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The Watchman's Rattle: A New Way to Understand Complexity, Collapse, and Correction

3.74 of 5 stars 3.74  ·  rating details  ·  225 ratings  ·  63 reviews
Why can't we solve our problems anymore? Why do threats such as the Gulf oil spill, worldwide recession, terrorism, and global warming suddenly seem unstoppable? Are there limits to the kinds of problems humans can solve?

Rebecca Costa confronts--and offers a solution to--these questions in her highly anticipated and game-changing book, The Watchman's Rattle.

Costa pulls hea
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published October 12th 2010 by Vanguard Press (first published October 5th 2010)
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Rebecca Costa is a sociobiologist, and she clearly follows in the footsteps of the founder of the field, Edward O. Wilson, who wrote the forward to this book. In the first chapter, Costa mentions a wonderful quote by Wilson,
"The real problem of humanity is the following: We have paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions, and god-like technology."

Costa advances a hypothesis for the reason that civilizations fail; as a society grows, life and the structure of the society grows in complexity. Hu
Paul Guthrie
Well, not actually "read" in it's entirety...I made it to page 45 before I threw it against the wall. This is not a serious book, it is an infomercial. Lots of emotionally freighted statements with little to back them up, and Ms. Costa frankly does not know whereof she writes in a number of instances. I'm not even sure she understands how evolution works; has she read "The Beak of the Finch?"

Let's take the example that made me throw the book. She asserts that US energy policy is aimed at increas
I had high hopes for Costa's book and, although those hopes were disappointed, I think the book is worth reading. She proposes that the collapses of civilizations are due to the complexity of the problems facing peoples who lack the information and problem-solving skills necessary to overcome them. She attributes the disparity between the complexity of our problems and our abilities to solve them to the slow pace of biological evolution, which cannot keep pace with the speed of cultural change. ...more
Rebecca Costa offers a plethora of new insights regarding the gridlock in our culture and the role that evolution plays in our brains' inability to understand the complexity of modern society. She offers a number of solutions and, better yet, ways that we can improve our brains for the purpose of arriving at new solutions to pressing problems. If you are interested in the survival of our species, this is the book for you!
John Vibber
Costa’s range of knowledge is impressive; her thesis is provocative, but this is a book to argue with. She claims societies fail due to self-limiting patterns of thought provoked by complexity. Human evolution does not prepare us for the avalanche of change racing around us and we will need to revolutionize how we think in order to survive.

Costa supports her claims with information about failed civilizations. Her evidence is sparse and speculative, but worthy of consideration. For me, “The Ratio
Joan Colby
While the writing is rather dry and academic, Costa’s ideas, particularly the relationship of facts to beliefs, how elementary processes control our brains which evolve more slowly than current technology and how that impacts numerous socioeconomic and biological issues, are interesting. Of particular note is the chapter on extreme economics. Her propositions are not new nor unique, yet they confirm the difficulties of humans being able to solve long-range problems.
Patty Apostolides
Every time I opened the book, I learned something new. The author takes complex issues and simplifies them for the layman, which shows how deep her understanding is. We are living in a complex world with complex problems, and the author shows how we are connected to our past and how they solved their problems. The civilizations that could not solve their problems became extinct.
Wow! All sorts of new ways to think about civilization, humanity, and the problems we face. Now if we could just do it!
Carter Jefferson
Most important book I've read in years. It might help solve our current apparently insoluble problems.
Ankit Hawk
When Random house honored me with the list of books that I wish to review, I chose “The Watchman Rattle” as one of them. The sub-title “Thinking our way out of Extinction” attracted my attention. Isn’t it fact that most of us dwell in the belief that we are far from extinction, and thinking that it might actually happen irritates and frustrates us? Well, few eye openers, it happened to Mayan’s, so does Roman Civilization and many before and after them, and where are they now?
But I understand why
It's a MUST book to read, just to understand where we are standing.
Chris Snook
Literally one of the most important books of our modern time!
Matt Wrabley
Overall, this book is a great and easy read. I recommend it to everyone. To paraphrase Rebecca Costa, she tackled an enormous subject for her first book. I found her root cause analysis of the cognitive threshold and complexity issue to be very compelling. Balancing the depth of technical information with the breadth of the topic is tricky when writing for a general audience. Mostly she accomplishes this, however, I was a little disappointed in the brevity of the concluding recommendations; perh ...more
I thought this was a just fine book-- I've been doing a lot of end of semester grading, and if I were forced to give a grade to this, I'd give it a C.

Costa has an interesting thesis-- that the complexity of our civilization has outstripped out evolutionary ability to think smartly about that complexity. We're facing problems, she thinks, that are too complex for us to (mostly) find solutions to. It's a provocative thesis, and one that I think the book fitfully does a good job of developing, thou
Geri Spieler
Costa confronts us with a barrage of “Counterfeit Correlations.” These concepts alone are enough to cause the reader acute abstract anxiety. Costa’s “Counterfeit Correlations” or the “Third Supermeme” is a concept that has “the appearance of being firmly rooted in logic and empirical proof.” However, she explains that these concepts are misleading as a form of logic. These conclusions are false.

Counterfeit Correlations occur because we accept them as a substitute for truth when in fact they are
The overarching thesis of this ambitious book is that when human problems reach a certain high degree of complexity, we hit a cognitive threshold, beyond which is a closed door. Most people turn from that door and react to the problem by embracing irrational beliefs, which she refers to as Supermemes. Once the Supermeme takes hold, it becomes difficult for the society to believe otherwise and we continue to believe in it even if there is evidence to the contrary. We become susceptible to unprove ...more
Linda Tosetti
Professional wrestling can be exciting, even intriguing at times (especially after a few beers); such notwithstanding, I actually prefer the fine art of ikebana. Analogue: submission versus freedom; mindlessness versus mindfulness; lobotomizing versus honing. One teases; the other teases out.

The aforementioned set of comparisons applies, respectively, to literary works that shock or stroke to those that challenge and provoke. Rebecca Costa’s The Watchman’s Rattle definitely pertains to the latte
Dino Go
This is a good book to read. Although Rebecca Costa did not provide enough evidences to what might have caused the extiniction of past civilizations, I was provided with enough information to be convinced that she may be right. Of all the causes she cited. I really think that in the case of the Mayans and Aztecs, their extinction was brought about by wars between their own people due to a conflict associated with the depletion of their resources, like water. Drought and deforestation were likely ...more
Dan Schiff
Rebecca Costa has written An Important Book. How do I know it's Important? Her editor says so in a note at the beginning. Apparently, it was too Important to thoroughly edit, as The Watchman's Rattle contains many typos, inconsistencies, repetitions and just plain clumsy writing. And perhaps worst of all, Costa doesn't trust us to get what's Important, so she constantly italicizes entire paragraphs, just so we get the point.

For what it's worth, Costa is right in her main argument, that life has
I thought it was a good read, and I liked the overall argument of the book, namely:

The earth is endangered, and our cultural and financial systems are nearing meltdown
The complexity of the current world's problems outstrips our brain's ability to process it
In times of stress, societies tend to dovetail toward sameness, thus driving out diversity (which is important for the generation of new ideas
We are current enmeshed in five supermemes that further constrain our ability to engage with diverse
Eric Wurm
This book is at the intersection of the social sciences and the empirical sciences. It covers a diverse range of topics including philosophy, molecular biology, climate science,technology, evolution, sociology,psychology, neuroscience,and anthropology. While the topics vary greatly, the appropriate connections are made that lead to a specific point: Our brains and our inherent ability to solve problems are not evolving fast enough to solve the problems caused by a fast-evolving complex society. ...more
Jeb Benson
Cool title, not so cool book. After stating the obvious, the author continues to present example after example to back her up. It reminded me of that annoying friend who rails against the injustices of the world time and time again, without offering any solution. I was looking for more discussion and insight on potential solutions, but the little space devoted to it at the end of the book left me wanting. I'll grant the author a few nuggets at the end, but the ideas can be found better explored ...more
It starts off with interesting facts but then detours into a morass of spurious conclusions and indecisive "We Must Do Something!" ranting. Sort of like the 'negativity' supermeme which this book itself opposes. I liked how Costa tried to present both "liberal" and "conservative" viewpoints, though she really fails to step beyond these categories.

I'd liked to have seen this book address actual solutions, but maybe that's waiting for us in the sequel. (What, is she being paid by the word, or b
Suggested by Sally Melville when I went to hear her speak about creativity/creative process. This book is a mix of anthropology, psychology, and name dropping. Maya, Khmer, culture collapse, how to make more drinking water and why Oprah Winfrey can't lose weight all in one.
Ms. Costa makes sure to drop important names from her resume, always important to keep your club membership up to date. Her breezy tone can be downright windy, lots of geography, history, and culture and the first time I've s
What an interesting book! The author looks at the collapse of past civilizations, (Mayan, Roman, and Khmer), in a study of mankind's past failures in dealing with social complexity. The subtitle on my copy is "Thinking Our Way Out of Extinction", and Ms. Costa presents challenges for us, both individually and collectively, to take control of our future. The author makes a compelling case for our need to learn new ways to utilize our human brains, toward an evolutionary pattern that might provide ...more
I was only going to give this book 3 stars because although it provides nice background on normal human "mental traps" and the reasons behind collapses of historical societies, it didn't provide many tips on how to truly expand and train our brains to get around those traps...until the last chapter. The key seems to be those quick moments of true insight ("Ah ha moments") we get every now and then and although we don't know how to really turn those on and off, there were some good tips on things ...more
The message is: the problems of the world we live in have reached a level of complexity that is beyond the capability of our brains to understand. And time is running out. The author, a colleague of E.O. Wilson, focuses on the habits of mind that keep us from seeing the world clearly and being able to overcome our biases. Ends with a topic that is increasingly interesting to me, and that is what we are learning from neuroscience and especially neuroplasticity. Can we learn in time to leverage, w ...more
This was a very interesting book about how as a society we fail to solve our problems when they are small enough to be dealt with and instead let things escalate to a point where we are incapable of solving them hence leading to the extinction of whole civilizations.

There is a deeper purpose to being able to sit still and find insight into solving problems There is a section where chimps are taught the value of money that just blew me away. It's a fast read, I am still thinking about the questi
Josh Street
The book is really divided into two sections one of analysis and one of recommendations. The analysis section contains many interesting breakdowns of historical phenomena, psychological research and sociological research. Some areas are better developed than others and there are a few areas where the logic seems to breakdown, but overall, the analysis section is the highlight of the work. The recommendations section is largely redundant with other books focused on brain longevity and is not up t ...more
I did zip through this one rather fast. Costa is a little weak toward the end + on the what is insight and how does your brain do it section. But there are valuable thinking points in this. Good job of describing historical and current weaknesses of cultures as they develop past the point they can cope cognitively as well as discussions of novel strategies we may need to triumph over the "supermemes" that may be taking our culture down the wrong path. Worth at least a quick read and some thinkin ...more
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The Watchman's Rattle 2 6 Nov 19, 2012 09:34AM  
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REBECCA COSTA IS AN AMERICAN SOCIOBIOLOGIST who offers a genetic explanation for current events, emerging trends and individual behavior. A thought-leader and provocative new voice in the mold of Thomas Friedman, Jared Diamond and Malcolm Gladwell, Costa traces everything from growing debt, epidemic obesity, and upheaval in the Middle East, to evolutionary imperatives. She is the recipient of the ...more
More about Rebecca Costa...
Watchman's Rattle: Thinking Our Way Out of Extinction The Watchman's Rattle: Thinking Our Way Out of Extinction [Hardcover] [2010] 1ST Ed. Rebecca Costa Parents Guide to Children

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