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Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  18,259 ratings  ·  774 reviews
Dr Carl Sagan takes us on a great reading adventure, offering his vivid and startling insights into the brains of humans & beasts, the origin of human intelligence, the function of our most haunting legends and their amazing links to recent discoveries.
Paperback, 271 pages
Published December 12th 1986 by Ballantine Books (first published April 12th 1977)
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Rodrigo Franco Definitely, I just read it this year and it has aged very well. Some of the speculations on computer science and artificial intelligence still apply n…moreDefinitely, I just read it this year and it has aged very well. Some of the speculations on computer science and artificial intelligence still apply nowadays. I don't know much about the brain but I think it gives you a general perspective of what is it and how it has evolved during time. I recommend it.(less)

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Arun Divakar
Sep 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
The most hauting question that this book poses is this :

Chimpanzees can abstract. Like other mammals, they are capable of strong emotions.Why, exactly, all over the civilized world, in virtually every major city, are apes in prison?

For a species that has proclaimed itself to be the rulers of Earth, this is not a very difficult question to answer for us. It is a single word : suppression. We humans never much liked competition from other creatures and history tells us that this was how we overc
Nov 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing
One of the most beautiful things I've ever read came from this book:

"If the human brain had only one synapse-- corresponding to a monumental stupidity-- we would be capable of only two mental states. If we had two synapses, then 2^2 = 4 states; three synapses, then 2^3 = 8 states, and, in general, for N synapses, 2^N states. But the human brain is characterized by some 10^13 synapses. Thus the number of different states of a human brain is 2 raised to this power-- i.e., multiplied by itself ten
Oct 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Dragons of Eden by Carl Sagan won the Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction in 1978

Natural selection has served as a kind of intellectual sieve, producing brains and intelligences increasingly competent to deal with the laws of nature.

There isn’t much discussion of dragons, beyond a short snippet on Komodo dragons, in this book but Sagan uses this metaphor as a catchy title to highlight that this fear may be part of our own mammalian evolution. The dragon concept is buttressed by so many old tales thro
Stacey Mulvey
Aug 22, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I'd read this book a few years ago, and loved it. It's a great introduction to brain anatomy, consciousness/subconsciousness, and evolution. An "easy" read, if any book that deals with these types of topics can be considered as such. Sagan is good at presenting complex material in an interesting and palatable way. It made me want to start paying more attention to my dreams. (He also relates one of his personal experiences of smoking marijuana, and his theories of the effects it might have on the ...more
Carl Sagan is a big name, or at least he used to be. But other than the series Cosmo or the movie with Jodi Foster, he was known for his speculation in... everything. :)

In this case, it's consciousness. By the title, he's referring to the lizard brain. And considering the fact that he was writing this out of the 70's and he disclaimed the hell out of it, it's meant to be a conversation starter for laymen.

All good.

And it's good, too. If I was reading this 40 years ago or even 30 years ago, I'd
Kevin Shepherd
1977 - As much as I miss the genius that was Carl Sagan, I am not above a little good natured razzing of the era in which this book was written.

“There is a popular game, sometimes called Pong, which simulates on a television screen a perfectly elastic ball bouncing between two surfaces. Each player is given a dial that permits him to intercept the ball with a movable “racket.” Points are scored if the motion of the ball is not intercepted by the racket. The game is very interesting.” (pg 214)

Jul 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
"Chimpanzees can abstract. Like other mammals, they are capable of strong emotions.
Why, exactly, all over the civilized world, in virtually every major city, are apes in prison?"

"Humans have systematically exterminated those other primates who displayed signs of intelligence."

Carl Sagan is the best science teacher one can ever get. Even though I am not a biology major, I was able to enjoy this book. A great book where he talks about EVERYTHING that you ever wanted to know about your brain. Proba
Dec 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
In this Pulitzer prize winning book, Carl Sagan, indubitably one of the finest scientific minds of our time, expresses his thoughts about life, most particularly about intelligent life, and its relation with the environment that gave it origin and shaped it.

Aided by anthropological notions, evolutionary biology, psychology, and computer science, Sagan gives a well balanced perspective of how human intelligence evolved. However, notwithstanding Sagan's expertise in astrophysics, he warns us that
Orhan Pelinkovic
A great summary of the evolution of the brain (intelligence) in humans and how the homo sapiens brain compares to other spieces. Very informative and a great read.

I've read the Ballantine Book 1977 publishing The Dragons of Eden by Carl Sagan / 288 pages / 77,454 words.
Jan 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
Interesting read, as long as one takes into account that it's quite old and outdated by now, so it's not exactly cutting edge. (I read it pretty long ago myself).

Still, Sagan has a such a pleasant, conversational style, that even reading it for the speculations alone, makes reading the book a not unpleasant way of whiling away your time.

I like the angles he chooses to speculate from, especially the bits about instinct and how myths most probably formed in the human collective subconscious.
Oct 29, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Interesting questions on the origin and development of human intelligence. Still worth a read despite lots of progress since he wrote this. Gives a good description of left/right brain competencies. Has piqued my interest in evolutionary development. The guy was taken from us too early but sure made a name for himself in what time he had.
Mar 16, 2007 rated it liked it
This was an interesting book to read after all of the recent research and groundbreaking discoveries of the human brain. Clearly, Sagan smokes weed. However, there are times when he must be coming off his high that his insights are both subtle and poignant. Oxymoronic, to be sure, but so was most of Sagan's keen skepticism amidst his psuedoscientific platitudes.

I use big words.

That being said, some of the best parts of this book are the drawings related to studies conducted on patients with a s
Erik Graff
Sep 21, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Sagan fans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: sciences
Carl Sagan, like Stephen Jay Gould, is one of those scientists gifted as a teacher to non-specialists. This book is about intelligence, a topic both men dealt with, Gould most notably in his Mismeasure of Man. Sagan, however, deals with all intelligence, ending his book with a discussion of nonhuman intelligences, most particularly certain Cetaceans and primates. Noting that chimpanzees and gorillas appear to be intellectually comparable to human five-year-olds, he ends with a plea to extend som ...more
Ivana Books Are Magic
Oct 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
I do read non- fiction occasionally, you know. When I do, these are the kind of books I want to be reaching for: educating and fascinating. Dragons of Eden: Speculations on Evolution of Human Intelligence is exactly what the title suggest. If you're interested in evolution, this book is a great choice. It is not very specific, it is more a series of essays but it is easy to read and understand.
Indeed, what I like so much about this book is that it is so easily understandable. Sagan must have be
Nandakishore Mridula
I read this one quite long back... and really loved it at that time. I only remember two things from the book, however.

The first one is where Sagan speculates that God's curse on Eve, "you shall bring forth your children in pain", refers to the increased cranial size of intelligent homo sapiens. It is common knowledge that childbirth in humans is much more painful than in animals because of the larger size of the head due to an enlarged brain: thus, could the story of Eden contain a veiled refer
Apr 12, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Any book on the brain written in the 70s is going to be outdated. For example, Sagan wasn't sure if different parts of the brain affected different things. But an enjoyable read.

He does make one important point clear early on: the "mind" is just a function of the brain. Dualists who think they are two different things are flat out wrong. I have had people look me straight in the eye without even blinking and say that if a person's brain were destroyed, their mind would still function normally.
Aug 11, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who is curious about themselves and the world
I feel strongly that this book should be included in mythology courses because better than any textbook I've ever encountered it addresses the connections that exist between mythology and science. Not to say that mythology is scientific, but rather the ways of viewing the world, both contemporary and historical, that human beings seem to return to again and again often are the way they are for very sound biological reasons. ...more
"To write a book in a subject so far from one's primary training is at best incautious. But...the temptation was irresistible."

That quote, found in the acknowledgements, sums up both the problems with this work, and also it's ironic charm. You must read this early work of Sagan not as definitive science, but as a prime example of his inimitable ability to connect science to other intellectual concerns such as myth, religion and history, thus stimulating thought in the process.

At least Sagan
Mukesh Kumar
Nov 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone. Science lovers.
Pure bliss. In the inimitable manner of Carl Sagan, engrossing, enlightening and amusing in equal measure.
David Kaczynski
Jan 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: young philosophers, college students, anyone who is considering science in their career goal
Recommended to David by: Dan Loss
This is simply the best book I was lucky enough to receive as a gift. Written thirty years ago, Sagan's principles in science, philosophy, and humanity seem to grow more valid as the years go on. I used to be an existentialist nutcase in high school, but this book straightened me right out. I can't wait to re-read this beauty ...more
Jul 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
Carl Sagan was a planetary scientist with primary interest in exobiology and extraterrestrial intelligence. He was perfectly aware that speculation, study and understanding of extra-terrestrial intelligence would require a thoroughly comprehensible understanding of terrestrial human and non-human intelligence such as primates and aquatic mammals. If emergence of intelligence is convergent end point of many different evolutionary histories, as evident in our expectations of intelligent aliens, th ...more
Sep 13, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: humans
"There is a popular game, sometimes called Pong, which simulates on a television screen a perfectly elastic ball bouncing between two surfaces. Each player is given a dial that permits him to intercept the ball with a movable "racket". Points are scored if the motion of the ball is not intercepted by the racket. The game is very interesting. There is a clear learning experience involved which depends exclusively on Newton's second law for linear motion. As a result of Pong, the player can gain a ...more
Elliot Ratzman
Mar 17, 2013 rated it liked it
Recommended to Elliot by: Phil Straus
Shelves: book-club
This book—“an exercise in pattern recognition, an attempt to understand something of the nature and evolution of human intelligence, using clues from a wide variety of science and myth”— was the popular science pick of 1977; I am sure it launched a thousand science careers. Sneak this text into Red State high school libraries! It is still in print despite being dated: a time capsule snapshot of the then state of evolutionary science, primatology, computers and brain science. Despite Sagan’s leap ...more
Jan 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
Carl takes you on a journey from the mountains to the oceans, from dinosaurs to extra terrestrial beings to explain evolutionary changes and the workings of our mind. While explaining these concepts in a simple, easily understandable language, he lays out the arguments and lets you figure out for yourself intriguing ideas such as how much sleep is enough; why some people can do with less sleep?; why we think the way we do; why do we have our appendages evolved in the way they are; are we continu ...more
-Fun Facts About Brains
-Why the Genesis Story Was Metaphorically Correct
-Why Sigmund Freud Was Basically Correct
-Why Are We So Mean to Monkeys
-What If the Dino Extinction Supernova Annihilated Its Orbiting Worlds
-Computer Games Are Fun
-In the Future We Can Have Bigger Brains Thanks to C-Sections (eep)

Carl Sagan was quite the philosopher, and his passion for the universe and for public education comes through loud and clear. A skeptic and rationalist with a romantic, fantastic vision - for one so
Sep 04, 2018 added it

Sep 16, 2007 rated it did not like it
The copy of the book I got was published in 1977 and what isn't out of date is wrong. The subtitle is "Speculations on the evolution of human intelligence",
but little in the book is about that topic.

The book rambles from from one subject to another,
from cute drawings by everyone's favorite: M.C. Escher,
to the chemical composition of distant stars.

Perhaps the most interesting part is the chart that shows
Brain mass vs. Body weight.
On that chart moles rate quite highly.
Probably not the point
Dec 07, 2007 rated it it was amazing
A look into the evolution of the human mind. Sagan closes the first chapter giving the reader a perspective on their position in history: If the history of the universe was represented by our 12-month year, the history of mankind would exist in the last second of the last minute of December 31. Exploring the pains of childbirth, warring subhuman species, and simplified understandings of how the human brain works, "The Dragons of Eden" is written in a way that anyone can enjoy (it was a NY Times ...more
Parth Agrawal
Mar 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
"Science is only a Latin word for Knowledge and Knowledge is our destiny"- Carl Sagan

I'll be honest, initial 50 pages of the book gave me all the reasons to give up this and start anew. The credit goes to the biological backdrop of the book but with time, I realized that my age old belief of biology, being an enigma and a damp squib, was based on all wrong perceptions.

As the name suggests, the speculation on human intelligence by the author largely consists of the evolution of mankind from Homo
Kevin Kelsey
Feb 28, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2015
Very good considering that Carl Sagan is writing outside of his field. Great speculations on the evolution of human/animal intelligence. Minus 1 star for being heavily outdated (originally published in 1977). I'll definitely be reading a more recent book on the same topic; written by a neuroscientist rather than an astrophysicist. ...more
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In 1934, scientist Carl Sagan was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. After earning bachelor and master's degrees at Cornell, Sagan earned a double doctorate at the University of Chicago in 1960. He became professor of astronomy and space science and director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies at Cornell University, and co-founder of the Planetary Society. A great popularizer of science, Sagan produced th ...more

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