The Runaway Brain: The Evolution of Human Uniqueness

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The human brain is astonishingly different from the brain of any other animal. Why? Have we somehow fooled Mother Nature and escaped from the laws of evolution? Written like a detective story, this book brings together a wealth of new research from paleontology, genetics, and neurobiology to explain the runaway evolution of the human brain. Evolutionists and human paleontologists have tended to assume that our intellect began to burgeon when our ancestors developed the ability to walk upright, to grasp and carry ...
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Overview

The human brain is astonishingly different from the brain of any other animal. Why? Have we somehow fooled Mother Nature and escaped from the laws of evolution? Written like a detective story, this book brings together a wealth of new research from paleontology, genetics, and neurobiology to explain the runaway evolution of the human brain. Evolutionists and human paleontologists have tended to assume that our intellect began to burgeon when our ancestors developed the ability to walk upright, to grasp and carry objects, or to form cooperative groups for hunting. While these and many other factors are important, this book shows that they are only some of the latest steps in a long evolutionary story that began a billion years ago. By now, the brains of many different animals are much larger than those of their predecessors and are superbly adapted to environments that have slowly become more complex. But our own distant ancestors were the only ones to enter a new evolutionary path, a feedback loop that involved their brains, their bodies, and an ever more complicated environment that they largely created themselves. The result, for better and sometimes for worse, is our own astonishing species. The author shows how this view of our evolution as a runaway process casts light on a number of major questions that recent discoveries have raised about our past. These include the identity and true role of the mitochondrial Eve, the origin of human diversity, and the confusion and controversy surrounding our fossil record. Two major views of recent human evolution hinge on the time at which people like ourselves first arose. Did they do so in several different parts of the Old World, the so-called "multiple origins" model, or did they appear suddenly and recently, perhaps driving all the more primitive hominids to extinction? The first model is favored by many anthropologists; the second, by many geneticists. While it is not yet possible to decide with certainty betwee
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Wills begins this superb, detailed, lucid survey of current controversies over human origins by debunking the popular theory that all human beings share a common ancestry rooted in a particular kind of DNA from a ``mitochondrial Eve'' who lived in Africa some 200,000 years ago. Next, he applies new findings from molecular genetics and fossil digs to clarify the two competing models of human evolution: the ``politically correct'' Noah's Ark model, which holds that modern humans arose relatively recently in Africa and fanned out through the Old World, replacing less advanced hominids; and the multiple-origins model, according to which our ancestors made the transition to full humanity more than once, in different parts of the planet. A biologist at UC San Diego, Wills suggests that Homo sapiens is caught up in a process of ``runaway brain evolution,'' the result of a feedback loop between genes and the environment, which has transformed our brains into ``sponges for knowledge,'' giving human evolution the appearance of progress and directionality. Illustrated. First serial to Discover; Library of Science main selection. (Aug.)
Booknews
Traces the evolution of the human brain in a most pleasing and understandable manner. Wills manages to organize an immense amount of detail and theory into an easy flowing and interesting scientific detective story. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465031313
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 9/1/1993
  • Pages: 384

Table of Contents

Preface
Introduction 1
I The Dilemmas
1 Eve's Companions 17
2 An Obsession with Race 58
3 An Obsession with God 67
II The Bones
4 The Crystal Brain 83
5 The Birth Canal of Our Species 97
6 The Latest Steps 141
III The Genes
7 Two Kinds of Geneticist - Two Kinds of Gene 165
8 Pulling the Plug 200
9 The Love Song of the Fruit Fly and Other Amazing Gene Stories 221
IV The Brain
10 Escape from Stupidworld 245
11 The Master Juggler 268
12 A Sponge for Knowledge 285
13 Reining in the Runaway? 302
Notes 313
Glossary 331
Picture Credits 343
Index 345
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