Beyond Human Nature: How Culture and Experience Shape the Human Mind

Overview

In this era of genome projects and brain scans, it is all too easy to overestimate the role of biology in human psychology. But in this passionate corrective to the idea that DNA is destiny, Jesse Prinz focuses on the most extraordinary aspect of human nature: that nurture can supplement and supplant nature, allowing our minds to be profoundly influenced by experience and culture. Drawing on cutting-edge research in neuroscience, psychology, and anthropology, Prinz shatters the myth of human uniformity and ...

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Overview

In this era of genome projects and brain scans, it is all too easy to overestimate the role of biology in human psychology. But in this passionate corrective to the idea that DNA is destiny, Jesse Prinz focuses on the most extraordinary aspect of human nature: that nurture can supplement and supplant nature, allowing our minds to be profoundly influenced by experience and culture. Drawing on cutting-edge research in neuroscience, psychology, and anthropology, Prinz shatters the myth of human uniformity and reveals how our differing cultures and life experiences make each of us unique. Along the way he shows that we can’t blame mental illness or addiction on our genes, and that societal factors shape gender differences in cognitive ability and sexual behavior. A much-needed contribution to the nature-nurture debate, Beyond Human Nature shows us that it is only through the lens of nurture that the spectrum of human diversity becomes fully and brilliantly visible.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
In 1999, Scientific American published an article suggesting it was time to abandon the nature-versus-nurture debate and integrate many new theories of human behavior, including ones that emphasize developmental, genetic, evolutionary, and cultural factors. Yet the debate continues, and here Prinz (philosophy, CUNY Graduate Ctr.; The Conscious Brain: How Attention Engenders Experience) posits that each individual is a product of multiple influences, but that cultural psychology plays a far greater role in human development than has been understood. The chapters explore the basic areas of human behavior that have previously featured in this debate, including IQ, so-called innate knowledge, language, thinking, feelings, gender issues, and values. The author believes that biology does affect behavior, but that the contributions are modest in comparison with the impact of our social environments, particularly social conformity. While Prinz admits that some areas need further study, he is adamant that science must move beyond genetics and evolution and explore cultural history to better understand human behavior. VERDICT This is a good history and overview of the issues involved in the nature-nurture debate with a convincing argument about where the conversation should go in the future. Strongly recommended, especially for larger public libraries and university libraries. [See Prepub Alert, 2/7/11.]—Mary E. Jones, Los Angeles P.L.
Kirkus Reviews
Cognitive Science editorial board member Prinz (Philosophy/City Univ. of New York; The Emotional Construction of Morals, 2008, etc.) tackles an age-old debate, making an argument for "the primacy of nurture over nature." The question has been endlessly debated: How much of man's behavior is innate and genetically determined, and how much is affected by environment and experience? Thinkers who study such matters, including psychologists and philosophers, largely fall somewhere in the middle: "Between the poles of nature and nurture, there is a vast spectrum of possible positions," writes the author. But that doesn't mean there isn't still lively debate, and Prinz makes clear that he stands on the far end of the nurturist side of the spectrum. Much as cognitive scientist Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate (2002) presented a sweeping naturist viewpoint, Prinz makes arguments in favor of "a fairly thoroughgoing nurturism." He seeks to dismantle the widely held notion that language, personality traits, moral values and other complex aspects of human behavior are determined largely by biology. Taking issue with the concept of genetic determinism, he stresses that environmental factors play a much bigger role in, for example, alcoholic behavior or IQ scores, than genes do. Throughout, he cites numerous studies and colorful examples to support his views. While Prinz's passion for his subject is evident, and his positions well-researched, his prose can be a bit dry and repetitive at times. However, he presents some compelling arguments, and he is unafraid to take on popular beliefs to make his points--as when he challenges the idea of an innate human capacity for learning language or argues that depression has a large cultural component. A spirited nurturist polemic.
New Statesman
“From start to finish this book is a fine, balanced, enormously learned and informative blast on the trumpet of common sense and humane understanding.”
Wall Street Journal
“Challenges the tenets of modern evolutionary psychology.”
Daily Beast
“Science writing done right.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393061758
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 11/19/2012
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 964,514
  • Product dimensions: 9.20 (w) x 6.40 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Jesse J. Prinz is a professor of philosophy at the City Univeristy of New York, a member of the editorial board of Cognitive Science, and an award-winning cognitive scientist. He splits his time between New York City and Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

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Table of Contents

Preface xi

1 The Nature-Nurture Debate 1

Where Do Traits Come From?

2 Putting the Genome Back in the Bottle 17

3 Get Smart 52

Where Does Knowledge Come From?

4 What Babies Know 83

5 Sensible Ideas 115

Where Does Language Come From?

6 The Gift of the Gab 137

7 Words and Worlds 170

Where Does Thinking Come From?

8 The Tao of Thought 193

9 Gender and Geometry 213

Where Do Feelings Come From?

10 Fear and Loathing in Micronesia 241

11 Gladness and Madness 267

Where Do Values Come From?

12 Coping with Cannibalism 293

13 In Bed with Darwin 330

Afterword 365

Notes 369

Index 389

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