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The Watchman’s Rattle

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The Watchman’s Rattle

Thinking Our Way Out of Extinction

Vanguard Press,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Humankind’s basic problem-solving apparatus – the brain – isn’t up to modern challenges. Do biology and evolution keep people from fixing the world?

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Sociobiologist Rebecca D. Costa asserts that modern challenges, like society’s rapidly snowballing complexity, are outstripping humankind’s evolutionary cognitive abilities. One symptom of this problem is that people are addressing the world’s most pressing issues by wielding rigid, misguided beliefs, or “supermemes.” Costa, who takes her title from an 1865 history of the Boston police, warns that the modern world could go the way of past great civilizations unless people improve their mental functioning. She shows how strategies that helped humans survive in antiquity – like heavy calorie consumption – have become modern problems. Now, humanity can’t wait any longer for evolution to bail it out. People must foster the brain’s latent power of insight to tap into discovery and innovation without waiting for crises to force their thinking to expand. Costa is engaging and persuasive, despite her motivational speaker’s tone. Her message includes advice on how improving your personal brain fitness could also improve society’s future. While always politically neutral, getAbstract recommends her original insights to policy makers, executives, HR experts, scientists and readers seeking fresh solutions.


Civilization, Insight and Magical Thinking

Has modern life become too complex? Consider ancient societies. The Mayans, for example, ran an impressive civilization in Central America for about 3,000 years. Their society came apart in the eighth or ninth century. Experts find that a water shortage, a virus, war or environmental conditions could help explain its collapse. In the end, it seems that drought overwhelmed the Mayan civilization. Once they were in peril, the Mayans turned to their faith in ritual sacrifice as the solution to their woes.

But the best explanation may be an evolutionary principle: Humankind’s basic problem-solving apparatus – the brain – isn’t up to dealing with radical change and modern challenges. A society that knows this limitation could theoretically devise ways around it. When a problem approaches the meltdown stage, warning signs appear. These include “gridlock,” a freeze on problem solving, and a societal preference for unproven assumptions – or “beliefs” – over provable fact. People share a capacity for belief and a need for knowledge, but any society that rejects reality in favor of wishful thinking is in trouble.

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About the Author

Rebecca D. Costa is a sociobiologist, writer and former Silicon Valley executive who hosts The Costa Report, a weekly syndicated radio program.

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