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New World New Mind.


But facing the twenty-first century, earthlings are equipped with a mindset suitable for the eighteenth-century. In their new book, New World, New Mind, Robert Ornstein and Paul Ehrlich warn that the wonders we have created can be destroyed unless society strives to fit the demands of the advanced civilization.

The world is an increasingly dangerous place, they say, and many of its new dangers are not instantaneously obvious. The reactions to the modern world are often inappropriate because the nature of our minds and the training we give them do not match the challenges of the age.

On a planet that has an exploding birth rate, a deteriorating environment, and steadily dwindling resources, we have spent more time, energy, and genius building arsenals to destroy enemies real and imaginary, rather than work to save ourselves.

"The mismatch of our brains with our environments has been produced by millennia of effort," they write. "The skill, ingenuity, and drive of our species are no longer in step with the world they live in." The human mental system is failing to comprehend the enormity of the dangers the new world poses.

We don't perceive the world as it is, the authors complain, because our nervous system evolved from primitive times to select only a small extract of reality and to ignore the rest. That is all prehistoric humans needed to survive, an intense focus on and awareness of available food, shelter, and imminent danger. This internal spotlight, they explain, makes us sensitive only to beginnings and endings - with the middle too often ignored.

Human inventiveness has created problems that defy humanity's ability to deal with them. Science has diminished infant mortality, but our species cannot comprehend the problems of a burgeoning population: more than five billion people now occupy the earth. In the next four years alone, more people will be added to the Earth's inhabitants than the number of those who made up the entire population living at the time of Jesus!

The rate of change in the world is increasing to the extent that each decade's environment differs dramatically from the last. Each triumph of technology, Ornstein and Ehrlich note contains new threats. Thus our old mental system struggles and often fails to distinguish the relevant from the trivial, the local from the distant, just as the ability to make such distinctions is becoming increasingly crucial.

Like those of other animals, our brains evolved to understand only a small portion of the world, the portion that affects our capacity to survive and reproduce. However, that limited perspective cannot serve us in a world where more explosive power can be carried in a single nuclear submarine than has been detonated in all wars so far.

The hope for survival lies in changing our attitudes toward the exhaustion of our natural resources, becoming literate in new disciplines - enlisting the educational system to deal with probability theory and structure of modern thought rather than just learning dates in history and anniversaries of past wars.

"To retrain ourselves requires a radical shift in our normal way of regarding ourselves and our environment: we have to look at ourselves in the long view," they urge, "and understand an evolutionary history of millions of years rather than the fleeting history that is taught."

We need to learn to perceive and respond to the threat of overpopulation, the increasing extinction of other species, and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. These and other such gradual alterations, the authors insist, are threats more dangerous than the many other tribulations that command our constant attention.

New World New Mind portrays emphatically the long-term deterioration facing our planet. But its authors are hopeful that enough changes will take place to ameliorate the tragedy before us. The theme of the book is changing "mindset." Perhaps some reformations are already evolving.

We can be heartened by various campaigns to eliminate acid rain, pollution, and pesticides in the food supply. The willingness of the superpowers to consider limiting weapons of war is encouraging. The increased respect for other beings as evidenced by changes in attitude toward slaughtering animals for their fur and factory-farming of cattle, poultry, and animal testing is also a milestone on the road to "salvation."
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Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1989
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