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Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny

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    Available in PDF - DJVU Format | Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny.pdf | Language: ENGLISH
    Robert Wright(Author)

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At the beginning of Nonzero, Robert Wright sets out to "define the arrow of the history of life, from the primordial soup to the World Wide Web." Twenty-two chapters later, after a sweeping and vivid narrative of the human past, he has succeeded — and has mounted a powerful challenge to the conventional view that evolution and human history are aimless.

Ingeniously employing game theory — the logic of "zero-sum" and "non-zero-sum" games — Wright isolates the impetus behind life's basic direction: the impetus that, via biological evolution, created complex, intelligent animals and then, via cultural evolution, pushed the human species toward deeper and vaster social complexity. In this view, the coming of today's interdependent global society was "in the cards" — not quite inevitable, perhaps, but, as Wright puts it, "so probable as to inspire wonder." So probable, indeed, as to invite speculation about higher purpose, especially in light of "the phase of history that seems to lie immediately ahead: a social, political, and even moral culmination of sorts."

In a work of vast erudition and pungent wit, Wright takes on some of the past century's most prominent thinkers, including Isaiah Berlin, Karl Popper, Stephen Jay Gould, and Richard Dawkins. He finds evidence for his position in unexpected corners, from native American hunter-gatherer societies and Polynesian chiefdoms to medieval Islamic commerce and precocious Chinese technology; from conflicts of interest among a cell's genes to discord at the World Trade Organization.

Wright argues that a coolly scientific appraisal of humanity's three-billion-year past can give new spiritual meaning to the present and even offer political guidance for the future. Nonzero will change the way people think about the human prospect.

One of the main layman's objections to the supposedly random process of evolution is that for all its inherent pointlessness, evolution seems to have a goal, a narrative, a conscious direction. And that direction is towards complexity. Germs become animals. Apes become humans. Blood-caked Aztec savages become liberal-minded East Coast essayists. Now Robert Wright, author of the much-praised The Moral Animal, has come along with a contentious new book to tell us that the layman has been on to something all along. Evolution does have a goal.

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Book details

  • PDF | 435 pages
  • Robert Wright(Author)
  • Pantheon Books; 1 edition (Feb. 2000)
  • English
  • 3
  • Science & Nature

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Review Text

  • By R. Sands on 12 July 2007

    I see this book hasn't been reviewed on Amazon for more than 5 years, so the comments need an update. I recommend anyone browsing here to give the book a try. I don't agree with previous reviewers that the ideas in this book are superficial: Rather they are so fundamental to the way the world works that the examples appear self evident when the author raises them. Why not decide for yourself? It's very readable, whether or not you finde it also thought provoking.

  • By Guest on 19 October 2009

    I'd lent my first copy out a few years ago, and am glad to have reordered it - really broad-ranging, thought-provoking and interesting. Covers a lot of ground without being superficial, and a really valuable angle to take.This book may not appeal to the cynical, but I thought it was unusual and enriching.

  • By A. L. Miller on 31 August 2013

    I bought this book after seeing a positive review elsewhere (I am a mathematician with a long-term interest in game theory and operations research) and was extremely disappointed with it. The premise is fine but could easily be stated and supported in a 2-3 page paper. As a full-length book, however, it does not work. It is endlessly repetitive with very little variation and the author's somewhat vague style exacerbates this. After the first chapter I took it down the charity shop.

  • By Rod Matthews on 15 April 2013

    Nonzero - The Logic of Human DestinyBy Robert WrightRobert Wright is an American journalist, scholar, and prize-winning author. In his landmark book `Nonzero - The Logic of Human Destiny'(1) he opens with the following quote from Charles Darwin:"As man advances in civilisation, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races."(2)If we asked archeologists to present us with a list of archeological laws or truths, one of them would undoubtedly be that as we rise through soil samples two things happen:1. We approach the artefacts of the present day2. Artefacts grow in complexityThese two facts together form the basis of Robert Wright's argument that the human race does indeed have a destiny and that destiny is greater complexity.Increasing Complexity in Human CivilisationIn the first half of his book he takes us on a tour of the history of human civilisation from savages through tribes and chiefdom's to city states and nations. In doing so it becomes evident that human civilisation is in the process of creating larger and larger social brains. The culmination of which, through the growth of transport and communications technology, is perhaps happening in our lifetimes - the development of one planetary brain!!!Increasing Complexity in Organic LifeIn the second half of the book, Wright turns our attention to how the same pattern of a movement towards greater complexity, is also the case in organic life. Single cells work together by specialising in certain tasks to form more complex life forms. The single cell benefits from the increase in complexity and flourishes. This process continues until we end up with the bewilderingly complex organic life forms we see today. Just watch any program with Sir David Attenborough in it to marvel at how many niches in the environment have been exploited in some astonishing way. Game Theory as the DriverWright believes that the driving force for all this is Game Theory and the seemingly limitless number of nonzero sum games that cam be played over billions of years. What is a nonzero sum game? Well an example of a zero sum game is tennis. When one person wins the other loses. So crudely put, the winner gains 1 and the loser loses 1. Sum total = 0.An example of a nonzero sum game is as follows: Imagine that you and I live in two different hunter gatherer tribes around 50,000 to 100,000 years ago. Let's also suggest that my tribe lives on the coast and your tribe lives in the hills. We would both be involved in activities that revolve around fishing, trapping, preparing food, repairing tools and turning by-products into useful items; for example: turning fur pelts into clothing.Because my tribe lives near the coast we have developed an advanced method of catching fish and often have a surplus of fish. Our traps, however, aren't as fruitful. As a result, red meat is a delicacy and we are poorly clothed.Meanwhile, up in the hills, your tribe have evolved trap technology. As a result you have a surplus of red meat and your wardrobe of clothes is astonishing. The challenge for your tribe is to vary the diet with the limited number of fish you can find and the time it takes to catch them.When we meet, we could either exchange fish for red meat and fur pelts or we could exchange fishing technology for trapping technology. Either way, through the exchange we are both better off and both tribes experience an increase in the quality of their lives through a varied diet and my tribe might become almost a well dressed as your tribe.This is a nonzero sum.Increasing Opportunities to Play Nonzero GamesIf we accept that nonzero games lead to a better quality of living through greater complexity (1850's London would have been a great place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there) then the question organisations and individuals would do well to ask themselves is how can I maximise my opportunities to play nonzero games?Here are some suggestions:* Take an honest interest in others for example: Friends, customers, team members etc.* When listening to someone talk about a problem or challenge they are facing, ask yourself "How can I help them over and above just giving advice?"* Say `Yes' more often - For a classic illustration on this read "Yes Man" by Danny Wallace. (3)Bibliography:(1) Wright, Robert; 2000 "Non Zero - The Logic of Human Destiny" Pantheon Books, New York(2) Darwin, Charles; 1871 "The Descent of Man" Published by John Murray, United Kingdom.(3) Wallace, Danny; 2005 "Yes Man", Simon Spotlight Entertainment, New York - London - Toronto - Sydney.


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