Bookshelf: Jason Silva

18 December 2011

As we prepare body and soul for the gluttony and giving nearly upon us, Jason Silva presents us with an intellectual antidote; an incredible and excitable selection of books that thinks a little bigger than exactly how many brussels sprouts we will be expected to eat in the coming weeks. Web-wide courted themes of The Singualrity, group consciousness and technology’s expectation of us, the synthesis of the human condition and (why not?) immortality – all are to be found in the permanent pages of this wonderfully accessible selection of books on Silva’s Bookshelf.

The Singularity is Near Ray Kurzweil

This magnificent books illustrates how the exponential growth curves governing the explosion of technological progress are leading to a transcendent symbiosis between our biology and our technology. We didn’t stay in the caves, we didn’t stay on the planet and we won’t stay with the limitations of our biology. Favorite quote: “It turns out that we are central after all. Our ability to create virtual models in our brains, combined with our modest-looking thumbs has been sufficient to usher in another form of evolution called technology. It will continue until the entire universe is at our fingertips”.

Where Good Ideas Come From Stephen Johnson

A mind-blowing account showing that good ideas require “spaces of innovation.” Whether they be rich biological ecologies like the coral reef, or rich cultural constructs like the city, “innovation rich” spaces share the same characteristics: natural systems and man-made systems share recurring patterns across different scales. Favorite quote: “The Adjacent Possible is a kind of shadow future, hovering on the present state of things, a map of all the ways the present can re-invent itself”…. He continues: “patterns of innovation and creativity are fractal: they reappear in recognisable form as you zoom in and out, from molecule to neuron to pixel to sidewalk. Whether you’re looking at original innovations of carbon-based life, or the explosion of news tools on the web, the same shapes keep turning up… when life gets creative, it has a tendency to gravitate toward certain recurring patterns, whether those patterns are self-organising, or whether they are deliberately crafted by human agents.”

What Technology Wants Kevin Kelly

This is a wonderfully written narrative that posits technology as an evolutionary force he calls The Technium. Technology extends who and what we are- It is like a scaffolding extending our thought, reach and vision. Favorite quote: “Look what is coming: Technology is stitching together all the minds of the living, wrapping the planet in a vibrating cloak of electronic nerves, entire continents of machines conversing with one another, the whole aggregation watching itself through a million cameras posted daily. How can this not stir that organ in us that is sensitive to something larger than ourselves?”

The Denial of Death Ernest Becker

Winner of the 1974 Pulitzer Prize and immortalized in the film Annie Hall, The Denial of Death is perhaps the best synthesis of the human condition: we are the only species aware of our mortality and this causes unbearable psychological stress that we have to subvert with our creativity. Progress, art, love, and transcendence, in all its forms, is a rebellion against our animality and our anality. “We are gods with anuses,” writes Becker. “Man finds himself in quite the predicament. He has the mental capacity to ponder the infinite, seemingly capable of anything, yet housed in a heart-pumping, breath-gasping, decaying body…we are godly, yet creaturely.” He says heroism is the only answer to our situation.

The Immortalist Alan Harrington

This is a true anti-death manifesto published in 1968 and now out-of-print but available on Amazon-used and others. Gore Vidal called it the most important book ever written. It proposes an engineering solution to the problem of death, and proclaims that we must end our “cosmic inferiority complex.” “We must never forget we are cosmic revolutionaries, not stooges conscripted to advance a natural order that kills everyone… having invented the gods, we can turn into them.”

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About the Author

Bryony Quinn

Bryony was It’s Nice That’s first ever intern and worked her way up to assistant online editor before moving on to pursue other interests in the summer of 2012.

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