In this intriguing, contrarian book, cognitive scientist Viki McCabe challenges entrenched beliefs about the roles of perception, cognition, and information in the decisions we make and the knowledge we acquire. Using cutting-edge research and compelling true stories, McCabe argues that the roots of our local and global problems lie in our reliance on the wrong information (theories), the wrong process (cognition), and the wrong worldview (atomism with its parts-perspective). We have put the world at risk because we wrongly believe it to be an assembly of parts that we can manipulate at will. It is actually a coalition of self-organizing, complex systems-from cells to cities-that cannot be partitioned and retain their purpose. Nor is the information that specifies these systems packaged in our familiar verbal descriptions. Instead, such systems reveal themselves in fractal-like geometric configurations that emerge from each system's operations and reflect their structural organization. It is organization that brings each system into existence, produces its structure, and determines its functions.
Thus, we come to know systems as disparate as neural networks, river deltas, trees, and economies by perceiving their branching structure. Without our conscious awareness, we can recognize other people by perceiving the unique version of a figure eight that oscillates around their belly buttons as they walk toward us. Form not only follows function; it doubles as information. Nonetheless, our bossy brains continue to block our perceptions using illusions and ideologies decked out as theories that pave a path directly to our current conditions of ecological destruction, political paralysis, and economic failure. McCabe counsels us to put our theories aside and focus on our perceptions. If we give them priority status, the information they access can block the hostile mental takeovers that cause many of today's problems, reconnect us to reality, and bring us back to our senses.