The Lives of the Brain: Human Evolution and the Organ of Mind

The Lives of the Brain: Human Evolution and the Organ of Mind

by John S. Allen
Pub. Date:
Harvard University Press


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The Lives of the Brain: Human Evolution and the Organ of Mind

Though we have other distinguishing characteristics (walking on two legs, for instance, and relative hairlessness), the brain and the behavior it produces are what truly set us apart from the other apes and primates. And how this three-pound organ composed of water, fat, and protein turned a mammal species into the dominant animal on earth today is the story John S. Allen seeks to tell.

Adopting what he calls a “bottom-up” approach to the evolution of human behavior, Allen considers the brain as a biological organ; a collection of genes, cells, and tissues that grows, eats, and ages, and is subject to the direct effects of natural selection and the phylogenetic constraints of its ancestry. An exploration of the evolution of this critical organ based on recent work in paleo­anthropology, brain anatomy and neuroimaging, molecular genetics, life history theory, and related fields, his book shows us the brain as a product of the contexts in which it evolved: phylogenetic, somatic, genetic, ecological, demographic, and ultimately, cultural-linguistic. Throughout, Allen focuses on the foundations of brain evolution rather than the evolution of behavior or cognition. This perspective demonstrates how, just as some aspects of our behavior emerge in unexpected ways from the development of certain cognitive capacities, a more nuanced understanding of behavioral evolution might develop from a clearer picture of brain evolution.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674035348
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Publication date: 10/30/2009
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.40(d)

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Human Brain in Brief
  3. Brain Size
  4. The Functional Evolution of the Brain
  5. The Plastic Brain
  6. The Molecular Evolution of the Brain
  7. The Evolution of Feeding Behavior
  8. The Aging Brain
  9. Language and Brain Evolution
  10. Optimism and the Evolution of the Brain

  • References
  • Acknowledgments
  • Index

What People are Saying About This

An indispensable overview of the study of human brain evolution.

Antonio Damasio

An extremely valuable addition to a topic which has attracted such attention and passionate debate. As both an anthropologist and a neuroanatomist, when Allen writes about the human brain he knows what he is writing about.

Antonio Damasio, author of Descartes' Error, Looking for Spinoza, and The Feeling of What Happens

Katerina Semendeferi

An indispensable overview of the study of human brain evolution.

Katerina Semendeferi, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of California-San Diego

Ralph L. Holloway

Let me be short and sweet: this is a terrific book. There wasn't a chapter I didn't enjoy reading, or from which I did not learn something new. John Allen provides a fine, wide, and comprehensive sweep of all of the areas that concern a more thorough understanding of human brain evolution.
Ralph L. Holloway, Professor of Anthropology, Columbia University

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