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This book combines cutting-edge findings in neuroscience with examples from history and the headlines to introduce the new science of cultural biology, born of advances in brain imaging, computer modeling, and genetics. Doctors Quartz and Sejnowski show how both our noblest and darkest traits are rooted in brain systems so ancient that we share them with insects. They then demystify the dynamic engagement between brain and world that makes us something far beyond the sum of our ...
This book combines cutting-edge findings in neuroscience with examples from history and the headlines to introduce the new science of cultural biology, born of advances in brain imaging, computer modeling, and genetics. Doctors Quartz and Sejnowski show how both our noblest and darkest traits are rooted in brain systems so ancient that we share them with insects. They then demystify the dynamic engagement between brain and world that makes us something far beyond the sum of our parts.
The authors show how our humanity unfolds in precise stages as brain and world engage on increasingly complex levels. Their discussion embraces shaping forces as ancient as climate change over millennia and events as recent as the terrorism and heroism of September 11, and offers intriguing answers to some of our most enduring questions, including why we live together, love, kill — and sometimes lay down our lives for others.
Dubbing their study of these complex interactions "cultural biology," Quartz (director of Caltech’s Social Cognitive Neuroscience Lab) and Sejnowski (director of the Salk Institute’s Computational Neurobiology Lab) condemn evolutionary psychology’s argument that we are cast adrift in modern society with our old hunter-gatherer savannah lifestyle. Neither naturists nor nurturists, the authors defend their not-unreasonable thesis by pointing to a detailed geological record showing rapid climate change. This called for maximum flexibility in adaptation, they contend, and probably helped build bigger brains, tools, and a habit of living in groups. Quartz and Sejnowski describe an infant’s survival mechanisms as an "internal guidance system" that will endure even as that individual’s "user’s guide to life" comes online as a result of the sociocultural shaping of the slow-to-mature prefrontal cortex and its anterior cingulate. These brain parts are key to planning, judging, and decision-making and are also linked to emotion and motivation. A derailment in these areas, specifically a hyperarousal of the orbitofrontal cortex, may be responsible for the mass suicide of cultists, group violence, and killings by high-school misfits, the authors conjecture. While they admit that the brain is more complex than we can fathom, they are ready to discourse on learning, love, intelligence, personality, and happiness, often pointing to anatomical pathways and neurochemicals as clues: low serotonin in depression andsuicide, oxytocin in love, and so on. They are also quite prescriptive in later chapters. What should we to do to achieve "successful aging" and rescue American society from increasing depression and isolation? Leave the TV and Net, go out and work in the community.
Smart authors with a lot of hot stuff to report on, but they should cool it a bit.
|1||Our Brains, Ourselves||1|
|3||How to Make a Human: The 1.6 Percent Solution||32|
|4||Life on the Far Shore: Crossing the Mental Rubicon||61|
|5||Between Thought and Feeling: The Mystery of Emotions||88|
|6||Becoming You: Genes, Parenting, and Personality||123|
|7||Friend, Lover, Citizen: The Mystery of Life Together||148|
|8||The Killer Within: From the Solitary Killer to the Killing Crowd||189|
|9||Inside Intelligence: Rethinking What Makes Us Smart||216|
|10||The Search for Happiness||252|
|Afterword: After September 11||278|
Posted November 5, 2002
This excellent new book tackles some of the oldest and most important questions about what it means to be human. The authors are prominent neuroscientists who know what they are talking about and write about it clearly and vividly. They set out to trace the findings and implications of a new science, cultural biology, which they believe can can "demystify the dynamic engagement between brain and world," and provide new insights into vital questions such as "why we live together, love, kill, and sacrifice ourselves for others." Cultural biology attempts to synthesize the contributions of biology--our genes, the course of development, and our brains--with the effects of environment and culture. In the authors hands, this approach often succeeds in breaking out of old dichotomies--nature vs. nurture, genetic vs. cultural determinism, humans as fundamentally social or fundamentally selfish--to provide a new, significantly more balanced understanding of how our biological raw material interacts with the world throughout our lives, not only in the womb or during early childhood, but in increasingly complex ways throughout our lives. The book lives up to its promise to shed new light on the rich interplay between genes and environment, the limits that our biology locks us into, and the potentials it provides. Although you may not agree with everything the authors say, Liars, Lovers, and Heroes will make you take a fresh look at the assumptions we all make about human nature. You may well walk away with genuine insights about why we humans love and hate, nurture and kill. The book is important, informative, and a pleasure to read. Robert Adler, author of Science Firsts: From the Creation of Science to the Science of Creation (Wiley, 2002).Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.