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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence » User review

Scientifically sound speculation on the human mind

  • Apr 27, 2001
This is a book that should be read by all psychologists, psychiatrists, explorers of Artificial Intelligence or basically just anyone with an interest in what human intelligence is. If there is one thing that research in AI has taught us, it is that we really don't understand what intelligence is. The scientific credentials of Carl Sagan are impeccable, as he is one of the premier astronomers of this century. However, in this book he engages in speculation about the organization and structure of the human brain. In doing so, he also demonstrates that he himself is possessor of a brain of the first magnitude.
The title is derived from his thesis that the innate mammalian fear of reptiles is a genetic endowment left over from a titanic battle. Independent of the reasons, mammals emerged victorious, at least temporarily, in the evolutionary struggle for dominance. The remnants of that struggle live on in our myths and subconscious fears. Sagan's recounting and descriptions of those fears have major ramifications for the development of artificial intelligence. Our brains are constructed of several sections, all of which are overlays of a core that could rightly be considered reptilian. It would appear from this that the construction of an artificial intelligence should begin with a simple core followed by the continued construction of advanced overlays.
One of Sagan's major fields of effort was exobiology, the informed speculation about life and intelligence in places other than Earth. At this time, it is still a theoretical field, but that does not mean that it is not based on hard science. The speculations that he engages in in this book are also based on hard science, and an honest reading will force you to reconsider the construction of the human brain. Our primitive pieces occasionally rise to dominance, perhaps showing us what those mighty reptiles were really like.
Sagan is no longer with us, and his presence is sorely missed. However, he has left one of the most compelling legacies that will continue to enhance the human perspective for a long time. This book is a major contribution to that legacy and it is a book that everyone should read.

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review by . February 07, 2006
The topic of evolution is one of the more controversial subjects in science, even ignoring creationism, intelligent design and other religious-leaning dogmas. The branches of the tree of life, especially that branch where humans appear, are still in dispute. In this book, Dr. Sagan takes the reader along this tree from its very root and slowly upwards to humans. By taking this path, he can show how various characteristics that evolved aeons ago are still with us; that in some sense we and every …
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Charles Ashbacher ()
Ranked #76
Charlie Ashbacher is a compulsive reader and writer about many subjects. His prime areas of expertise are in mathematics and computers where he has taught every course in the mathematics and computer … more
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About this book


Dr. Carl Sagan takes us on a great reading adventure, offering his vivid and startling insight into the brain of man and beast, the origin of human intelligence, the function of our most haunting legends--and their amazing links to recent discoveries.
"A history of the human brain from the big bang, fifteen billion years ago, to the day before yesterday...It's a delight."
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ISBN-10: 0345346297
ISBN-13: 978-0345346292
Author: Carl Sagan
Genre: Outdoors & Nature, Science
Publisher: Ballantine Books
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