasure, a quality believed held in common with animals, Kagan illustrates how human beings are also motivated by a broad range of socially relevant and more uniquely human feelings, such as guilt, shame, and pride. We not only anticipate pleasure, but even more, we are motivated to avoid risk and thus act in ways that are socially rewarding and bring feelings of virtue. In a meaningful way, human beings are not just hedonistic but also moral animals.
No easy answers here, but a shift in emphasis that may inspire better psychological science and open up currently blocked paths to understanding human beings more deeply.


In Defense of Astrology: Astrology's Answers to Its Critics (A Llewellyn Quantum Book)
In Defense of Astrology: Astrology's Answers to Its Critics (A Llewellyn Quantum Book)
von Robert Parry
  Taschenbuch

2.0 von 5 Sternen Defending the indefensible through tai chi, 18. Mai 2000
This is a defense of astrology in the sense of giving people who enjoy astrology some tools for dealing with ridicule about their beliefs, not in the sense of addressing the objections of informed skeptics. Parry presents, superficially, the standard responses to the common paradoxes inherent in astrological theory. He debunks horoscopes and Sun Signs ("All Capricorns are ..."), while presenting the fuller view of what is involved in a serious modern practice of astrology. Parry leaves no doubt that there are people who consider astrology a legitimate form of counselling and forensic science. Unfortunately for his cause, he doesn't persuade the non-believers, if such a thing is possible. I bought this book because I enjoy scientific controversies, and was hoping to see the strongest possible rational defense of astrology. I was disappointed at the profoundly unscientific tone and content of the book, even in its best chapters. Also at its failure to adequately address even the simplest questions in any really detailed fashion. Parry's main content is a bag of tools for believers to use to defend their astrological practice from uninformed ridicule. He relies on his experience with Tai Chi to produce a reasonable and compassionate strategy for defusing hostility and intolerance to unpopular beliefs. Parry introduces one of the interesting areas for showing astrological influences, the "time twin." Astrological theory predicts that people born near each other at the same time should be very much alike and follow similar life courses. Parry suggests that this is true, but does not provide any analysis, relying instead on anecdote and things like people having the same number of children as their "time twin." Another disappointing lost opportunity to defend his craft is when he discusses why fraternal twins are so different from identical twins. He suggests that tiny differences in the moment of birth are a big influence on personality. This seems to mean that even a few minutes difference should give people a completely different natal chart, and this fact alone would make natal charts almost useless.The one person who managed to produce some semblance of evidence of planetary influence on human personality, Michel Gauquelin, is given surprisingly short shrift in this book. Possibly because Gauquelin believed that he found evidence for planetary influence ("The Mars Effect," but that he at the same time found evidence that astrology was useless, even beyond horoscopes and sun signs. His theory, which is not mentioned by Parry, was that planetary events somehow influence the time of birth in different ways for different people, rather than influencing their personality. This is how he explained the finding that the era of technological birthing and conception options creates statistical problems in his analysis. Even with the leap of faith that planets can influence us in some way, if the effect is negated by things such as induced labor, as Gauquelin suggested, then astrological theory becomes a quaint artifact rather than the ostensibly scientific counselling and forensic service that Parry tries to defend in this book. This book is most interesting in the insight it provides into how we tell stories to ourselves first, about our role in the universe, and then explain them rationally. It is in the level-headed, rational, but unsuccessful attempt to defend indefensible beliefs in books like this that we see a big clue to why we believe the things we believe.


The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size (Penguin Press Science)
The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size (Penguin Press Science)
von Tor Norretranders
  Taschenbuch
Preis: EUR 17,05

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5.0 von 5 Sternen One of the best explanations of conscious awareness so far, 3. Mai 2000
I'm a big fan of the recent books attempting to explain consciousness: Dennett, the Churchlands, Owen Flannagan, Damasio, Edleman, Crick, Calvin, and so on. "The User Illusion" is unique among this crowd in two ways. First, it builds from a broader base of support, in information theory and thermodynamics. Second, it does not focus on the brain, but on the experience of consciousness. This seems at first to be a weakness, but it turns out to be a strength because what the author attempts to explain is how the experience of consciousness relates to the reality around us.
In this book, a number of different lines of evidence converge on the profoundly scientific but uncomfortably counter-intuitive conclusion that conscious awareness is an extremely narrow bandwidth simulation used to help create a useful illusion of an "I" who sees all , knows all, and can explain all.
Yet the mental processes actually driving our behavior are (and need to be) far more vast and process a rich tapestry of information around us that conscious awareness cannot comprehend without highly structuring it first. So the old notion of an "unconscious mind" is not wrong because we have no "unconscious," but because our entire mind is unconscious, with a tiny but critical feature of being able to observe and explain itself, as if an outside observer.
This fits so well with the social psychological self-perception research, and recent research into the perception of pain and other sensations, that it has a striking ring of truth about it.
This does lead to some difficult conceptual problems. A chapter is devoted to the odd result discovered by Benjamin Libet (also featured prominently in Dennett's Consciousness Explained, but not explained nearly so clearly there). Libet observed that the brain seems to prepare for a planned action a half second before we realize we have chosen to perform the action. This dramatically makes the author's point that human experience proceeds from sensing to interpreting teh sensation within a simulation of reality, to experiencing. If we accept that the brain has to create its own simulation in order for us to experience something, there's no reason why the simulation can't bias our perception of when we chose to act. So we act out of a larger, richer self, but experience ourselves as acting from a narrowly defined self-aware self with no real privileged insight into the mental processes behind it.
This may well be the best discussion of conscious awareness yet presented in a generally readable form. But it does have some glaring weaknesses. The author takes great pains to build this model of conscious awareness from the ground up, but then applies it in a brief and haphazard manner to all sorts of things that deserve much more thought, such as religion, hypnosis, dreams, and so on. Even with the few weaknesses, the case made for the author's view of conscious awareness is both compelling and useful for further discussions, because it is built on a solid scientific and mathematical foundation, and the author manages to remain within areas that are already well studied. It isn't clear whether the author's model makes many testable predictions beyond those made by the underlying theories of perception, but it does provide a larger explanatory framework that is at once sophisticated and comprehensible.


THERAPY'S DELUSIONS: The MYTH of the UNCONSCIOUS and the EXPLOITATION of TODAY'S WALKING WORRIED
THERAPY'S DELUSIONS: The MYTH of the UNCONSCIOUS and the EXPLOITATION of TODAY'S WALKING WORRIED
von Ethan Watters
  Gebundene Ausgabe

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3.0 von 5 Sternen Tackling Freud while claiming to have tackled all of healing, 21. April 2000
This isa "debunking" style book that can be summarized very simply: (1) Freud was a fraud, (2) most talk therapies are based on Freud's ideas, (3) most talk therapies are a fraud.
The argument is fleshed out along the way by several main themes. There is a negative interpretataion of psychotherapy outcome research, showing that most therapies are effectively interchangeable (an old argument with some validity), and that most outcomes are equivalent to placebo (also having some validity, though perhaps not as far as the authors take it).
There are also several useful chapters explaining why clients (incorrectly) believe they are being helped, why therapists (incorrectly) believe they are helping, and why we continue to believe in things that don't really work. Those chapters are so good, in fact, that one wonders why the authors don't realize that some of their own beliefs could probably be explained away in similar terms, if that was all that was required to debunk a topic.
The authors' rhetorical purpose is pretty clear, to dismantle the immense tree of modern psychotherapies at its roots, leaving only a vague sort of professional counseling service involving a straightforward short-term comforting of the distressed, and perhaps some of the better validated forms of cognitive and behavioral therapy. The long term therapy whereby the client spends months or years seeking out childhood stories to explain their current difficulties is attacked thoroughly and without mercy.
Do the authors succeed in their task ?
Ofshe and Watters borrow heavily from Frederick Crews and other modern critics of Freud to make a persuasive case that Freud didn't know as much about his patient's minds, or even cure them as effectively as he claimed. I found their case compelling, also, (though not original) that psychoanalysis was never a scientific discipline in the sense that analysts once seemed to claim. So much for the Freudian roots of long term therapy.
However, the authors don't make the argument as convincingly that all of the many therapies are really so reliant on Freud specifically. Afterall, as the authors point out, so much of our culture has been influenced by the psychodynamic model that it is difficult to even identify the influences today. The aspects of Freud that the authors consider the biggest problem are (1) the unconscious mind that affects us while being hidden from view, (2) the way the unconscious mind is supposed to affect us through childhood trauma and (3) the privileged knowledge of therapists to uncover the unconscious mind. To the degree that therapies claim privileged access to the unconscious mind, Ofshe and Watters' critique probably applies to some extent. To the degree that therapies rely on uncovering hidden childhood trauma, likewise the critiques seem to apply.
The problem I had with this book's line of reasoning is the cases where therapies are not reliant in any straightforward way on psychoanalytic thinking. Some of these other forms of therapy have a growing body of empirical data behind them. The authors seem to dismiss all therapies in the same sweeping argument, even though the research they review clearly shows that some therapies are more effective than others for specific things. While pointing out the positive research results for various cognitive and behavioral therapies, the authors seem to dismiss the positive results with some therapies as unimportant because it isn't explained in a satisfactory way by current medical theories.
The weaknesses of the book are twofold. For one thing, the authors, whose background is social sciences rather than biology, hold an untenable and archaic view of human biology as solely chemistry and biology. Their assumptions are based on an older dualism, finding no relationship between thoughts and feelings and beliefs one hand and physiological processes on the other hand. In contrast, most modern biologists who specialize in human beings seem to find that information processing in humans is in fact a pertinent factor in how the brain and body regulates themselves. Thoughts, feelings, and beliefs are not irrelevant to health, they are simply not relevant in the bizarre way postulated by the Freudians. So the Freudian therapies may all be equally silly in some sense, as the authors suggest, but they apply their admonitions much more broadly than that, claiming that therapy never really influences more serious problems, which is demonstrably false, even within the data surveyed by Ofshe and Watters.
The second problem is that the authors' interpretation of psychotherapy research is consistently biased, to the point of rejecting data that most other independent reviewers consider either positive or ambiguous. The authors are so intent on showing that therapy can't work that they ignore a wealth of data showing that cognitive therapy, for example, and drugs can work equally well in a number of kinds of serious mental health problems, such as major depression. The authors posit a very simplistic model of mental illness, which (ironically) follows Freud's own model, separating serious illness (Freud's psychosis) from simple daily distress (Freud's neurosis). They claim that somatic treatments (drugs, surgery, shock) are more appropriate for the serious category, and that it doesn't matter what we do for the non-serious category. Not only is that kind of clear distinction not entirely supportable, but the overlap of treatments effective with both categories shows that the _treatments_ do not fall into such cleanly distinct categories either.
Giving the effective drugs, surgery, and shock treatments their due, we shouldn't limited by Ofshe and Watters' failure to consider the information processing dimension of human self-regulation. But I think we can certainly heed their admonitions about the fallacies we accept too easily about ourselves. They make a number of good points about how people form beliefs about their own problems that are not only not necessarily accurate but also may not have much to do with effective treatment.
However they dismiss the clear evidence that "simply" how we interpret our situation is actually a factor in mental health. They make the reasonable point that this interpretation can also go astray in a number of ways, without every being particularly therapeutic or accurate, and that is the strength of this book.


The Dark Side Of Man: Tracing The Origins Of Violence (Helix Books)
The Dark Side Of Man: Tracing The Origins Of Violence (Helix Books)
von Michael P. Ghiglieri
  Gebundene Ausgabe

4.0 von 5 Sternen Worthwhile in spite of being unbalanced, 7. April 2000
Overall, I think this book is very worthwhile because it does help put human violence into some perspective in nature. "Dark Side" features a reasonably convincing argument that some fundamental kinds of violence persist because they served survival needs in our evolutionary past. That is, violence toward each other is not something that humans invented or which we lapse into solely because we weren't spanked enough as children. Orangutans commit rape, male porpoises gang up on females to block her escape and inseminate her, chimps conduct territorial raids and even wage war. Reading this book, you get the feeling that you can make a little more sense out of the latest headlines about "senseless" violence.
The imbalance of this view comes in because the theme of the book focuses on the roots of violent behavior, and ignores both the equally compelling evidence for altruistic behavior in nature and the evidence of human capacity to regulate their own behavior in various ways, rather than responding in a stereotyped way to impulses.
Another weakness is that the book relates animal and human violence in an overly simplistic way at times, such as equating Orangutan rape with human rape. The motives, opportunities, and circumstances of human violence appear far more varied than among animals in these kinds of crimes. It's easy to believe that the thinking and feeling patterns that lead to violent behavior are much more elaborate and have many more variables than in the animals examined by the author. The comparison of the violent acts of the different species can only go so far.
People who really like this may also enjoy the similar but more comprehensive and more scholarly (i.e. more difficult to read) "Demonic Males:Apes and the Origins of Human Violence" by Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson.


Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny
Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny
von Robert Wright
  Gebundene Ausgabe

5.0 von 5 Sternen Grand in scope and entertaining in details, 5. April 2000
This is a grand tour through history, starting with the evolution of life and ending with the Internet and global economy. The point of this tour is that history is not a random series of accidents. It has a direction. The direction is toward increasing complexity and increasing interdependence between things, both living and non-living.
If the idea that history is not random seems pretty commonsensical, I feel that way too. Afterall, few would deny that human beings are more complex than bacteria, that global media and the Internet make us more sensitive to what is going on with other people than ever before, or that nations are more economically and politically linked to each other now than they were during previous centuries. The thing that Wright does, in contrast to prevailing modern philosophy in a number of fields, is to show this progression as an _inevitable_march_ from things that sometimes bump into each other to things that interact in increasingly sophisticated and more complex ways.
The organizing principle behind this grand tour of evolutionary and cultural history is the "non-zero sum game," a concept taken from the mathematical theory of games. The idea is that interactions between entities sometimes involve competing for a limited resource, and sometimes involve cooperating for mutual gains. Shades of the "win-win" philosophy shoved down our throats by management consulting authors the last decade. Except that Wright sees legitimate mutual gains all over the place, from the primordial soup to computer networking, and a tendency for things that take advantage of non-zero sum games to be selected in preference to others.
Wright does an interesting and erudite job of examining history to look for evidence of progression and mutual gains. He also competently and accessibly traces the history of the concept of historical inevitability, both its supporters and its detractors. He does an admirable job of finding and addressing anomalies to his theory, such as the persistence of war and other zero sum (and worse) games. What he doesn't do is to provide much in the way of testable propositions, but perhaps that's asking too much of a theme of such sweeping scope that it could probably be better described as a framework than a theory. I'd compare this to Steven Pinker's similarly ambitious attempt to merge cognitive science with evolutionary theory in his "How the Mind Works," only the goal in Non Zero is even more difficult. All the more reason to congratulate Wright for the attempt, and to appreciate that he managed to accomplish as much as he has in such an effective way.
This book is very well written and kept my attention, even for topics in history that I normally would skip, like obscure periods in medieval serfdom. I kept wondering how he was going to explain all of the little exceptions that crossed my mind when he presented his theme. How could the Dark Ages be evidence of increasing cultural progression, for example ? He managed to anticipate nearly every one of my questions eventually.
I have a couple of nit-picks with the printing of the hardcover version of this book by Pantheon. First, the cover of the hardback edition is done in a strange sort of staggered style, with some of the letters on the jacket and some on the book itself. Good books take heavy abuse in my home, and once the jacket was history, I was left with a book cryptically entitled "O Z R Logic Human O E T W I H." Thus rendering it useless as the nice coffee table prop it could have been. Unless I crayoned in the missing letters. Ok, that's a pretty silly thing to complain about.
Slightly less petty, I think, the book also uses a very annoying form of footnoting, little crosses for every note. As if they were telling the reader that there was a graveyard of ideas that never made it to the main text. I found it so oppressive to track down and exhume all of these instances of crosses and try to figure out which note went at which point that I simply stopped trying. Wright's efforts at giving the book a scholarly tone were defeated by this unfortunate choice of formatting.
I'd like to mention one of the big criticisms that I've seen levelled at this book. The key concepts to Wright's view of history is that increasing interaction and interdependence render certain historical trends both <inevitable> and <progressive>. As the critics point out, and so does Wright, these general notions are not new things to claim. Philosophers and scientists have often devoted a lot of effort to showing that human societies do not "evolve," that modern societies are not "more evolved" forms of tribal societies, that "social Darwinism" is nothing more than a thinly veiled excuse to justify the rich getting richer and the poor being left out. The logic goes that the animal that gets eaten is a victim of its own adaptive unworthiness, and so the poor schlep that gets trodden on by his peers is simply exercising his Darwinian option to be selected out of existence to purify the gene pool toward something greater. Good grief. "Social Darwinism" is hardly noble thinking or even remotely presentable as scientific. But that's _not_ what Wright is doing, and those who accuse Wright of such thinking must be reading this book very selectively. It would be unfair to refuse this tour on that basis. He rightly points out that such interpretations of evolution are at the very least generally guilty of the naturalistic fallacy (confusing a description of nature with what "should" be).
All in all, a very entertaining and educational romp through natural and human history, and an interesting historical "theory of everything," that could have been (has been, and will be) done much worse by others.


A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion
A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion
von Randy Thornhill
  Gebundene Ausgabe

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2.0 von 5 Sternen More valuable as a touchstone than a treatise, 4. April 2000
This book presents (among other things) a hypothesis that forced sex is an evolutionary adaptation, a somehow-hereditary strategy for reproducing under desperate circumstances. An interesting way to look at it, with some potential for scientific insight. But given that we're talking about a very real and all-too-common daily inhumanity, the implications of the insect research hardly describe the scope, the quantity, or even the central characteristics of this horrific behavior in human beings in any satisfactory way, either theoretically or practically. Consequently, the suggestions made by the authors at addressing the problem of rape, being based on their hypothesis seem hopelessly naive.
In this book, we seem to go from the position commonly attributed to feminist thinkers, that "rape is about men hating and wanting to control women," to that supposedly espoused by those friendly to evolutionary psychology, that "rape is a reproductive strategy." We're far from being able to say that human motivation and capacity for rape is entirely defined by either one of those views.
The strength of this book is that the authors had the cahones to say the things they do, especially to oppose the common but extreme view that rape is nothing more than a calculated power play intended to humiliate and socially dominate women. This should spark some useful discussions and interest as well as controversy.
The weaknessses of the book are that not only does it ignore virtually the entire body of research on human behavior related to crime and sexual coercion, but it does not even adequately represent current evolutionary thinking about complex behaviors. It covers far too narrow a range of scientific data to be considered representative of scientific thought in evolutionary biology.


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