The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity's Search for Meaning

The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity's Search for Meaning

The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity's Search for Meaning

The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity's Search for Meaning


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Winner of the 2017 Nautilus Silver Award!

This fresh perspective on crucial questions of history identifies the root metaphors that cultures have used to construct meaning in their world. It offers a glimpse into the minds of a vast range of different peoples: early hunter-gatherers and farmers, ancient Egyptians, traditional Chinese sages, the founders of Christianity, trail-blazers of the Scientific Revolution, and those who constructed our modern consumer society.

Taking the reader on an archaeological exploration of the mind, the author, an entrepreneur and sustainability leader, uses recent findings in cognitive science and systems theory to reveal the hidden layers of values that form today's cultural norms.

Uprooting the tired cliches of the science-religion debate, he shows how medieval Christian rationalism acted as an incubator for scientific thought, which in turn shaped our modern vision of the conquest of nature. The author probes our current crisis of unsustainability and argues that it is not an inevitable result of human nature, but is culturally driven: a product of particular mental patterns that could conceivably be reshaped.

By shining a light on our possible futures, the book foresees a coming struggle between two contrasting views of humanity: one driving to a technological endgame of artificially enhanced humans, the other enabling a sustainable future arising from our intrinsic connectedness with each other and the natural world. This struggle, it concludes, is one in which each of us will play a role through the meaning we choose to forge from the lives we lead.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781633882935
Publisher: Prometheus Books
Publication date: 05/23/2017
Pages: 576
Sales rank: 1,040,807
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.40(h) x 2.00(d)

About the Author

Jeremy R. Lent is a writer and the founder and president of the nonprofit Liology Institute, dedicated to fostering a worldview that could enable humanity to thrive sustainably on the earth. The Liology Institute (, which integrates systems science with ancient wisdom traditions, holds regular workshops and other events in the San Francisco Bay Area. Lent is the author of the novel Requiem of the Human Soul. Formerly, he was the founder, CEO, and chairman of a publicly traded Internet company. Lent holds a BA in English Literature from Cambridge University and an MBA from the University of Chicago.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations 9

Formatting Conventions 11

Foreword 13

Preface: A Cognitive History of Humanity 15

Introduction: Shaping Our History 27

Part 1 Everything Is Connected

Chapter 1 How We Became Human 39

Chapter 2 The Magical Weave of Language 53

Chapter 3 The Rise of Mythic Consciousness 67

Chapter 4 The Giving Environment: The World of the Hunter-Gatherers 83

Part 2 Hierarchy of the Gods

Chapter 5 Agriculture and Anxiety 103

Chapter 6 Going Their Own Ways: Early Civilizations 117

Part 3 The Patterns Diverge

Western Pattern: Split Cosmos, Split Human

Eastern Pattern: Harmonic Web of Life

Chapter 7 The Birth of Dualism in Ancient Greece 143

Chapter 8 Dualism and Divinity in Ancient India 161

Chapter 9 The Search for Harmony in Ancient China 179

Chapter 10 The Cultural Shaping of Our Minds 197

Chapter 11 Pathways to Monotheism in Israel and Alexandria 215

Chapter 12 Sinful Nature: The Dualistic Cosmos of Christianity 227

Chapter 13 The Scourge of Monotheistic Intolerance 239

Chapter 14 Discovering the Principles of Nature in Song China 251

Part 4 Conquest of Nature

Chapter 15 "To Command the World": Metaphors of Nature 277

Chapter 16 Great Rats: The Story of Power and Exploitation 293

Chapter 17 The Enigma of the Scientific Revolution 317

Chapter 18 The Language of God: The Emergence of Scientific Cognition 335

Chapter 19 "Something Far Move Deeply Interfused": The Systems Worldview 357

Chapter 20 Consuming the Earth in the Modern Era 375

Part 5 The Web of Meaning?

Chapter 21 Trajectories to Our Future 405

Further Reading 443

Acknowledgments 455

Notes 457

Index 543

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