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Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny (Englisch) Gebundene Ausgabe – 4. Januar 2000

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Nonzero, from New Republic writer Robert Wright, is a difficult and important book--well worth reading--addressing the controversial question of purpose in evolution. Using language suggesting that natural selection is a designer's tool, Wright inevitably draws the conclusion that evolution is goal-oriented (or at least moves toward inevitable ends independently of environmental or contingent variables).

The underlying reason that non-zero-sum games wind up being played well is the same in biological evolution as in cultural evolution. Whether you are a bunch of genes or a bunch of memes, if you're all in the same boat you'll tend to perish unless you are conducive to productive coordination.... Genetic evolution thus tends to create smoothly integrated organisms, and cultural evolution tends to create smoothly integrated groups of organisms.

Admittedly, it's as hard to think clearly about natural selection as it is to think about God, but that makes it just as important to acknowledge our biases and try to exclude them from our conclusions. It is this that makes Nonzero potentially unsatisfying to the scientifically literate. Time after time we've seen thinkers try to find in biological evolution a "drive toward complexity" that might explain all sorts of other phenomena from economics to spirituality. Some authors, like Teilhard de Chardin, have much to offer the careful reader who takes pains to read metaphorically. Others--legions of cranks--provide nothing but opaque diatribes culminating in often-bizarre assertions proven to nobody but the author. Wright is much closer to de Chardin along this axis; his anthropological scholarship is particularly noteworthy, and his grasp of world history is excellent. Unfortunately, he has the advocate's willingness to blind himself to disagreeable facts and to muddle over concepts whose clarity would be poisonous to his positions: try to pin him down on what he means by complexity, for example. Still, his thesis that human cultures are historically striving for cooperative, nonzero-sum situations is heartening and compelling; even though it's not supported by biology, it's not knocked down, either. If the reader can work around the undefined assumptions, Wright's charm and obvious interest in planetary survival make Nonzero a worthy read. If the first chapter's title--"The Ladder of Cultural Evolution"--makes you cringe, the last one--"You Call This a God?"--will make you smile. --Rob Lightner

Pressestimmen

Advance Praise for Nonzero

"I recommend Nonzero to any and all readers as a marvelous summary and interpretation of what is now known and surmised about biological and human history on our planet. For an author so well informed scientifically, perhaps the book's most unusual feature is the fact that Wright does not flinch from closing with a chatty, informal yet incisive argument about cosmic meaning and purpose behind the story he unfolds. . . . I greatly admire the book. [Wright] knows so much and has thought so clearly; and allows his imagination to range so freely!"
-- William H. McNeill, professor emeritus of history, University of Chicago, and author of The Rise of the West

"This is the book to read to start off the millennium. Leaping from mountaintop to mountaintop, this integrative and inspiring volume is brimming with hope for a positive human future. Religions are made of such stuff."
-- Martin Seligman, professor of psychology, University of Pennsylvania, and author of Learned Optimism

"Wright's chapters on the evolution of biological complexity and intelligence -- in addition to being beautifully written and scientifically sound -- are a welcome corrective to current trendy views that understate natural selection's creative power. There is, indeed, as Darwin said, a grandeur in this view of life."  
-- James Gould, professor of biology, Princeton University, and author of Biological Science


Praise for The Moral Animal

"A fiercely intelligent, beautifully written, and engrossingly original book. Wright writes with a consistent, irreverent wit that does not hide a heartfelt seriousness of purpose."
-- New York Times Book Review

"This clever and stimulating book is destined to become a classic. . . . Like Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species and Richard Dawkins's The Selfish Gene, it could well change the way people think and feel about their lives -- perhaps even how they behave. . . . An intellectual entertainment argued with wit and style."
-- The Economist

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Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
Back in 1794 the Enlightenment philosphe Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet wrote his Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind--the boldest of the eighteenth-century declarations that humanity had and was destined to see Progress with a capital P. Condorcet was a powerful and convincing advocate--Malthus wrote his Essay on Population explicitly against Condorcet. But that was the high water mark of belief in Progress. By and large the past two centuries have seen the reaction, and confidence in human Progress--technological, political, humanistic, and moral--fell out of intellectual favor.
Now comes Robert Wright, previously author of Three Scientists and Their Gods and The Moral Animal, with an excellent book accompanied by an enthusiastic blurb by William McNeill. Wright's purpose to set out the gospel of progress anew, this time using the language of game theory as his principal mode of rhetoric. At its most basic level Wright's point is that interactions are positive-sum: there are gains from cooperation. Thus human cultural evolution has an arrow and a direction: toward greater complexity, toward higher civilization.
The direction arises at two levels. First, individual humans seek out things that increase their own powers and capabilities. Cooperation tends to do this, so people find ways to cooperate. But the most important form of cooperation is one that is almost impossible to stop: the simple sharing of knowledge. Two heads are better than one. The denser the population (and the better the means of communication) the more ideas will be generated, the larger the number of ideas that turn out to be useful, and the faster will be progress.
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Robert Wright, der Autor von NONZERO, ist Evolutionsbiologe und ein begnadeter Schreiber - humorvoll, verständlich, informativ und absolut überraschend. Seine (wohl begründete) These:
Die Evolution von der ersten Bakterie zum Menschen und die Entwicklung des Menschen vom Steinewerfer zum Erfinder der Atombombe ist tatsächlich ein Fortschritt - zu mehr Frieden und Zusammenarbeit auf der Erde. Kurz gesagt: Die Evolution ist zielgerichtet (Fachwort: teleologisch). Durch Zufall und Irrtum, durch eine "arms race" zwischen immer intelligenter agierenden Lebewesen führte sie zum Menschen und den zur globalen Zusammenarbeit.
Das "tool" der Evolution zur Errechung dieses Zwecks? Die Erfindung des "reziproken Altruismus" und damit die immer stärker werdenden Neigung zu "Nonzero-Games". Daher der Titel, denn die Spieltheorie sagt: Bei Zero-Games wie Fussball oder Schach MUSS einer verlieren. Bei Nonzero-Games KÖNNEN beide verlieren, aber oft genug gewinnen sie. Zum Beispiel beim Handel. Durch gegenseitige Freundlichkeit, gegenseitiges Vertrauen, gegenseitige Zuverlässigkeit, Dann wird aus Nonzero sogar eine Win/Win-Situation. Und die stärkt Freundlicheit, Vertrauen und Zuverlässigkeit weiter.
Ein typisches Beispiel für den Fortschritt? Zwischen den Dörfchen der frühen Clanfamilien gabs ständig Krieg. Nicht weil unsere Ahnen so angriffslustig waren, sondern weil die Männer im Krieg "Status"gewannen, durch reiche Beute mehr Frauen anzogen und mehr Kinder zeugen (und ernähren) konnten. Durch die immer stärkere Vernetzung der Welt bis heute wird Krieg vermieden. Er findet statt, aber nur noch in begrenzten Gebieten. Die Abstände zwischen den Kriegsschauplätzen sind immens gewachsen.
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Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
Nonzero starts off great. The history of humankind is reviewed from the perspective that human culture advances as technology advances by people instituting cultural changes to increase nonzero sum gains (gains accrued by the facilitation of trade). This whole analysis is exciting and thought provoking, which explains why so many people have been stimulated to write reviews of this book. The problem comes when the author (Robert Wright) tries to predict the future and to give his advice on how to "save the world". At this point the book gets very hard to stomach. He pictures a world progressively dominated by a single world (supranational) governance, with "culture lag" (technology changing too fast for society to adapt) being a major problem. Here's his tip on how to "save the world" (p. 233):
"The idea isn't to create a Bureau of Global Slowdown at the United Nations. The idea is simply to tolerate various supranational efforts that are starting to take shape and that, as they solidify, will naturally have a sedative effect. As first-world and third-world workers unite to raise third-world wages (and thus keep first-world wages from free falling), industrialists will complain that this dulls the market's edge, slowing progress. Yes, it does-but that's okay. As environmentalists unite to save rain forests, or tax fossil fuels, the same complaint will be heard-and the same answer will apply. In the age of the superempowered angry man, and the quite disgruntled man, the slowing down of deeply unsettling change is a benefit, not just a cost because anger and disgruntlement are world-class problems."
I'll let this "tip" speak for itself.
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