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The idea that we might be robots is no longer the stuff of science fiction; decades of research in evolutionary biology and cognitive science have led many esteemed scientists to the conclusion that, according to the precepts of universal Darwinism, humans are merely the hosts for two replicators (genes and memes) that have no interest in us except as conduits for replication. Richard Dawkins, for example, jolted us into realizing that we are just survival mechanisms for our own genes, sophisticated robots in service of huge colonies of replicators to whom concepts of rationality, intelligence, agency, and even the human soul are irrelevant.

Accepting and now forcefully responding to this decentering and disturbing idea, Keith Stanovich here provides the tools for the "robot's rebellion," a program of cognitive reform necessary to advance human interests over the limited interest of the replicators and define our own autonomous goals as individual human beings. He shows how concepts of rational thinking from cognitive science interact with the logic of evolution to create opportunities for humans to structure their behavior to serve their own ends. These evaluative activities of the brain, he argues, fulfill the need that we have to ascribe significance to human life.

We may well be robots, but we are the only robots who have discovered that fact. Only by recognizing ourselves as such, argues Stanovich, can we begin to construct a concept of self based on what is truly singular about humans: that they gain control of their lives in a way unique among life forms on Earth—through rational self-determination.
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About the Author

Keith E. Stanovich holds the Canada Research Chair in Applied Cognitive Science at the University of Toronto. A fellow of the American Psychological Association and the American Psychological Society, he is the author of Who Is Rational? Studies of Individual Differences in Reasoning and How to Think Straight About Psychology, now in its seventh edition.

Reviews

According to Stanovich, we're only just beginning to grapple with the deep consequences of Darwin's theory of natural selection. One such consequence, Richard Dawkins's theory of the "selfish gene," implies that living creatures are mere vehicles constructed to facilitate the survival and replication of genes. While Stanovich (How to Think Straight About Psychology), a cognitive scientist at the University of Toronto, agrees with the basic idea of the selfish gene, he finds fault with the conclusion that we are simply at its mercy. Drawing on recent research in cognitive science, he argues for an alternate conception of our relationship with our genes: we may be robots originally constructed as vehicles for genes, but our higher-level analytic reasoning abilities (themselves a product of evolution) enable us to rebel against our genetically programmed "autonomous set of systems," as well as the analogous cultural memes that infect our rational minds. Though framed as a revolutionary manifesto about how we can retain our autonomy and humanity if we are merely vehicles (robots) for genes and memes, this book is fundamentally a work of scholarship, bridging cognitive science and evolutionary psychology. As a consequence, though Stanovich's writing is clear, a reader without much background in these fields might find his argument quite difficult to follow at times, trading accessibility for a deep exploration of the philosophical and scientific ramifications of Darwinian evolution. (May) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

"Stanovich offers readers a sweeping tour of theory and research, advancing a programme of 'cognitive reform' that puts human interests first.... By making the point that cognition is optimized at the level of genes, not of individuals, Stanovich puts a fresh spin on the familiar claim that people are sometimes woefully irrational.... With The Robot's Rebellion, he sets himself apart from unreflective thinkers on both sides of the divide by taking evolutionary accounts of cognition seriously, even as he urges us to improve on what evolution has wrought." - Valerie M. Chase, Nature "According to Stanovich, we're only just beginning to grapple with the deep consequences of Darwin's theory of natural selection. One such consequence, Richard Dawkins's theory of the 'selfish gene,' implies that living creatures are mere vehicles constructed to facilitate the survival and replication of genes. While Stanovich...agrees with the basic idea of the selfish gene, he finds fault with the conclusion that we are simply at its mercy....A deep exploration of the philosophical and scientific ramifications of Darwinian evolution." - Publishers Weekly"

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