Like the fruitless discussions about when life begins, discussions of the meaning of intelligence are best tabled. Let...

INTELLIGENCE IN NATURE

AN INQUIRY INTO KNOWLEDGE

Anthropologist Narby plays the innocent abroad here, querying scientists around the world about intelligence—and finding it in everything that’s alive.

Borrowing from his experience with shamanism (Shamans Through Time, 2001, etc.), Narby begins with an account of how several scientists experienced changed perceptions of nature after consuming the hallucinogenic drug ayahuasca, used by Peruvian shamans when they communicate with plants and animals. From there it’s on to labs in Europe and Asia to learn how smart other species are, from bacteria and slime molds to bees, butterflies, birds, and assorted plants and trees. Bacterial species cross-talk for mutual benefit in their complex colonies of “biofilm” (like the one that lines your teeth); slime molds can run mazes; bees can be conditioned; butterflies are superb visual perceivers; outsider birds can “cry wolf” to deceive a flock and capture prey. From the plant kingdom, there’s evidence that some species can essentially creep across the landscape to find the best sites to put down roots, as well as multiple ways to communicate within and among themselves. None of these accounts is exactly new to readers of Science or Nature, but they’re nicely summarized here, along with descriptions of nervous systems and extensive endnotes. What’s new, though, is Narby’s passion to rethink the meaning of intelligence as a human property and give up the reductionist/materialist view of Western science. In its place, he adopts the Japanese word “chi-sei,” roughly defined as a knowingness that allows for decision-making at all levels of life. Actually, such knowingness is perfectly in accord with concepts of adaptation and flexibility in evolution. There’s no need to mystify or invoke the wisdom of shamans. Indeed, Narby admits that science itself has changed, so that even cell-cell signaling and protein-protein interactions can be regarded as forms of decision-making.

Like the fruitless discussions about when life begins, discussions of the meaning of intelligence are best tabled. Let scientists get on with more of the interesting work reported here.

Pub Date: March 3, 2005

ISBN: 1-58542-399-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: TarcherPerigee

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2005

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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