Open main menu

Figments of Reality

Figments of Reality: The Evolution of the Curious Mind (1997) is a book about the evolution of the intelligent and conscious human mind by biologist Jack Cohen and mathematician Ian Stewart.

Figments of Reality
Figments of Reality - bookcover.jpg
Hardcover edition
Author Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Subject Sociobiology
Genre Non-fiction
Publisher Cambridge University Press
Publication date
Pages 339 pp.
ISBN 0-521-57155-3
OCLC 36017160
153.4/2 21
LC Class BF311 .S679 1997


In this book Cohen and Stewart give their ideas on how the sentient human being evolved. Various chapters discuss scientific and philosophical ideas such as emergence and chaos, free will, perception versus reality, objectivity versus subjectivity, self-awareness, the ego and id, groupthink, and extelligence. A theme is that the traditional reductionist approach of trying to understand things as interaction of simpler things can not alone explain such complex concepts as intelligence or culture. To better understand them one has to consider also the context in which they have evolved and the fact that the evolution is a recursive process, often changing the context so that previously unseen evolutionary paths became available. The authors claim that intelligence is an inevitable result of letting evolution progress for long enough.

Topics are illustrated with humorous science fiction snippets dealing with a hypothetical alien intelligence, the Zarathustrians, whom Cohen and Stewart use as metaphors of the human mind itself, an alternative evolution story, and various philosophical concepts.


  • Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart: Figments of Reality: The Evolution of the Curious Mind, Cambridge University Press, 1997, ISBN 0-521-57155-3