Books in brief: 'The Evolution of Consciousness' - Robert Ornstein: Simon & Schuster, 16.99. pounds

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Everyone thinks of himself or herself as a 'self', possessing a single mind. We think of that mind as rational and, if we are not modern cognitive scientists, also as conscious. We think that we go through life noticing our surroundings and responding, at least some of the time, in an intelligent way. We believe that we make decisions based on the analysis of information leading to reasoned choice.

Not so, says Robert Ornstein. 'Rationality,' he claims, 'is a great idea and ideal, but we never had the time for it, we don't have time for it now, and thus we don't have the mind for it.' Our real mind, he contends, is a cacophonous array of irrational 'simpletons', each of which evolved at a different pace in unconscious, adaptive response to the demands of the environment. We are,

in fact, a collection of programmed adaptations.

Ornstein's message is that time has run out on the clock of biological evolution. Through our technology we have transformed the world beyond our ability to adapt to it in the old ways. We must bring our underused capacity for consciousness and self-awareness into play to save ourselves and the planet. Conscious evolution must replace biological evolution. A vague Californian Sufism seems to be the recommended technique for achieving this.