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This exciting, timely book combines cutting-edge findings in neuroscience with examples from history and recent headlines to offer new insights into who we are. Introducing the new science of cultural biology, born of advances in brain imaging, computer modeling, and genetics, Drs. Quartz and Sejnowski 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.
The answers, it turns out, are surprising and paradoxical: many of the noblest aspects of human nature -- altruism, love, courage, and creativity -- are rooted in brain systems so ancient that we share them with insects, and these systems form the basis as well of some of our darkest destructive traits. The authors also overturn popular views of how brains develop. We're not the simple product of animal urges, "selfish" genes, or nature versus nurture. We survive by creating an ingenious web of ideas for making sense of our world -- a symbolic reality called culture. This we endow to later generations as our blueprint for survival.
Using compelling examples from history and contemporary life, the authors show how engagement with the world excites brain chemistry, which drives further engagement, which encourages the development of cultural complexity. They also share provocative ideas on how human development may be affected by changes in our culture. Their insights, grounded in science and far-reaching in their implications, are riveting reading for anyone interested in our past, present, and future.
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Steven R. Quartz, Ph.D., is director of the Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology and an associate professor in the Division of Humanities and Social Sciences and the Computation and Neural Systems Program. He was a fellow of the Sloan Center for Theoretical Neurobiology at the Salk Institute and a recipient of the National Science Foundation's CAREER award, its most prestigious award for young faculty. He lives in Topanga, California.From Publishers Weekly:
Why do humans fall in love, create art, make war? Quartz, director of the Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at Cal Tech, and Sejnowski, director of the Computational Neurobiology Laboratory at the Salk Institute, argue that these and other capabilities are the result of biology and culture working together. Challenging the view that human brains are hardwired for certain behaviors, they believe instead that "[y]our experience with the world literally helps build your brain." In this wide-ranging and relatively nontechnical overview, the authors show how the human brain evolved to maximize flexibility, enabling us to thrive in a wide variety of circumstances. They discuss intelligence and learning, emotions, motivation, violence, and the importance of social bonds, linking cutting-edge neuroscience with social history and popular culture. Starting each chapter with an intriguing case history and spinning off into fascinating, if sometimes sketchily developed, presentations of related material, the book reads a bit like a made-for-TV serial documentary that concedes to short attention spans by highlighting the dramatic. As a result, some topics among them the discussion of violence receive useful but less than thorough treatment. Quartz and Sejnowski conclude with a thought-provoking chapter on the challenges of postmodern culture and globalization, suggesting that the findings of cultural biology can point the way toward creating societies that better meet our basic needs for positive social engagement. Their views, engagingly presented if sometimes controversial, will open up a hitherto specialized subject for a wider audience.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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