“Cosmos, the widely acclaimed book and television series by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan, was about where we are in the vastness of space and time. Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors is an exploration of who we are. How were we shaped by life’s adventure on this planet, by a mysterious past that we are only just beginning to piece together?”
“A Pulitzer prize winning 1977 book by Carl Sagan. In it, he combines the fields of anthropology, evolutionary biology, psychology, and computer science to give a perspective of how human intelligence evolved.”
Okay, I cheated–this is the TV series, not a book. It’s the most widely watched PBS series ever, according to Wikipedia, and it’s poetically brilliant, so if you haven’t seen it, you should.
“Sagan mixes philosophy about the human place in the universe with a description of the current knowledge about the Solar System. He also details a human vision for the future.”
“In his delightfully down-to-earth style, [Sagan] explores and explains a mind-boggling future of intelligent robots, extraterrestrial life and its consequences, and other provocative, fascinating quandaries of the future that we want to see today.” (description from book flap)
The family tree of each of us is graced by all those great inventors: the beings who first tried out self-replication, the manufacture of protein machine tools, the cell, cooperation, predation, symbiosis, photosynthesis, breathing oxygen, sex, hormones, brains, and all the rest–inventions we use, some of them, minute-by-minute without ever wondering who devised them and how much we owe to these unknown benefactors, in a chain 100 billion links long.
…There we can also find friendship, altruism, love, fidelity, courage, intelligence, invention, curiosity, forethought, and a host of other characteristics that we humans should be glad to have in greater measure. Those who deny or decry our “animal” natures underestimate what those natures are.
We go to great lengths to deny our animal heritage, and not just in scientific and philosophical discourse. … The common primate practice of pseudosexual mounting of males by males to express dominance is not widespread in humans, and some have taken comfort from this fact. But the most potent form of verbal abuse in English and many other languages is “Fuck you,” with the pronoun “I” implicit at the beginning. The speaker is vividly asserting his claim to higher status, and his contempt for those he considers subordinate. Characteristically, humans have converted a postural image into a linguistic one with barely a change in nuance. The phrase is uttered millions of times each day, all over the planet, with hardly anyone stopping to think what it means. Often, it escapes our lips unbidden. It is satisfying to say. It serves its purpose. It is a badge of the primate order, revealing something of our nature despite all our denials and pretensions.
Learning by doing is–in science and technology, as in many other human activities–much more effective than learning by rote. Knowing … that a problem exists and can be solved with the tools at hand is most of the battle.