Friday, July 28, 2017

Howard Bloom - The Genius Of The Beast (Prometheus, 2011) ***

Howard Bloom is a kind of a unique author. He is well-read, and knows his way in many science areas, but he is not a scientist (even if he pretends to be astro-physicist, evolutionary biologist and cognitive scientist - which he never formally studied). He used to be the PR guy for famous rock stars in the 70s and 80s for Prince, Billy Joël, Michael Jackson, Queen and pretends to have generated more than 28 billion USD by doing that. He is many things but he is not humble. His self-obsession in his books can be irritating and off-putting, but at the same time he has some great qualities.

Why I like him is because of his big picture thinking. He brings things together in a way that very few people can, creating links between mass behaviour theories with physics, history and paleontology. I like the way he tries to build grand theories about how abstract processes underly totally different phenomena. I like the way he writes, with passion, without dwelling too much on the details, but steadily dragging the reader on towards new insights and new parallels and new facts. He is strong at giving new perspectives on known realities.

In The Genius Of The Beast, he tries to look at the forces that drive us, our emotions and values to create innovations and a better world, or as the subtitle says : "a radical re-vision of capitalism".

Like a good marketeer, he gives names to his own inventions: he calls itthe "secular genesis machine", the "evolutionary search engine", and the two rules of science: the truth at any cost, including the cost of your life, and to look at what is right under your nose as if it is the first time you have seen it, then proceed from there. He describes how our deepest feelings of personal self-fullfilment combined with empathy will move the world forward, looking for improvements in the culture we create, failing oftentimes, yet moving forward, course-correcting and continuing on the new track. And why capitalism is important, because in the end the consumer will dictate where he or she wants to go, and go for those items that are giving pleasure, that surprise and that create fun. And if there are side-effects, the system will handle those and move forward.

This book, like some of his other books, reads like an endless rant, without clear structure but written with passion. I'm not sure whether you have to take what he writes seriously, clearly he jumps from one subject to the next, finding big analogies between the way molecules work, or beehives, or tribes or complex societies, without any evidence that there is a natural link. Bloom is not a scientist, despite his own claims, but he creates wonderful collages of related and unrelated facts.

If you have a good sense of criticism, some of his ideas may be of interest, and surely challenging some of the thoughts you currently hold, making you think about the topics he writes about. That by itself is already a good result, even if you won't find any conclusive answers.

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