Up from Dragons: The Evolution of Human Intelligence

Overview

A breathtaking account of the "unnatural" history of consciousness and human intelligence

Taking its cue from The Dragons of Eden, Carl Sagan's 1977 classic and New York Times bestseller, Up from Dragons traces the development of human intelligence back to its animal roots in an attempt to account for the vast differences between our species and all those that came before us. In a book that will spark a storm of debate, neuroscientist John Skoyles and awardwinning author Dorion ...

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Overview

A breathtaking account of the "unnatural" history of consciousness and human intelligence

Taking its cue from The Dragons of Eden, Carl Sagan's 1977 classic and New York Times bestseller, Up from Dragons traces the development of human intelligence back to its animal roots in an attempt to account for the vast differences between our species and all those that came before us. In a book that will spark a storm of debate, neuroscientist John Skoyles and awardwinning author Dorion Sagan introduce a controversial theory of the origins of human intelligence that may hold the answers to questions that have haunted scientists about mind, consciousness, and the evolutionary odyssey of humankind. It also introduces the revolutionary concept of "mindware"­­the human, evolutionary equivalent of computer software­­and describes how the evolution-accelerating symbol-using programs that make it up have empowered us with the unprecedented ability to take charge of our own evolutionary destiny.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
When Carl Sagan published The Dragons of Eden in 1977, his speculations on the development of the human brain drew on the still-nascent field of neuroscience. Now science writer Dorion Sagan (Carl's son) and brain theorist Skoyles present a follow-up that includes not only new discoveries about brain functions but also a coherent theory as to how and why humans developed the intelligence that sets them apart from other primates. Key to this evolution, they argue, are two facts: the plasticity of the brain (particularly in the prefrontal cortex), which means that it "is not fixed in what it can do"; and our status as social beings. Because the ape brain had already evolved into a "biocomputer with a wide range of mental skills that was ready, without further physical evolution, to do totally novel things," it could accommodate the need for pre-humans to use symbols to negotiate increasingly complex social relationships. And symbols "made the mind of the human-ape unlike that of any other," enabling its capacity for kinship, emotion and abstract reasoning. "Human evolution," Sagan and Skoyles argue, "did not fix our brain's information processing but instead created reprogrammable neural circuits that could evolve new kinds of intelligence." This thesis may generate controversy, but it is supported with creative arguments and intriguing evidence. Concluding with a sketch of how brain evolution might progress in the coming millennium, Sagan and Skoyles offer a thrilling, accessible biological narrative. (June) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780071378253
  • Publisher: McGraw-Hill Companies, The
  • Publication date: 5/17/2002
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 448
  • Product dimensions: 6.37 (w) x 9.29 (h) x 1.53 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface: Reembarking on an Intellectual Voyage
Acknowledgments
Ch. 1 The Cosmic Mirror 1
Ch. 2 Up from Dragons 11
Ch. 3 Neurons Unlimited 25
Ch. 4 Superbrain 41
Ch. 5 Mind-Engine 55
Ch. 6 Neural Revolution 69
Ch. 7 Machiavellian Neurons 81
Ch. 8 The Troop within Our Heads 93
Ch. 9 Our Living Concern 109
Ch. 10 Doing the Right Thing 127
Ch. 11 Where Memories Are Made 141
Ch. 12 What Are We? 159
Ch. 13 Of Human Bonding 183
Ch. 14 The Symbolic Brain 191
Ch. 15 Lucy and Kanzi: Travelers to Humanity 207
Ch. 16 The Runaway Species 229
Ch. 17 The Billion-Hour Journey 247
Ch. 18 Third-Millennium Brain 267
Notes 285
Bibliography 327
Index 405
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 18, 2002

    Brains More Flexible Than You Think!

    This book was a revelation. I read today in the NY Times about Stephen Pinker's "expert" ideas that brains are deeply genetically programmed (much like his view of language). I understand why he thinks so--political correctness is ridiculous and not everything is up for grabs. But what he doesn't seem to realize is the amazing capacities for change of the system he dismisses as a blank slate. Check out this book to see what I mean. Do your realize that people literally with half a brain hold down jobs and have decent IQs? It's true. I don't know if Pinker has read Up From Dragons but he should have. Thirty years of brain research is summarized with a new story of "mindware"--how the brain, in our highly social ancestors, programmed itself to do new things. Mother-child attachments, thinking about loved ones when they are not there, our status as a species which must keep track of others in our heads were all involved deeply in the transition from hunter-gatherer to modern human. Genetically we are no different from our ancestors a hundred thousand years ago. The difference between us and apes is thus obviously not a genetic ones. This excellent book by John Skoyles and Dorion Sagan provides the missing link between us and primate ancestors: the neurally changeable brain. This book has many exciting examples, such as the bull rider whose legs seemed paralyzed in his mind in the same position they were in when he was thrown, the boy who uses sonar on his bike to navigate, and the man who experiences orgasm in his feet. The last chapter discusses how neurofeedback software is going to change human evolution; again, it's a matter of our brain's programmability, not its genetic straitjacket.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 7, 2002

    The Ascent of Reptiles ?

    Championing the ascent of reptiles as much as the descent of man, this thoughtful volume on the evolution of intelligence by Skoyles and Sagan is a welcome addition to the nature/nurture neurophilosophy shelf. The authors take us well beyond the 'usual suspects' listing of gross anatomical brain structure and function of the familiar phyla, traveling a welcome breadth of comparative data to include a wide variety of species (including our earlier selves). Rather than merely outline the familiar shopping list(s) of evolving structures culminating in the development of the modern human cerebral cortex, Skoyles & Sagan do not end with the discussion of its distinctive "associative" or "silent" areas of the brain of old (as so many other authors are still content to do). Instead, and throughout the book's eighteen chapters, we are treated to a series of detailed proposals concerned with the continuously adaptive neural architecture of both the intra- and inter-cerebral structures underlying the evolution human intelligent behavior. Reminiscent of learning the names of Tolstoy's characters in the early pages of 'War & Peace', one meets here parts of the brain rarely mentioned (let alone claimed to be of any significance in explaining who we are and why we behave as we do). Following the publication of this volume, the long overdue and normally restricted cast of human brain features will now include the structure and functional connectivities of the anterior cingulate, the amygdala, the insula, the orbital and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex of the brain (and these are just a few of the characters amongst many others that might have been introduced here). We may still not be able to agree upon how best to measure intelligence (IQ, in my view, still tautologically measuring 'what IQ tests measure'), but the physiological substrates of the brain supporting intelligent behavior are slowly coming to be located and characterized. Many of the examples and theoretical components put forward may perhaps appear predictable to those familiar with modern paradigms in comparative psychology and the study of intelligent systems (both biological and man-made), but the real strength of this book is to be seen in its successfully discussing adaptive neural systems for the technical non-specialist. The story as told here is a great achievement for a book aimed at the popular science reader. The basic thesis of the book follows the development of the nervous system in the aftermath of the 'KT event' (coincident with the demise of the reptilian dinosaurs), which favored flexible, mobile species with nocturnal, cold-adaptable behaviors, capable of finding shelter and forage. In contrast, species with relatively reflexive nervous systems, whilst satisfactory when situated in a stable, predictable environment, can often fail to adapt to changes within the time course of sudden catastrophic events. En route to the architecture of the modern human brain, we meet the aetiology of social and emotional life and their associated neural substrata in the prefrontal cerebral and limbic cortex (amongst other structures). The level of neuroanatomical detail is sufficient to provide a coherent and consistent story of successive adaptations leading to the development of 'higher intelligence', but the pathway taken argues not for this result deriving solely from phylogenetic mutation (per se), but, and more importantly, from ontogenetic neural plasticity and enculturation despite the SAME genetic makeup. If this idea is new, and at first glance appears to be an uncomfortable one, don't panic! If the authors are right, your prefrontal brain cortex will soon get to work in generating some reflex inhibition, allowing one to assess (and reassess) the situation, temporarily delay one's actions, and then to organize and activate novel planned behaviors towards worked goals. Whether the modern human can prove him/herself to be intelligent enough to plan the survival o

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