Saturday, January 19, 2008

Nonzero- Robert Wright

This Robert Wright book is not related to his masterpiece "The Moral Animal". It is a very well done and well researched book arguing for "directionality" of evolution in both the cultural and the biological realms. Wright uses the concept of "nonzero sum" from game theory. The idea being that greater frequency of win-win scenarios involving things like cooperation, symbiosis, and community are at the tip of the arrow of evolution. This as opposed to the zero sum win-lose game where one party wins at the expense of the other.

Wright's thesis is that the way information is transferred through evolution and natural selection pretty much guarantees a culmination of greater nonzero sum games as evolution proceeds. He even goes on to speculate that things like love are pretty much guaranteed by the process of evolution.

He then addresses the problem of consciousness and where it fits into all this. Is it epiphenomenon just coming along for the ride or something more ingrained? I believe Wright is geniunely agnostic and open minded to this question which makes his attitude very refreshing and appealing to people. He started off his career with interests in psychology, evolution and human nature just when "sociobiology" turned into "evolutionary psychology" in the 70's. His book "The Moral Animal" was one of the first popular offerings of the new ideas at the time.
I first noticed Robert Wright in an issue of What is Enlightenment? magazine. This is a good
interview available online.

There is also a TED talk he gave about the concepts of his book.
He was a journalist for Slate and here he has this great site - where he interviews famous thinkers about these topics.

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