Natural Selections: Selfish Altruists, Honest Liars, and Other Realities of Evolution

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“Barash . . . brilliantly integrat[es] science, literature, and pop culture into elegant and insightful commentaries on the most interesting and important questions of our time. A delightful read.”—Michael Shermer, author of The Science of Good and Evil

“Entertaining and thought-provoking.”—Steven Pinker, author of The Blank Slate

If we are, in part, a product of our genes, can free will exist? Incisive and engaging, this indispensable tour of evolutionary biology runs the gamut of contemporary debates, from science and religion to our place in the universe.

David Barash is the author of The Myth of Monogamy and Madame Bovary’s Ovaries. He lives in Redmond, Washington.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
The most literate popularizer of Darwinism since Thomas Huxley visits evolution's Dark Side, the front-lines where biological realities clash with cultural idealism, and returns with news both depressing and cheering. The latest from Barash (Psychology/Univ. of Washington, Seattle; (Madam Bovary's Ovaries: A Darwinian Look at Literature, 2005, etc.) bristles with evidence of his wide reading in the Western canon. Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, Poe, Twain, Hardy, both George and T. S. Eliot, Stephen Crane, Thomas Pynchon, Ian McEwan, Barbara Kingsolver, SpongeBob SquarePants and others make appearances to animate his breezy intellectual tour. Here, too, are Barash's customary cool critters from elsewhere in the animal kingdom (worms that reprogram the brains of ants, gang-raping male mallards) and sensible explanations of common conundrums (why dogs are easier to toilet-train than humans, why males of all species do most of the murdering). He takes some sly shots at creationists and delivers some heavier body blows to the Bush administration, but he is less interested in piling up the bodies of his adversaries than in exploring the most fundamental questions of human experience. Is it hopeless, he wonders, to attempt to combat our biology? Aren't our selfish genes always going to trump our social consciences, our stewardship of our families, our communities, our planet? Unfortunately, the case for hopelessness is a compelling one: Humans didn't spread across and dominate the planet by saying please and thank you. "We are all time-travelers," Barash writes, "with one foot thrust into the cultural present and the other stuck in the biological past." However, he notes, we are probably the onlyspecies capable of rising above our biology-and we'd better get on with it. A journey to the center of human nature, where the view is not always agreeable.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781934137055
  • Publisher: Bellevue Literary Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/2007
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

David Barash, professor of psychology at the University of Washington, is the author of over 20 books (among them Natural Selections, The Myth of Monogamy and Madame Bovary's Ovaries) and over 200 articles. One of the earliest proponents of "sociobiology" in the 1970s, now know as "evolutionary psychology" or "evolutionary biology," he remains among its most articulate popularizers.
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Table of Contents

Seductions of Centrality     9
Evolutionary Design Flaws, or, Why Bad Things Have Happened to Perfectly Good Creatures (Including Ourselves)     16
Mainstream Misconceptions     21
Neither Leaps Nor Bounds     32
Who's in Charge Here?     42
Material of Mind: A Surprising Homage to B. F. Skinner     49
Y B Conscious?     57
Intelligence     64
Let Us Reason Together     71
Believing Is Seeing     80
Evolutionary Existentialism and the Meaning of Life     86
The Tyranny of the Natural     98
Forbidden Knowledge?     104
Are We Selfish Altruists? Group-Oriented Individualists? (Or What?)     111
Dealing with Dilemmas: Personal Gain versus Public Good     118
The Ugly Underside of Altruism     126
Why Is Violence Such a "Guy Thing"?     136
One and a Half Cheers...     148
Honest Liars?     155
What Puts the Dys in Dystopia?     162
Evolution's Odd Couple     173
Index     185
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