Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence

Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence

by Carl Sagan

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“A history of the human brain from the big bang, fifteen billion years ago, to the day before yesterday . . . It's a delight.”—The New York Times

Dr. Carl Sagan takes us on a great reading adventure, offering his vivid and startling insight into the brain of man and beast, the origin of human intelligence, the function of our most haunting legends—and their amazing links to recent discoveries. 

“How can I persuade every intelligent person to read this important and elegant book? . . . He talks about all kinds of things: the why of the pain of human childbirth . . . the reason for sleeping and dreaming . . . chimpanzees taught to communicate in deaf and dumb language . . . the definition of death . . . cloning . . . computers . . . intelligent life on other planets. . . . Fascinating . . . delightful.”—The Boston Globe

“In some lost Eden where dragons ruled, the foundations of our intelligence were laid. . . . Carl Sagan takes us on a guided tour of that lost land. . . . Fascinating . . . entertaining . . . masterful.”—St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307801005
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/26/2012
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 45,016
File size: 25 MB
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About the Author

Carl Sagan served as the David Duncan Professor of Astronomy and Space Sciences and Director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies at Cornell University. He played a leading role in the Mariner, Viking, Voyager, and Galileo spacecraft expeditions, for which he received the NASA Medals for Exceptional Scientific Achievement and (twice) for Distinguished Public Service.
His Emmy- and Peabody–winning television series, Cosmos, became the most widely watched series in the history of American public television. The accompanying book, also called Cosmos, is one of the bestselling science books ever published in the English language. Dr. Sagan received the Pulitzer Prize, the Oersted Medal, and many other awards—including twenty honorary degrees from American colleges and universities—for his contributions to science, literature, education, and the preservation of the environment. In their posthumous award to Dr. Sagan of their highest honor, the National Science Foundation declared that his “research transformed planetary science . . . his gifts to mankind were infinite." Dr. Sagan died on December 20, 1996.

Read an Excerpt

THE WORLD is very old, and human beings are very young. Significant events in our personal lives are measured in years or less; our lifetimes in decades; our family genealogies in centuries; and all of recorded history in millennia. But we have been preceded by an awesome vista of time, extending for prodigious periods into the past, about which we know little—both because there are no written records and because we have real difficulty in grasping the immensity of the intervals involved.
Yet we are able to date events in the remote past. Geological stratification and radioactive dating provide information on archaeological, paleontological and geological events; and astrophysical theory provides data on the ages of planetary surfaces, stars, and the Milky Way Galaxy, as well as an estimate of the time that has elapsed since that extraordinary event called the Big Bang—an explosion that involved all of the matter and energy in the present universe. The Big Bang may be the beginning of the universe, or it may be a discontinuity in which information about the earlier history of the universe was destroyed. But it is certainly the earliest event about which we have any record.
The most instructive way I know to express this cosmic chronology is to imagine the fifteen-billion-year lifetime of the universe (or at least its present incarnation since the Big Bang) compressed into the span of a single year. Then every billion years of Earth history would correspond to about twenty-four days of our cosmic year, and one second of that year to 475 real revolutions of the Earth about the sun. On this page through this page I present the cosmic chronology in three forms: a list of some representative pre-December dates; a calendar for the month of December; and a closer look at the late evening of New Year’s Eve. On this scale, the events of our history books—even books that make significant efforts to deprovincialize the present—are so compressed that it is necessary to give a second-by-second recounting of the last seconds of the cosmic year. Even then, we find events listed as contemporary that we have been taught to consider as widely separated in time. In the history of life, an equally rich tapestry must have been woven in other periods—for example, between 10:02 and 10:03 on the morning of April 6th or September 16th. But we have detailed records only for the very end of the cosmic year.
The chronology corresponds to the best evidence now available. But some of it is rather shaky. No one would be astounded if, for example, it turns out that plants colonized the land in the Ordovician rather than the Silurian Period; or that segmented worms appeared earlier in the Precambrian Period than indicated. Also, in the chronology of the last ten seconds of the cosmic year, it was obviously impossible for me to include all significant events; I hope I may be excused for not having explicitly mentioned advances in art, music and literature or the historically significant American, French, Russian and Chinese revolutions.
Big Bang         January 1
Origin of the Milky Way Galaxy         May 1
Origin of the solar system      September 9
Formation of the Earth           September 14
Origin of life on Earth September 25
Formation of the oldest rocks known on Earth          October 2
Date of oldest fossils (bacteria and blue-green algae)         October 9
Invention of sex (by microorganisms)            ~November 1
Oldest fossil photosynthetic plants    November 12
Eukaryotes (first cells with nuclei) flourish   November 15
The construction of such tables and calendars is inevitably humbling. It is disconcerting to find that in such a cosmic year the Earth does not condense out of interstellar matter until early September; dinosaurs emerge on Christmas Eve; flowers arise on December 28th; and men and women originate at 10:30 P.M. on New Year’s Eve. All of recorded history occupies the last ten seconds of December 31; and the time from the waning of the Middle Ages to the present occupies little more than one second. But because I have arranged it that way, the first cosmic year has just ended. And despite the insignificance of the instant we have so far occupied in cosmic time, it is clear that what happens on and near Earth at the beginning of the second cosmic year will depend very much on the scientific wisdom and the distinctly human sensitivity of mankind.

Table of Contents

1The Cosmic Calendar11
2Genes and Brains19
3The Brain and the Chariot51
4Eden as a Metaphor: The Evolution of Man85
5The Abstractions of Beasts111
6Tales of Dim Eden133
7Lovers and Madmen161
8The Future Evolution of the Brain197
9Knowledge is Our Destiny: Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Intelligence237

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The Dragons of Eden; Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It's 2007, 30 years after Sagan wrote this essay on the evolution of human intelligence, and while it shows its age, it also gives Sagan the feel of a prognosticator. Many of the theories put forth herein have since been proved true, and many others, while remaining unsolved, have evidence pointing in Mr Sagan's favor. I don't have the background in biology to critically examine his description of the structures of the brain, but he did an excellent job laying out the formative processes involved in the evolution and growth of the cognizance of humans from their distant animal relatives. All in all, I am terribly glad that this book found its way into my hands, and I look forward to rereading it soon. To anyone remotely interested in the formation of the human brain, and of the evolution of intelligence, I can not recommend this book highly enough.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sagan provides very interesting ideas and concepts that should be taught more often in schools. Amazing read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I first became interested in Carl Sagan through his t.v. special "Cosmos" and for Christmas I received a few of his books to read. While "The Dragons of Eden" isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea, I would urge anyone that's even the smallest bit interested in learning the inner workings of our minds to read this book. Though some of the chapters seemed to fly by, when I reread sections Sagan's narrative all made the mysteries of the world less foreign and more understandable.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is great. It got me interested in how animals have evolved through time. I learned many interesting things about the brain, and about things like dreams. It was written with Carl Sagan's personal charm and flair. It was sometimes hard to get but Sagan makes it easy enough for almost anyone to understand. Read this book if you enjoy learning about the brain!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was my first time reading a book about science. It gave an intriguing view of how the human mind works and how it evolved. I can't even began to express how much I learned from this book.
bridgitshearth on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
These comments are all relevant but a little random.I was always disappointed that Sagan never updated this incredible book. I'd say to all of you: read Ancestor's Tale to get an update. This is Dawkins at his best and well, well worth the time it takes to read. He's much more humble as a scientist writing about his science than as a scientist as social/culture critic. Ancestor's Tale is definitely more of an opus than Dragons. The problem I always have reading Sagan is I am haunted by his voice. It must be significant how many of the reviewers read it when they were "younger" and remember its impact. Ditto here!
P_S_Patrick on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the first book by Sagan that I have read, and I was fairly impressed. He takes on the subject of human intelligence, why it evolved, and compares it to that of other organisms, describing how their brains are similar and different. I found the style of writing good, and liked the way he tied in myths with some of the points, which made a lot of sense. The book doesn't get too technical anywhere, so will be suitable for any reader really. Overall this was a good read, and I would recommend it to those with an interest in human thought, biology, and the brain.
alexmaron on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the book that changed me, that opened my mind when I was 14 years old. It is about inteligence and evolution and the explanations, examples and stories are amazing. Sagan was a real genius in terms of making science sexy.
psiloiordinary on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence" is the subtitle.Written in 1977. I am sure that many of the subjects in this book have now progressed far beyond this collection of thoughts, nevertheless, this book provides an intriguing and wide ranging introduction to the topic. We are given an anatomical tour of the brain, comparisons of competing theories of how it developed and how it is organised. We are tempted with glimpses of truth resulting from comparisons between human and animal brains and behaviours, which also reveals that we are perhaps not so far removed from our nearest cousins as we might sometimes assume.Sagan even tries to ask questions about common human myths and ways of thinking and links them to what we know about the brain's development and operation.Much thought provoking stuff on left and right brain conflict and some fascinating insights into the effects of various brain diseases and injuries.A very useful further reading section included.A great book, up to his usual excellent standard.
soylentgreen23 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sagan, usually so reliable a sage, gets drawn into the debate surrounding the issue of human intelligence. This is somewhat of a surprise - what is intelligence anyway? He doesn't suggest an answer but instead dissects some of the studies done on the subject without really getting anywhere. But can he? The field is ripe for philosophical discussion, but Sagan, a scientist of the first class, doesn't realise that the ground he's walking on is quicksand.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
me encanto! me gusta como te atrapa y hace participar en las deducciones de las teorias, te hace pensar informandote no afirmando arbitrariamente cosas. me hizo pensar de lo complicada que es nuestra fisiologia y que ligado que esta esto a nuestra inteligencia, y lo complicado de ella. me parece que es cientifico el que lo lea le tiene que interesar el tema , nuestra evolucion y porque llegamos hasta aca. todos los libros que lei de sagan me hacen pensar , saco en conclusion que somos capaces de estar mucho mejor pero hay tambien la partes del humano entrevero de lo inteligente y lo animal que no nos lleva por buen camino(como conjunto toda la humanidad). de todas formas es interesante que uno se plantee estas cosas y estos libros ayudan a esto mismo.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book included many intrueging facts about the human mind, but was hard to get into and I felt as though I was reading a textbook.