Reading The Iliad and the Old Testament of the Bible, I've always wondered about one distinctive feature they both share: an utter lack of inAmazing--
Reading The Iliad and the Old Testament of the Bible, I've always wondered about one distinctive feature they both share: an utter lack of interiority, of introspection by the characters. I brushed it aside as the literary style of the times in which they were composed (orally and then textually), but Julian Jaynes has quite a different take: the characters—like the rest of their contemporaries—were not conscious at all.
This claim alone was enough reason to pick this book up. His thesis is simple. Consciousness, like everything else in evolution, must have arisen sometime in the history of the human race. When? Not until 1,000 BCE.
But wait a minute, you might ask, how in the world did we live before 1,000 BCE? What about those pyramids, the kingdoms, the ancient scripts? Jaynes has an answer: we created them all unconsciously, in the pre-conscious mentality he calls "the bicameral mind," where we were practically unconscious automatons obeying the hallucinated voices of gods. If you go through the book, these mind-obliteratingly strange claims stop being so ridiculous. He backs up his claims with a panoply of diverse evidence, from the philological (The Iliad, The Oddysey, the Bible among others) and the archeological (Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Mayans), to the neurological (the lateralized brain structure) and the psychological (schizophrenia and hypnosis).
Another important task he sets for himself is explaining the causes of consciousness. If bicameral kingdoms were doing fine without consciousness, what factors and forces selected the trait of consciousness to emerge in our evolutionary past? He attributes it to a few possible causes: 1) overpopulation; 2) chaotic social disorganizations (caused by a cataclysmic volcanic eruption and subsequent mass migrations and conquests); and 3) the rise of writing to replace the auditory mode of bicameral command.
The best part of this book in my opinion is Book I where he discusses what consciousness is and how it must have emerged. Short answer: language and its capacity to create metaphors. The long answer is that metaphor is the way we understand things in the world and that consciousness is essentially the metaphor of the world we have created in our mind. To understand this quite paradigm-and-mind-shifting argument, you need to grasp that consciousness really doesn't do as much as you think it does (which, by the way, is consistent with the recent "passive frame" theory of consciousness proposed by this psychologist). We do all sorts of activities rather unconsciously. From driving to learning any new skills, we do them unconsciously. Even the representative activities of consciousness—thinking and writing (and I can attest to this from experience)—are done without consciousness. Words come to us, or bubble up to consciousness from somewhere else. So do thoughts. And have you ever been in a situation where you were playing a sport you had been playing competitively for a long time and then in the middle of a game, you started becoming conscious of some aspect of it—such as the way you serve in tennis, for example—and you just crumble? Consciousness, it turns out, is detrimental to athletic performance beyond certain competence.
So what does consciousness do? Goal setting for one. And several other operations Jaynes lists in this section of his book: 1) spatialization (including of time), 2) excerpting (or the visually limited way we imagine and reminisce things), 3) the construction of the "I" (which, he argues is an analogue of the body—there's nothing in consciousness you can't find in the external world), 4) the construction of the metaphor "me" where we can look at ourselves doing things; 5) narratization, in which we are always telling stories about ourselves and things happening in the world; and 6) conciliation, which is basically the way we interpret the world to be consistent with what we believe.
One major dissatisfaction with this description of consciousness was that some of these "operations" purportedly done by consciousness seem to be done un- or subconsciously, such as narratization, the construction of the unified self, and conciliation. Do we consciously create an "I"? Do we not tell stories almost automatically? I mean think of the time when you saw someone cut in in front of you in traffic. You must have cursed under your breath or shouted, "Ass hole!" But what would have happened if you had learned later that the driver in question was rushing to the hospital to save his/her daughter who lay unconscious in the back seat? The point is, we automatically construct narratives all the time, unconsciously. So what does consciousness really do? That's something anyone serious about Jaynes's theory must address in the future.
Overall, it was a fantastic read—with a long middle portion that was rather bogged down but necessary. Given the nature of the investigation—I mean, how do you prove or disprove the existence of consciousness from what must be a fraction of the entire ancient artifacts and texts created by human civilizations of the past?—however, I came away still somewhat skeptical in the end, not just because the lack of evidence for consciousness can't be equated with the evidence for lack of consciousness (they are very, very different things), but because of Jaynes's propensity to exclude alternative explanations whenever he has a chance in order to affirm his position. E.g.: "It is difficult to understand [human effigies'] obvious importance to the cultures involved with them apart from the supposition that they were aids in hallucinating voices" (165), or discussing ancient chariot burials: "Why all this? Unless the dead kings were thought to still live and need their chariots and servants because their speech was still heard?" (163) And one more for good measure: "I find that the only notion which provides even a working hypothesis about this matter [of the tendency of schizophrenics to take hallucinated voices as authoritative and even religious] is that of the bicameral mind, that the neurological structure responsible for these hallucinations is neurologically bound to substrates for religious feelings..." (413). Then there's his obsession with hallucinated voice (which, incidentally, made me so interested in the whole topic that I went ahead and bought the audiobook for Oliver Sack's Hallucinations). It is a fascinating hypothesis to be sure (that we heard hallucinated voices of gods back in our bicameral days), but I got the impression that he makes way too much of the phenomenon, though of course there's no way to tell (yet?) if he was right or wrong in making it a cornerstone of his theory.
Whatever the weaknesses of his theory, though, this book is definitely worth reading for the sheer number of insights it contains about our consciousness, ancient Greek literature, psychology, history, and our modern world that may or may not exhibit relics of our bicameral past.
The book covers much of the same ground as Make It Stick: the Science of Successful Learning—desirable difAnother excellent book on learning science--
The book covers much of the same ground as Make It Stick: the Science of Successful Learning—desirable difficulty, the necessity of forgetting in learning, testing as a learning technique, illusion of knowing, and spaced & varied practice—but the emphasis is more on the practical side of learning and offers some concepts, studies, and insights not found in Make It Stick.
Some of the things I took away from this book and will be applying to my own learning and teaching include:
1) Interleaved/varied practice. The book drives home the clear advantage of varied—or random—practice over massed or even serial practice, even though the learners thought otherwise.
The reasons for the advantage are not known. The effect may simply come from simulating the real situation: a math problem on the real test where you don't know which equations to apply, or a badminton game where you have to hit the shuttlecock from varied spots. Meaning it might be restricted to those cases where you can expect some degree of randomness (which would, theoretically speaking, counter what Taleb calls "the ludic fallacy," where skills and concepts drawn from a well-ordered environment don't and can't work in a chaotic environment). Or maybe you learn better because your brain has to make more effort and adjustments when dealing with different skills/concepts/problems. Or it might be that the brain learns better from differences than from more of the same thing.
Whatever the real reasons, though, I'd like to try applying it to at least two of my learning areas: 1) reading multiple books at the same time; and 2) writing different things—fiction, essay, poetry—in one sitting. For the former, like in the painting studies, I will be reading at least two books from a similar genre (two to three poetry books from different authors, for example) as well as books from different genres (e.g., history, philosophy, fiction).
2) Context. While it's true you remember better in the same internal state you were in (e.g. high, caffeine-buzzed, or drunk) when you learned something, one effective way of countering this is to introduce contextual interference, where you vary the location/environment in which you study. By studying in a variety of situations/locations, you become independent of the environment.
I'll be experimenting with this and try to read/write at different cafes/libraries.
3) Incubation and the importance of distraction when it comes to problems and projects involving "insights," or "Aha" moments. Takeaway: when you reach an impasse in some problem (and you have to reach an impasse for this to work), it's actually more productive to take a break and do something else. The kind of activity that's effective in initiating the process of incubation depends on the kind of problem you're dealing with: any activity—relaxing (e.g., lying on the couch), mildly active (e.g., surfing the Internet), and highly engaging (e.g., writing a short essay)—is effective for math or spatial problems, mild activity (video games, solitaire, TV) works best for problems involving language. On the whole, "longer" breaks (about 20min) are better than shorter ones (5-10min).
I sort of knew this from experience (and from another study on the subconscious), but it's good to know I've been doing the right thing.
4) Percolation. For long-term projects, it's actually good to interrupt your activity because anything interrupted lingers in your mind and you'll be scanning the environment for any hints/clues to solving the problem or improving the project.
5) Perceptual learning & immediate feedback. This is sort of an application of deliberate practice involving immediate feedback, but you can learn something subconsciously by studying a bunch of slides and getting the answer right away. Application: being able to distinguish different painting styles without—and this is the fascinating part—knowing exactly why. Would like to try with 20th century paintings myself.
6) Sleep. Achieving higher understanding and memory consolidation after a night's sleep. I knew this from another book (Josh Kaufman's The First 20 Hours).
7) Spaced practice. Good numbers to remember: a) when trying to memorize something, spend about 1/3 of the time studying and 2/3 rehearsing (recalling from memory); b) to memorize vocab or any fact, it's best to review the material 1 or 2 days later, then a week later, and a month later; c) max interval for lifetime learning is once every 2 months. d) Optimal study intervals:
Time to test: 1 week; first study interval: 1-2 days (meaning: study today, then again tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, and if you want to add a third session, study the day before the test) 1 month: today, 1 week from today, then about 3 weeks later, on the day before the test 3 months: 2 weeks 6 months: 3 weeks 1 year: 1 month
Overall, another highly recommended book on learning....more
The first part is a gold mine of cognitive psychology wisdom, then it sort of tapers off toward the end (at least for me). The book covers what sGood!
The first part is a gold mine of cognitive psychology wisdom, then it sort of tapers off toward the end (at least for me). The book covers what science has to tell us about learning in general and it is good. And it is owing to this book that I'm resuming my old practice of writing book reviews (retrieval & elaboration) to better retain what I read.
Some concepts that will prove particularly useful in my own learning and teaching include:
1) Desirable difficulty: how the right amount of difficulty and thus exertion of effort etches whatever you're trying to learn deeper into your long-term memory (e.g. trying really, really hard to remember a word, say). A massively applicable example is having students try to solve a question before teaching them how to solve it.
2) Interleaving/variable practice (contra "massed practice"): how, even when learning the basics, it is desirable to mix things up and go to another topic/skillset BEFORE you get a hang of it, and then come back. The reason is that it is more difficult: you have to try hard to remember the topic/skill, driving it deep into your long-term memory. Massed practice—i.e. cramming or practicing the same swing over and over again—*does* improve your skill, but the effect is short-lasting.
3) Retrieval practice and the stunning effectiveness of frequent quizzing (at the beginning and end of a lesson, for example) to forestall forgetting. Application: frequently quizzing yourself when you're reading something you need to understand/memorize.
4) Spacing out practice. This goes back to the principle of desirable difficulty: once you let some forgetting to set in, it becomes harder to retrieve/execute whatever you learned, and thus leads to better learning.
Other takeaways include the illusion of knowing (we don't know what we don't know until we quiz ourselves); the importance of trying to infer a rule underlying whatever topic you'r learning; and elaboration (trying to explain something in your own words and connect it to what you already know).
Because of this book, I've introduced frequent quizzing into my teaching, begun to interleave practice more often, and started to engage in elaboration (such as by writing this review).
I wonder if the notion of variable practice makes reading multiple books at the same time a better learning strategy than reading them serially (a method I usually prefer). I've tried it before, but I *just* didn't like it. But the book reassures us that the students didn't like interleaving practice either, so I suppose I should stick it out for a little while.
Overall, a must-read for any serious learner/educator.
Influencer provides a lot more comprehensive framework to make change possible, but this book does have some insights that Influencer andPretty good--
Influencer provides a lot more comprehensive framework to make change possible, but this book does have some insights that Influencer and Switch lack, such as the neurological explanation of habits, the simple habit loop model (cue, routine, reward), two other important factors in changing habits (craving and belief), the concept of organizations as bundles of institutional habits, and the three necessary elements of when societal changes occur.
The three elements are: 1) a movement begins because of the social habits of friendship and the strong ties between close acquaintances; 2) it grows because of the habits of a community and the weak ties that hold neighborhoods and clans together; and 3) it endures because a movement's leaders give new habits that create a fresh sense of identity and a feeling of ownership (p.217).
Some facts were interesting, too. How weak ties (acquaintances) are a powerful connecting force, how accidents and crises tend to make organizational changes easier, how a sense of control helps preserve one's willpower.
But the book fails to show exactly how to make changes in habits, and so it gets the three stars.
Combined with Influencer, Switch, and Change Everything, this will deepen your understanding of how change is made. Overall, recommended....more
This little book is just so good—not only does it give you just enough math to make you feel curious and satisfied, it teEven better the second time--
This little book is just so good—not only does it give you just enough math to make you feel curious and satisfied, it tells a ripping good story about probability theory and statistics, providing along the way compelling portraits of the eccentric scientists and mathematicians who contributed to the fields. This time, I wanted to refresh my memory of all the thorny problems probability and statistics give us (we are really, really bad at intuiting probability, as psychologists have again and again shown us).
One good refresher among many was the fallacy we make in dealing with conditional probability, mostly prominently manifested in conspiracy theories and paranoid thoughts: these events happened, therefore there is a huge conspiracy. Or close to home (for me at least): an agent hasn't gotten back to me yet, therefore she must not like my work. Probability-wise these are based on the wrong probabilities, and logically, these are equivalent to the fallacy of affirming the consequent (if P then Q, Q, therefore P). So from the valid, highly probable inference, "If there is a huge conspiracy, these events happen" or "If an agent doesn't like my work, she will not respond for a long time," we see the consequent—these events happened, or the agent hasn't responded in a long time—and draw the mistaken conclusion that there is a huge conspiracy. Or the agent doesn't like my work. What's wrong with this is that there are so many possible reasons why a series of events occurred other than due to a huge conspiracy, or why the agent hasn't gotten back to me in a long time (she's just busy!). In probability terms:
the probability that she he doesn't respond to me in a long time GIVEN she doesn't like my work
is high and valid, whereas:
the probability that an agent doesn't like my work given she has not responded to me in a long time
is low (because there could be all sorts of reasons why she hasn't responded to me).
Just to hammer it home, this can be illustrated with a simple example:
If you are human, you eventually die.
is a perfectly valid conditional, but
You (pointing at a squirrel) eventually die, so you (the squirrel) must be human.
is definitely not.
More importantly, what I for some reason failed to write about in my 2012 review and totally forgot about until I reread the book is Yale sociologist Charles Perrow's normal accident theory Mlodinow mentions in the last chapter, how disasters in complex systems occur when many little human mistakes just happen to coincide at just the wrong (or right—depending on your perspective) time. I was so interested in this theory that I actually bought the seminal book by Perrow himself (and duly put on the shelf for "read immediately").
Excellent, excellent book.
[Read 1/5/2012] Awesome--
This book made me admire what modern statistics—a topic I couldn't care less—is capable of doing and convinced me, like Taleb's The Black Swan and Burton Malkiel's Random Walk Down Wall Street how randomness really rules our lives and it's important to recognize chance events and not mistakenly assign them some causality that's not there. The history of probability theory and statistics Mlodinow tells in this book is nothing short of fascinating, and I was floored by the answers to some of the problems he so deftly presents.
1) there are three doors. Behind one of them is a treasure, and behind two are geese. You pick a door. The host of the show opens one of the doors you've picked and show geese behind it. Is it better to switch your choice?
The answer: yes. You will increase your probability of winning from 1/3 to 2/3. Why? Read the book to find out why.
2) The Attorney's Fallacy. Take the O.J. Simpson trial. The prosecutor argued O.J. Simpson was an abusive husband. The defense attorney Alan Dershowitz then argued that the probability of an abusive husband killing his wife is so low, the prosecutor's argument for O.J.'s propensity for violence is misguided. In more detail:
4 million women are battered annually by their husbands and boyfriends in the U.S. Yet in 1992, a total of 1,432 women (or 1 in 2,500) were killed by their husbands or boyfriends. Therefore, few men who beat their wives or girlfriends go on to murder them.
Convincing, but that's not the relevant probability. The relevant probability is rather: the probability that a battered wife who was murdered is murdered by her abuser. And of all the battered women murdered in 1993 in the U.S.some 90% were killed by their abuser.
Then there's the reassuring implication that success comes to you largely by random—publication, prizes, business success, fame, etc.—and that means the longer we persevere, the better our odds are of succeeding. As an aspiring writer, this non-deterministic paradigm of looking at the world has helped me boost my confidence and determination.
I knew instinctively exercise was good for the brain, but this book goes into great detail about how exercise inA GREAT tool to have under your belt--
I knew instinctively exercise was good for the brain, but this book goes into great detail about how exercise influences the biology of our brains and hence our minds, all backed up by science.
I learned all sorts of cool and useful facts—e.g. the calming effect of exercise lasts up to 1.5 hours, aerobic exercise increases brain capacity by growing new capillaries, exercise an effective treatment for anxiety, depression, and ADHD, and how the mind stays sharp even in old age as long as you're exercising—and you should know them, whether you like or don't like exercise.
The only regrettable point is that the author drops what he calls the "Paleo pattern" of exercise—the scholars' estimate of how much prehistoric human beings exercised—in the beginning of the book and never mentions it again. His recommended dose of exercise doesn't seem to bear any relationship to how much our Stone Age ancestors reportedly exercised, and I would've liked to see a study comparing the exercise regimen Dr. Ratey recommends with a high-intensity regimen based on the Paleo pattern. But it seems we have to wait for further research and study to know—if there's such a thing—the optimal exercise regimen.
A must read for anyone who wants to stay mentally sharp and healthy....more
Though the author seems reductionist in some places, this book delivers. Packed full of useful information about how your brain works andVERY useful--
Though the author seems reductionist in some places, this book delivers. Packed full of useful information about how your brain works and how to use your brain wisely, it's a must-read for anyone who wants to perform better at work, school, or in life in general. In this book you'll learn how to fend off anxiety and negative emotions, be creative on demand, influence others, and much more backed up by neuroscience and told in easy-to-remember story format.
The ARIA model of creativity, the labeling technique to calm your limbic system, and the SCARF model alone are worth the price of this book. I also took away how important mindfulness is in applying all the information contained in this book and using my brain to its full potential.
In this book, the authors of The Influencer apply the model of changing human behavior to changing YOUR own behavior, froRead it with the Influencer--
In this book, the authors of The Influencer apply the model of changing human behavior to changing YOUR own behavior, from kicking a bad habit like smoking to losing weight.
Their argument is basically this: if you know the six sources of influence and align them to your advantage, you can pretty much change anything about yourself.
And their model is an incredibly powerful tool—you're basically missing out if you don't know them.
In short, the six sources are:
1) Personal motivation (or the so-called the will) 2) Personal ability (skills) 3) Social motivation (people's praises and attention) 4) Social ability (teamwork, social network) 5) Structural motivation (what the environment makes you want to do) 6) Structural ability (what the environment enables you to do)
Granted, you'll need the RIGHT knowledge to accomplish what you want (the books' outdated and unscientific calories-in, calories-out model of weight control should be ignored), but AS LONG AS you have the right knowledge, this model will enable you to do change your behavior according to the knowledge and achieve whatever you want.
The only complain I have about this book is that the explanation of the model in the first part felt hasty and oversimplified. For more detailed account, you should check out their The Influencer, and just to reinforce it, the Heath brothers' The Switch, which gives another perspective on the model of changing human behavior.
This book pretty much covers everything about mnemonics you need to know and some more. It doesn't promise you any incredible things (eComprehensive--
This book pretty much covers everything about mnemonics you need to know and some more. It doesn't promise you any incredible things (e.g.,You can remember ANYTHING in a matter of seconds! With no effort!) that other books do, but it doesn't dismiss mnemonics as a sham, either.
The mnemonics included in this book are the simple story and link system, the very useful loci system, the peg system, and the powerful phonetic system. I learned all of them and am intending to practice them to boost my memory (which isn't bad, but like anything else, there's always room for improvement).
So yes, the bottom line is this: you can improve your memory, and though mnemonics won't give you perfect memory, it will help you A HELL OF A LOT. So why not use them?
Though not as lavishly written as his masterpiece Omnivore's Dilemma, this is still a lucid and, more importantly, practical guide to wDoes it again--
Though not as lavishly written as his masterpiece Omnivore's Dilemma, this is still a lucid and, more importantly, practical guide to what and how we should eat in view of the current state of affairs in the food industry as described in his previous book.
Basically, his advice is: Eat food, not much, mostly plants.
He makes two very crucial arguments related to this: 1) worrying about specific nutrients in food might not give you the right answer; 2) traditions represent accumulated wisdom science might not recognize. As for the first point, he makes a compelling case for the limitations of food science. As Cambpell in his China Study says, the sum is greater than the sum of its parts when it comes to food. Also, because of the reductionist nature of science (it has to look at single variables), it's almost impossible to understand the complex synergies and interrelationships of the nutrients in foods and our bodies. Another good point he makes is that our understanding of "crucial" nutrients is limited to what science can identify.
As for the second point, it follows from the first: since science is limited, we can turn to traditions--most notably those recognized as healthy diets, like the Mediterranean, French, and Japanese diets. But he doesn't just stop there. He argues we should import not only the food but the habits from those traditions. The French, for example eat in small portions, don't come back for seconds, and eat slowly with others. All these habits, Pollan says, may be conducive to good eating--and hence to good health--especially when the Western diet represented by fast food is spreading everywhere and people are spending less and less time eating and enjoying the food.
For anyone who cares about eating well and keeping good health, this is a must read. Definitely read it after Omnivore's Dilemma. They will enrich your understanding of what you eat and how you eat....more
Michael Pollan pretty much exposes the food industry by showing where all the food comes from, iWhoa!
Right off the bat, I just have to say: READ THIS!
Michael Pollan pretty much exposes the food industry by showing where all the food comes from, industrial or organic. Then he goes on to describe a local farm called Polyface in Virginia and his own experience putting together a meal from scratch (from hunting a pig and foraging mushrooms).
The book opened my eyes to the reality behind what I've been eating, and one of the surprising things I've learned is: organic isn't unconditionally good. It also teaches a host of other things related to food (Do you know what we eat most? Do you know what it does to our health? Do you know what "organic" really means?).
This was equal parts philosophical and journalistic, and the blend simply blew me away. But oh man, Pollan can WRITE! The prose was lavish, lyrical, and engaging while being easy to understand and humorous.
Taubes presents a compelling case against eating carbohydrates and any food that has significant effects on the level of your insulin, whA must-read--
Taubes presents a compelling case against eating carbohydrates and any food that has significant effects on the level of your insulin, which, he argues, causes all sorts of problems like obesity, cancer, heart disease, hypertension, Alzheimer's, and other exclusively Western diseases.
The argument rests on the mechanism of fat storage. Insulin is the hormone responsible for storing fat. When there's a lot of insulin, the body tends to store whatever is digested into fat, and when there isn't much insulin around, the body tends to burn fat for fuel. In other words, whatever that triggers massive insulin secretion will make us fat, and what does this? Carbohydrates, such as sugar, flour, rice, and potatoes.
When a lot of insulin is secreted, moreover, all sorts of things go wrong: HDL (the good cholesterol) goes down, dense LDL goes up, and triglyceride in the blood goes up, all risk factors associated with heart disease.
Another surprising conclusion is that people who are fat are NOT fat because they eat too much, but they eat too much BECAUSE they are fat. The reversal of this firmly held belief is simply mind-blowing. Fat people aren't lazy or morally deficient, but they're lazy BECAUSE they're fat.
All this is just the tip of an iceberg. For the detailed argument full of examples and historical and scientific reasons, DO read the book. It's easy to understand and you'll be infinitely grateful you've read it.
I knew of mnemonics, but didn't realize how powerful they can be until I read this book. Memorize a full deck of cards in under two minutesExcellent--
I knew of mnemonics, but didn't realize how powerful they can be until I read this book. Memorize a full deck of cards in under two minutes? Memorize four hundred random numbers in five minutes? Very cool.
To an extent, I've always done some mnemonic manipulations whenever I had to memorize something, but I've never used mnemonics techniques systematically. Not to exaggerate my enthusiasm for mnemonics, I have to admit there are limitations. The techniques are good for memorizing a random list of things like digits, shopping list, and to-do list. Memorizing words and poetry are a bit harder but manageable. If you think you can effortlessly memorize ANYTHING, be warned, that is not true. It takes some hard work to commit stuff to memory, but using the techniques will definitely make stuff stick.
The only complaint I have of this book is that it doesn't really delve into how the author memorizes poems. After introducing two ways of going about it (the methodical syllable-by-syllable mapping and emotional method acting derivative), he drops the subject altogether without really going into details and nuts and bolts of how to actually do it.
Other than that, this is highly recommended....more
A tad long in audio format (16 hours). The main argument—that geography played an extremely important role in shaping the modern wGreat contents but--
A tad long in audio format (16 hours). The main argument—that geography played an extremely important role in shaping the modern world—is simple to understand and yet profound in its implications.
His chain of reasoning follows four major factors:
1) the distribution of domesticable species of plants and animals; 2)the geographic barriers that affected rates of diffusion and migration of technologies, crops, and livestocks within continents; 3) Ease of diffusion between continents (some continents, such as Australia, were more isolated than others); and 4) continental differences in area or total population size.
The chain of reasoning is this: in Eurasia most of the domesticable plants and animals concentrated, so naturally agriculture arose there, leading to the advent of food production. Sustained food production meant the ability to sustain a large population, and as the population grew, political organization came into being. Also as the population density increased, germs from livestocks spread (and germs were important in decimating native Americans and other populations). The number of innovators also increased and brought about new technologies. And that's why, in a nutshell, Europe conquered the rest of the world and not vice versa.
I know I'm not doing the book justice with this clunky summary of the author's argument, but it blew my mind with its simplicity and intuitiveness.