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Figments of Reality

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Figments of Reality

The Evolution of the Curious Mind

Cambridge UP,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

In order to keep up with this treatise on the evolution of intelligence, you’ll need a pretty highly developed intelligence of your own.

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Editorial Rating



  • Innovative
  • Scientific
  • Background


Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen unfold the evolution of human intelligence from the beginnings of time. Their basic theory is that inorganic matter combined with carbon and became self-organizing, providing the basis for life. Over millions of years, this matter interacted with the environment and gained intelligence. Physical and intelligent matter co-evolved and eventually became human. While the book presents an intriguing, novel and reasonably well-argued scientific position about evolution, many readers may find it tough going, in that it offers exhaustive detail about the processes involved. The authors extensively discuss game theory, mathematical probability, chemistry, physics, DNA and natural selection. In addition, they include some speculative breaks - in the form of conversations about these ideas with an imaginary alien - that are hard to follow. Skip them. getAbstract recommends this book to scientifically inclined readers with a grounding in science, math and physical anthropology, who will relish the depth of information the authors provide.


Roadmap to Life

To understand how the human mind evolved to what it is today, you need a general understanding about how life first developed.

Life began with inorganic matter. A tiny primal dot full of radiant energy existed before the universe and time began. Then, during the first instant of existence, a state of negative pressure occurred in which all fragments of space repelled each other in an explosion of space. The universe inflated from a tiny dot to a huge ball of space many light years apart. Over hundreds of millions of years, matter formed into about a hundred different elements. Some particles attracted others, creating growing clumps of matter that formed into clusters comprised of hundreds of galaxies, swirling masses of matter. In some cases, the swirls of matter built up so intensely that they formed stars, while other masses of matter gradually formed planets as the universe cooled.

One of these planets in one of these galaxies was our own. As atoms on what would be Earth bumped into each other, some stuck together to form molecules, and one day, a collection of molecules developed that could make copies of itself. This replicating system became...

About the Authors

Ian Stewart  is a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Warwick, UK, and a Professor of Mathematics at the Royal Institution of Great Britain. He is the author of more than 60 books, including the bestselling Does God Play Dice? and frequently appears on radio and television. He was awarded the Royal Society Michael Faraday medal in 1995. Jack Cohen  is an internationally known reproductive biologist who was a university teacher for 30 years and has published nearly 100 research papers. His books include Living Embryos, Reproduction, Spermatozoa, Antibodies and Infertility and The Privileged Ape He acts as a consultant to top science-fiction writers and frequently appears on radio and television.

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