Customer Review

4.0 out of 5 stars Not many people are still paying attention, 16 May 2012
This review is from: The Watchman's Rattle: Thinking our Way out of Extinction (Paperback)
In this "convergence of history, biology, neuroscience, meme theory, and the study of complexity", (popular science/economics/environment) business guru and "sociobiologist" Costa addresses the manifold problems that beset advanced civilizations (typically the USA) that culminate in their demise. Endorsed by Richard Branson and Edward O. Wilson, Costa's opening theme is that past civilizations, the Mayans, Khmers and Romans reached a level of complexity or "cognitive threshold" that taxed their abilities such that they collapsed under an inability to cope with threats and pressures. Society is now at this threshold limiting the potential for rationality and objectivity, as granted by evolutionary forces and problems proliferate of which we are largely in retreat. Here, Costa suggests the importance of insight (as expanded in The decisive moment by J. Lehrer) beyond left and right-brained thinking and novel neuroscience approaches that may forestall collapse. She suggests that we are better placed to survive in comparison to previous, less informed societies.

Negative, hide bound beliefs that hinder solutions are described as "supermemes" of which five are characterized in as many chapters. Irrational opposition: we know what we don't like but cannot articulate positive alternatives; small wonder that two horse political races get negative as they cannot afford explicit policies that would be shot down. The personalization of blame: the ramifications of passing the buck. Counterfeit correlation: an inability to establish facts and causal relations. Silo thinking: the over compartmentalization of function and lack of communication between departments. Extreme economics: when money becomes God. Each chapter is broken up under a set of catchy titles with numerous personal and more popular examples. E.g., Under Extreme economics Costa highlights the dangers of universities turning into limbs of commerce rather than centres of knowledge to the detriment of balanced research and fair journalism.

The remaining third of the book suggests a plethora of solutions such as truly objective scientific advice that informs politics, implementing blue sky thinking, venture capitalist approaches, brain training routines and other business, social and personal regimens (e.g., microfinance in Bangladesh) that should contribute to a better world.

Costa tends to ignore the contributions of history except since Darwinism. Insight is certainly not primarily a modern idea. Overemphasis on evolution and "meme theory" do not bolster her theses. There are some glaring assumptions and questionable sentences: "the overfishing of anchovies ... resulted in yields dropping in just one year from 10.2 metric tons to 4 metric tons." This is however, a personal, comprehensive, optimistic and exhaustive contribution from a West Coast entrepreneur with a vast array of anecdotes and reference material in an engaging format. Her ideas, examples and advice are resounding and would be ignored at our peril.
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