1st Edition

An Anthropology of Puzzles
The Role of Puzzles in the Origins and Evolution of Mind and Culture

ISBN 9780367732264
Published December 18, 2020 by Routledge
232 Pages

USD $48.95

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Book Description

An Anthropology of Puzzles argues that the human brain is a "puzzling organ" which allows humans to literally solve their own problems of existence through puzzle format. Noting the presence of puzzles everywhere in everyday life, Marcel Danesi looks at puzzles in society since the dawn of history, showing how their presence has guided large sections of human history, from discoveries in mathematics to disquisitions in philosophy. Danesi examines the cognitive processes that are involved in puzzle making and solving, and connects them to the actual physical manifestations of classic puzzles. Building on a concept of puzzles as based on Jungian archetypes, such as the river crossing image, the path metaphor, and the journey, Danesi suggests this could be one way to understand the public fascination with puzzles. As well as drawing on underlying mental archetypes, the act of solving puzzles also provides an outlet to move beyond biological evolution, and Danesi shows that puzzles could be the product of the same basic neural mechanism that produces language and culture. Finally, Danesi explores how understanding puzzles can be a new way of understanding our human culture.

Table of Contents

List of FiguresPrefaceAcknowledgements1. Puzzles in Mind and History2. Riddles3. Word Games4. Visual Puzzles 5. Puzzles in Mathematics6. Puzzles and Logic7. Puzzles and Human IntelligenceReferencesIndex

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Marcel Danesi is Professor of Semiotics and Linguistic Anthropology at the University of Toronto, Canada. He has published extensively and is editor-in-chief of Semiotica, leading journal in the field of semiotics. He is author of The Semiotics of Emoji (Bloomsbury, 2016).


"Puzzles—inclusive of riddles, games, optical illusions, enigmas, oracles, labyrinths—appeal to the individual human mind and to collective cultural traditions, from prehistory up to today, and around the globe. The motivation to ""play"" may lie in the reward: the ""ah-ha"" for pastimes and/or the ""gotcha"" when intellectual challenge is involved. Semiotics' own ""magister ludi"" Marcel Danesi has collected, curated, and clarified the addiction experienced by those lured onto the dialectical thin ice between logical reasoning and sheer imagination. - Myrdene Anderson, Purdue University, USAMarcel Danesi, the world’s leading authority on puzzles, provides an insightful historical overview of the creative, psychological, and interactional role of puzzles in cultures worldwide. These cultural artifacts date from the dawn of history, and Professor Danesi illustrates clearly and convincingly how solving puzzles stimulates the imagination and the inventiveness of the individuals and the societies that produce them. These enigmatic forms constitute the brain’s tools for resolving problems and they are an essential component of human intellectual endeavors. - Frank Nuessel, University of Louisville, USAHow are puzzles solved before their algorithm is found? Non-algorithmically – using creativity of semiotic logic. This is what Marcel Danesi, a leading scholar of the Toronto Semiotic Circle, is demonstrating. - Kalevi Kull, University of Tartu, EstoniaAn intriguing and fascinating overview of puzzles throughout human history. The book unravels the mysterious underlying origins of mind and culture through puzzles, with many mind-twisting puzzle examples. - Kumiko Tanaka-Ishii, University of Tokyo, Japan"