"Nonzero" transmuted me from a cynical fatalist into an unrepentant optimist. The gist is that human culture advances when win/win strategies replace win/lose (zero sum) strategies.
Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny
by Robert Wright
* Consider the apparent self-assembling of the universe over the last 13.8 billion years.
* Consider the seeming overall long-term trend (certainly not a monotonic one) of "improvement" in life. Adapting Gregg Easterbrook's thought experiment : Would you permanently trade places with a random person who lived 1,000 years ago? How about 10,000 years ago? Would anyone, at any time, do so?
It's a defensible proposition that, as theologian Philip Hefner put it, we are created co-creators . To what end? Who knows. But if past performance is any indication, it'll be pretty neat.
From this perspective, conducting one's life in accordance with (a weak version of) Pascal's Wager  seems like a reasonable course of action.
 http://www.amazon.com/Nonzero-The-Logic-Human-Destiny/dp/067... (not an affiliate link)
 http://www.amazon.com/Beside-Still-Waters-Searching-Meaning/... (ditto)
From the publisher's summary at Amazon: "In Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny, Wright asserts that, ever since the primordial ooze, life has followed a basic pattern. Organisms and human societies alike have grown more complex by mastering the challenges of internal cooperation. Wright's narrative ranges from fossilized bacteria to vampire bats, from stone-age villages to the World Trade Organization, uncovering such surprises as the benefits of barbarian hordes and the useful stability of feudalism. Here is history endowed with moral significance–a way of looking at our biological and cultural evolution that suggests, refreshingly, that human morality has improved over time, and that our instinct to discover meaning may itself serve a higher purpose. Insightful, witty, profound, Nonzero offers breathtaking implications for what we believe and how we adapt to technology's ongoing transformation of the world."
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