Bittersweet Destiny: The Stormy Evolution of Human Behavior / Edition 2

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Bittersweet Destiny combines discourse on the evolution of human behavior with a philosophical perspective. It explores evolutionary theory aimed at determining human behavior. Del Thiessen presents this material against the broad background of everyday life, allowing the reader to see the theory of evolution as it has shaped his or her own behavior. However, he points out that when evolutionary theory is aimed at human behavior, the critics object, and controversy results.

Thiessen argues that nothing in our lives makes sense unless we look at it through a biological lens. We can thereby understand our origin, our affiliation with all animals and plants, and our cultural destination. However, we can also discover a dark side to our destiny—our favoritism to those who share our own genes, our ability to deceive, and our capacity for abuse, rape, and murder. Good, bad, and indifferent, we serve the replication of our DNA. Critics extrapolate evolutionary theory to a wide range of animal species, and even human morphology and physiology, but when the same perspective is applied to human behavior there is strong dissent. What these critics fear, according to Thiessen, is that accepting evolutionary notions about human behavior strikes at the heart of free will, self-determination, and social equality.

Bittersweet Destiny describes the heroic efforts of naturalists Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace to unlock the secrets of evolution. It continues with a vivid description of our fossil history and our chance beginnings. From there the story implicates disease processes in evolution, highlights our rational and irrational nature, focuses on those characteristics of brain evolution and language that make us distinctive, and illustrates our most basic survival and reproductive mechanisms. Thiessen warns the reader that things are as they are no matter what we might wish; we ignore facts and controversy at our own risk. This book will be significant to anthropologists, psychologists, biologists, and sociologists.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“In this thoughtful and provocative book, Thiessen, an evolutionary psychologist, presents an unblinking view of how the forces of evolution shaped human behavior and constrain our future… This book is filled with ideas.

—C. R. Timmons, Choice “With literary flair and philosophical insight Thiessen paints a disturbing picture of human evolution—a provocative and controversial view of the deep-rooted origins of human behavior.” —Joseph Lopreato, University of Texas at Austin “Bittersweet Destiny succeeds as a scholarly book that simultaneously entertains and informs. It’s a ‘must read’ for anyone interested in the fascinating new discipline of viewing humans through the lens of evolutionary theory, and more generally for anyone interested in the place of humans in the grand scheme of life.” —David M. Buss, author, The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating

Thiessen (evolutionary psychology, U of Texas-Austin) combines a discourse on the evolution of human behavior with a philosophical perspective, and explores the controversy surrounding application of evolutionary theory to human behavior. He describes the work of pioneering naturalists, and looks at our rational and irrational natures, our language abilities, and our survival and reproductive mechanisms. Of interest to students and researchers in anthropology, psychology, and sociology, and to general readers. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781412842570
  • Publisher: Transaction Publishers
  • Publication date: 7/1/2012
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 433
  • Sales rank: 1,559,756
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.80 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Del Thiessen is professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and a member of the Institute of Neuroscience. Some of his other writings include Gene Organization and Behavior and The Evolution and Biochemistry of Aggression.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements vii

A Short Note to the Reader ix


Preface to the Paperback Edition xv

Introduction 1

Part I Truth in the Marble

1 Arrow of Destiny 11

2 The Shattered Mirror 33

Part II Valley of Becoming

3 Uncertain Survival 49

4 Bones and Stones of History 69

5 Bone Talk 95

6 Invisible Imperative 111

7 Undaunted Reality Submerged in Beauty 141

8 Rules of the Mind 159

Part III Winds of Being

9 The Taming of the Irrational Mind 179

10 The Strange Evolution of the Human Brain 205

11 The Motor Basis of Mind 227

12 The Light and Dark Sides of Consciousness 249

Part IV Rush Toward Tomorrow

13 Years Without Solitude 269

14 Mining the Depths of the Cultural Gene 293

15 The Yin and Yang of Sex 321

16 The Dark Lens of Evolution 351

Part V Into the Mountains

17 The Last Millennium 379

Epilogue 401

Index 411

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