In this, the follow-up and companion to Drumming at the Edge of Magic, Grateful Dead percussionist Hart and his collaborators artfully arrange excerp...moreIn this, the follow-up and companion to Drumming at the Edge of Magic, Grateful Dead percussionist Hart and his collaborators artfully arrange excerpts, extracts, and images from the previous volume's primary source material. Planet Drum draws on many of the same graphic design principles as its contemporaries in the Time-Lifen Mysteries of the Unknown series, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but in the case of this book it means that there is oftentimes too much unused space on the page. Hart's CD of the same name, released in parallel, is quite listenable, but I wish the music on the disc could have been more explicitly cued to the book. In retrospect, these were the deficiencies in the book and CD that led to their being winnowed from my library in the first place.(less)
Campbell's distinctive visual style fails to compensate for the lack of narrative coherence. Instead of being about money per se, this book looks at C...moreCampbell's distinctive visual style fails to compensate for the lack of narrative coherence. Instead of being about money per se, this book looks at Campbell's own difficulties with the "lovely horrible stuff" and also at the (far more interesting) stone money of the Yap Islands. (less)
Dense, at times tediously so, but definitely worth the effort, Mutual Aid is Kropotkin's response to Social Darwinism and its simplistic reduction of...moreDense, at times tediously so, but definitely worth the effort, Mutual Aid is Kropotkin's response to Social Darwinism and its simplistic reduction of the nuanced Darwinian concept of "struggle" into the narrowly individualistic, each-against-all notion of "competition." As such, it is also a valuable corrective to contemporary scientific disciplines (evolutionary psychology and neuroscience come to mind) that seek to reduce all evidence of cooperation and altruism in nature to self-centered competition in disguise, while also providing a scientific-seeming justification for the unbridled self-interest so central to capitalism.
It is evident that no review of evolution can be complete, unless these two dominant currents [i.e, the individual competition and the mutual struggle] are analyzed. However, the self-assertion of the individual or of groups of individuals, their struggles for superiority, and the conflicts which resulted therefrom, have already been analyzed, described, and glorified from time immemorial. In fact, up to the present time, this current alone has received attention from the epical poet, the annalist, the historian, and the sociologist. History, such as it has hitherto been written, is almost entirely a description of the ways and means by which theocracy, military power, autocracy, and, later on, the richer classes' rule have been promoted, established, and maintained. The struggles between these forces make, in fact, the substance of history. We may thus take the knowledge of the individual factor in human history as granted—even though there is full room for a new study of the subject on the lines just alluded to; while, on the other side, the mutual-aid factor has been hitherto totally lost sight of; it was simply denied, or even scoffed at, by the writers of the present and past generation. It was therefore necessary to show, first of all, the immense part which this factor plays in the evolution of both the animal world and human societies. Only after this has been fully recognized will it be possible to proceed to a comparison between the two factors. (231–2)
There is a rather tenuous division between war as education and education as war.... There is no question here of values. It is simple information technology being used by one community to reshape another one. It is this type of aggression that we exert on our own youngsters in what we call "education." We simply impose upon them the patterns that we find convenient to ourselves and consistent with the available technologies. Such customs and usages, of course, are always past-oriented and the new technologies are necessarily excluded from the educational establishment until the elders have relinquished power. (149)
In the present age this problem of not simply being human but of having to program the entire process has become a crux because of our electronic technology. The new potential is so great that no training for any individual or any society could faintly tap its possibilities. Life is not given to us ready-made but has become a task of making rather than of matching. There is no previous model, private or corporate, that can serve for the present time. That is why the anti-environment has become so indispensable a crux. We have simply got to create anti-environments in order to know what we are and what were are doing. (177)
Who knew that Ruth Benedict wrote a kid's book? It's appropriate, though, that she wrote a kid's book intended to dispel notions of racial and cultura...moreWho knew that Ruth Benedict wrote a kid's book? It's appropriate, though, that she wrote a kid's book intended to dispel notions of racial and cultural supremacy. By today's standards some of the material in this book is pretty crude, even offensive, in its reliance on stereotypes. When the reader remembers that this book was published in 1948, however, the content becomes much more progressive, even enlightened, as it looks at human accomplishments across time, race, and culture. (less)
Excellent souvenir of Stonehenge with good photos (better than any I took, for sure), clear illustrations, and fascinating historical and archaeologic...moreExcellent souvenir of Stonehenge with good photos (better than any I took, for sure), clear illustrations, and fascinating historical and archaeological information. Covers other nearby sites on the Salisbury Plain. (less)
Interesting and heavily illustrated contrarian look at American prehistory, drawing all sorts of unusual (and unwarranted?) conclusions from evidence...moreInteresting and heavily illustrated contrarian look at American prehistory, drawing all sorts of unusual (and unwarranted?) conclusions from evidence that mostly looks to my untutored eye like tally marks engraved on stones. Amongst these conclusions are that ancient Phoenicians, Libyans, and Celts established colonies in the Americas, ranging from New England and Oklahoma in North America to Paraguay in South America. You wouldn't suspect it from his confident tone, but (according to the Wikipedia article on Fell) he was and is viewed as a "pseudo-archaeologist" by many of those in the field (for what that is worth--see Thomas Kuhn, Robert Anton Wilson, and others on the hazards of group-think in the sciences). The Wikipedia article goes on to cite archaeologist David Kelley to the effect that there is evidence of a pre-Columbian European presence in the Americas and that as much as Fell might have played it up, mainstream archaeologists have ignored it. Is the Zuni language derived from ancient Libyan? Did the native Algonquin peoples intermarry with Celtic colonists? Perhaps further research will help discern the truth from interesting speculations. (less)
The bonobo is overthrowing established notions about where we came from and what our behavioral potential is. Without this ape, traditional evolutionary scenarios emphasizing human aggressivity, hunting, and warfare would no doubt have continued to dominate the discussion, despite the fact that our species possesses a multitude of other defining characteristics relating to language, culture, morality, and family structure. Even though the bonobo is not our ancestor, but perhaps a rather specialized relative, its female-centered, nonbelligerent society is putting question marks all over the hypothesized evolutionary map of our species. (160)
Lots of gorgeous photos brought back memories of my trip there in fall 2002. The book also visits locales that were beyond the scope of our two-week o...moreLots of gorgeous photos brought back memories of my trip there in fall 2002. The book also visits locales that were beyond the scope of our two-week outing, including eastern Bhutan. The concise and insightful explanatory text covers the history, religion, and culture of this most isolated of nations, the Dragon Kingdom of the Himalayas, Druk-Yul, Bhutan.(less)
This biography of numbers moves from early human counting through the mathematical notion of not just infinity, but an infinity of infinities.
Here's s...moreThis biography of numbers moves from early human counting through the mathematical notion of not just infinity, but an infinity of infinities.
Here's some of the cool stuff I learned:
Negative numbers arose from the accounting needs of Bronze age finance. The author never explained why the color red was chosen to bear the hateful association of being in the hole.
Greek mystic math teachers like Pythagoras were peeved to find that circles and proportional beauty were not based in whole number ratios, but in fact were strings of digits that ran on forever without repetition. From the Greek we call these numbers irrational. (Pythagoras abjured beans and told his disciples to do the same, though, so maybe that's like the pot calling the kettle black.)
The conservation law that maintains consistency in mathematical logic necessitated the envisioning of imaginary numbers, and so i, the square root of negative 1, was born. Or at least I think that's what the book said. This imaginary number business still doesn't make much sense.
Zero is the presence of absence; emptiness as form and form as emptiness. Zero as a concept derived from Indian Buddhist and Hindu philosophy, made its way into the Middle East and from thence to the Western world where it became a placeholder and then a number in its own right.
And where would zero be without the equally expansive concept of infinity, or rather, infinities, an infinite variety of which are Rudy Rucker's playthings in books read elsewhere?
The prose is dry, but there are lots of cool pictures. Consider this book bathroom reading for dorks. (less)
First contact with beings of superior intellect leads to unified humanity and World State; this post-scarcity humanity develops along an unknowable tr...moreFirst contact with beings of superior intellect leads to unified humanity and World State; this post-scarcity humanity develops along an unknowable trajectory, an agenda hidden from human view, to its final transformation into something totally discontinuous from the human condition. Absolutely haunting.(less)