The Puzzle Instinct

The Puzzle Instinct

The Meaning of Puzzles in Human Life
Marcel Danesi
Distribution: World
Publication date: 02/20/2004
Format: Paperback 176 figures
ISBN: 978-0-253-21708-0
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Description

A selection of the Discovery Channel Book Club and Reader's Subscription Book Club

One of the most famous anagrams of all time was constructed in the Middle Ages. The unknown author contrived it as a Latin dialogue between Pilate and Jesus. Jesus’ answer to Pilate’s question "What is truth" is phrased as an ingenious anagram of the letters of that very question: Pilate: Quid est veritas? ("What is truth?") Jesus: Est virqui adest. ("It is the man before you.")

The origin of anagrams is shrouded in mystery. One thing is clear, however—in the ancient world, they were thought to contain hidden messages from the gods. Legend has it that even Alexander the Great (356–323 b.c.) believed in their prophetic power.
—from Chapter Two

The most obvious explanation for the popularity of puzzles is that they provide a form of constructive entertainment. But in The Puzzle Instinct Marcel Danesi contends that the fascination with puzzles throughout the ages suggests something much more profound. Puzzles serve a deeply embedded need in people to make sense of things. Emerging at the same time in human history as myth, magic, and the occult arts, the puzzle instinct, he claims, led to discoveries in mathematics and science, as well as revolutions in philosophical thought.

Puzzles fill an existential void by providing "small-scale experiences of the large-scale questions that Life poses. The puzzle instinct is, arguably, as intrinsic to human nature as is humor, language, art, music, and all the other creative faculties that distinguish humanity from all other species."

Author Bio

Marcel Danesi is Professor of Semiotics and Anthropology at the University of Toronto and Director of the Program in Semiotics and Communication Theory. His books include Increase Your Puzzle IQ and Of Cigarettes, High Heels, and Other Interesting Things: An Introduction to Semiotics. He lives in Toronto.

Reviews

“". . . entertaining and enlightening." -Will Shortz, Crossword Editor, The New York Times "Puzzle fanatics will enjoy the many riddles, illusions, cryptograms and other mindbenders offered for analysis." —Psychology Today ”

“"Humans are the only animals who create and solve puzzles—for the sheer pleasure of it—and there is no obvious genetic reason why we would do this. Marcel Danesi explores the psychology of puzzles and puzzling, with scores of classic examples. His pioneering book is both entertaining and enlightening." —Will Shortz, Crossword Editor, The New York Times "This book is great fun to read and highly informative." —Raymond Smullyan "This is a delightful and fascinating book that will surely appeal to anyone who is fascinated by, or infuriated by, mental puzzles." —Keith Devlin Why are humans fascinated by puzzles? Puzzle-addict and renowned communication theorist Marcel Danesi takes readers on an exploration of the philosophical implications of the puzzle instinct. Puzzles are as old as humanity and the human instinct for puzzles betrays the larger perpetual search for meaning to life. Danesi not only has included many in this book to puzzle over, he explores why we like to puzzle over them as well. Among the smaller puzzles in this book are the solutions to some much larger puzzles: What is the raison d’etre that puzzles serve, why did they emerge at the same time in history as myth, magic and the occult arts, and why can’t we put them down.”

“ Danesi, a professor of semiotics and anthropology (Univ. of Toronto), explores why puzzles, having arisen in earliest human history at the same time as mystery cults, are an intrinsic part of human life. Will Shortz, crossword puzzle editor of the New York Times, has suggested enigmatology as the study of the relationship between puzzles and culture. This book, which explores the puzzle genres that have survived over the years, is a contribution to that rubric. After first asking the question Why puzzles? (and developing several possible answers, among which is that they provide comic relief from unanswerable larger questions), Danesi devotes chapters to each of several types of puzzle. These include language puzzles (e.g., riddles and anagrams); pictures (e.g., optical illusions and mazes); logic (e.g., deductions and paradoxes); numbers (e.g., mathematical recreations); and games (e.g., chess). A final chapter synopsizes the discussion. A detailed list of references is included, as are solutions to the specific puzzles posed. The book is well written, has no mathematical prerequisites, and is quite suitable for a general audience as well as lower- and upper-division undergraduates.December 2002”
 — D. Robbins, Trinity College (CT)

“ Danesi, a professor of semiotics and anthropology (Univ. of Toronto), explores why puzzles, having arisen in earliest human history at the same time as mystery cults, are an intrinsic part of human life. Will Shortz, crossword puzzle editor of the New York Times, has suggested enigmatology as the study of the relationship between puzzles and culture. This book, which explores the puzzle genres that have survived over the years, is a contribution to that rubric. After first asking the question Why puzzles? (and developing several possible answers, among which is that they provide comic relief from unanswerable larger questions), Danesi devotes chapters to each of several types of puzzle. These include language puzzles (e.g., riddles and anagrams); pictures (e.g., optical illusions and mazes); logic (e.g., deductions and paradoxes); numbers (e.g., mathematical recreations); and games (e.g., chess). A final chapter synopsizes the discussion. A detailed list of references is included, as are solutions to the specific puzzles posed. The book is well written, has no mathematical prerequisites, and is quite suitable for a general audience as well as lower- and upper-division undergraduates.December 2002”
 — D. Robbins, Trinity College (CT)

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