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Beyond the Brain: How Body and Environment Shape Animal and Human Minds 1st Edition

4.7 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0691126449
ISBN-10: 0691126445
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Editorial Reviews

Review


One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2012


"Beyond the Brain is an astonishingly good book, both substantive and fun to read. . . . Barrett re-centres the field on the study of animal cognition. I think this is an excellent decision, and not just because it allows her to tell some great animal stories. The main advantage is not narrative but substantive: her careful reconstruction of the grounds of natural cognition is simply more convincing and more relevant than even the best discussion of artificial intelligence could ever be. . . . Beyond the Brain is full of . . . interesting and heterodox discussions, and is sure to engage, enrage, and inspire in differential measure depending on the reader's theoretical proclivities."--Michael L. Anderson, Journal of Consciousness Studies

"[T]his book provides an excellent synthesis of psychology, philosophy, robotics and biology on the topic of animal and human cognition. The prose is accessible and easy to read, and Barrett effectively uses everyday examples to make theoretical and technical points clear. . . . [T]his book . . . gave me a lot of new insights. I highly recommend it to scientists and students interested in understanding animal and human minds."--Sabine Tebbich, Animal Behaviour

"Barrett's book is a superb and unique bit of thinking, and so eminently readable and enticing that it will appeal to the mainstream. . . . It is so rare to find a richly scientific and philosophical book that the reader will find hard to put down, as if it were a bestselling novel, and I hope this book actually reaches a bestseller list, it is that good, and has that wide an audience, from layman to cognitive scientist. I recommend it to any university under or post-graduate course, as one of the most intriguing and compelling works I have ever read or reviewed. This is not due alone to the startling facts, or her humor, or any other single facet, but owes much to her integration of so many aspects of argument, philosophy, science, anthropology, ecological psychology and others, that it teaches the student, in passing, to think outside of the umwelt. A great contribution."--Roy Sugarman, Metapsychology

"Beyond the Brain is indeed an amusing and entertaining read, but one with an extraordinary analytical rigor and eloquence of argument. Very accessible, enticing, and lucidly written, it can be enjoyed both by professional academics and laypeople. Readers--be they novice or seasoned--will certainly find the volume uplifting and inspirational, Barrett's style brisk and delightful and her intellectual playfulness quite solacing. . . . A must read for the next generations of cognitive scientists and for all those who are interested in the study of comparative cognition."--Mirko Farina, Phenomenology and Cognitive Sciences

"[W]e can see Barrett's brave new book as a beacon to future generations of scientists who wish to investigate the particularly human niche in cognitive evolution."--Daniel J. Povinelli, Human Ethology Bulletin

"[I]f you are new to the area of embodied cognition, read this book. If you're familiar with the literature but want a clear, well-structured presentation of many of the key ideas, then read this book. If you're bored with the same old examples and want some new, perhaps more convincing examples of embodied cognition in action, read this book. And if you have heard some of the arguments but still think behaviour really comes from the computational activity of our complex brains, then, for the love of science, read this book."--Andrew Wilson, Notes from Two Scientific Psychologists

"I am jealous of this book, especially of the first half. It is so well written. Barrett picks exactly the right examples and weaves them together in exactly the right ways. It is clear that Barrett has put great care into the construction of Beyond the Brain, and her success should be rewarded by a wide readership."--Eric P. Charles, PsycCRITIQUES

"Beyond the Brain explores the emerging field of embedded cognition, in which the mind is seen as more than a product of brain mechanisms. . . . Barrett provides a thorough, well-written introduction to the disparate schools of thought on embedded cognition, starting with a discussion of what human brains really do and the ways in which brainpower is adaptive."--Choice

"Drawing on examples from animal behavior, comparative psychology, robotics, artificial life, developmental psychology, and cognitive science, Barrett provides remarkable new insights into how animals and humans depend on their bodies and environment--not just their brains--to behave intelligently."--Daniel J. Povinelli, Leonardo Reviews

"Barrett's book contains many bold ideas, expressed in a lively and engaging style; with nice touches of humor, it is both thought provoking and entertaining. Her relational, environment-based, action-oriented perspective is deeply compatible with behavior analysis, and I suspect many behavior analysts will be nodding in agreement with many of the thoughtful and well developed arguments put forth in the book."--Timothy D. Hackenberg, Behaviour Analyst

From the Back Cover


"Louise Barrett's latest book is a beacon of hope for anyone who worries that the study of the evolution of cognition is being reduced to nothing but sensationalistic claims about the nature of the animal mind. With delightful prose, she makes a strong case that overinflated notions regarding how human minds work have tragically distorted our view of other animals. Barrett's book is a highest-priority must read for the next generation of scientists interested in the evolution of cognition."--Daniel J. Povinelli, University of Louisiana


"A delight to read, this very ambitious book furnishes a fresh perspective on animal behavior. Barrett synthesizes a broad literature from fields as diverse as ethology, ecological psychology, artificial intelligence, robotics, and philosophy, and masterfully weaves the different strands together into an iconoclastic but coherent view of cognitive behavior. A reader could not wish for a clearer guide into this new field."--Carel van Schaik, Anthropological Institute and Museum, University of Zürich


"This is an excellent book about comparative cognition, how minds and brains evolve, and how to think about the minds of animals."--Nicola S. Clayton, University of Cambridge


"Clear and engaging, this thought-provoking book is an excellent synthesis of new directions in cognitive science and evolution. The use of everyday and humorous examples is effective, and the scholarship is impressive in its breadth and rigor, combining ideas from ecological psychology, robotics, cognitive science, and evolutionary biology. A stimulating read, it will have scientists questioning conventional wisdom about the nature of cognition and species difference."--Robert Barton, Durham University


"Arguing that observed animal behavior is substantially organized by both an organism's physical structure and environmental affordances, this book raises interesting questions about the role of cognition in behavior and the attribution of complex behaviors to cognitive processes similar to those purportedly supporting human behavior. An intriguing and engaging book."--Bennett Galef, McMaster University


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; 1 edition (April 24, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691126445
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691126449
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,229,452 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In Beyond the Brain, How Body and Environment Shape Animal and Human Minds,
Louise Barrett creates an argument that intelligence and behavior are not due to the brain alone
but rather to a complex interaction of an animal's body, environment, and nervous system. Her
argument is supported by a number of examples in both living systems and artificial intelligences
(AIs). As the book progresses, Barrett repeatedly references and links to concepts covered
previously. This referencing makes it easier to understand her argument as some parts of the
book are abstract or do not follow conventional thinking. The purpose of this review is to briefly
describe critical parts of the argument.

Anti-anthropomorphism:

Louise Barrett begins her argument by suggesting that anthropomorphism should be
limited when trying to determine how an animal's behavior is developed. This argument is based
on the fact that anthropocentric view limits how we are able to explain an animal's behavior by
trying to force it to function based on the same mechanisms that we function when the behavior
could be developed by completely different causes. This is important because "other animals
have different bodies and different nervous systems, and live in different habitats. This means
that, even though their behavior may look similar to ours in some way or another, it need not be
produced by the same underlying mechanism."

This is a particularly interesting point because people (including me) like to
anthropomorphize things. As a result of reading this book, I hope that I will be more cautious in
my assumptions of what mechanisms are functioning behind behavior.
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Format: Hardcover
This book explains, in an approachable way, what increasingly seems like it will be the future of scientific psychology - a view of the organism (human or otherwise) embedded in its world, with the brain viewed as crucially important, but not as a central-control mechanism. Most importantly, this book takes some of the ideas in psychology that often seem the most crazy - Gibson's ecological psychology, Clark's extended cognition - and makes them seem almost inevitable. The ideas haven't gotten any simpler, Barrett is incredibly skilled at explaining them. If you want to know more about the book, check out the summary here:
[...]
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Format: Hardcover
Dr. Louise Barrett's perspective on embodied cognition is enlightening, and a welcome break from the tiresome excess of brain-centric literature that pervades psychology. Beyond the Brain is for anyone who has ever wondered how simple creatures exhibit complex behaviours all without an intricate brain. Dr. Barrett reintegrates the environment as a central influence in shaping behaviour. If one has not had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Barrett discuss embodied cognition in person, then I strongly recommend Beyond the Brain: How Body and Environment Shape Animal and Human Minds. Dr. Barrett's wit and charm make Beyond the Brain an entertaining and illuminating read.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is clear, succinct, smart, provocative, and highly readable. Using excellent concrete examples, it takes on problems with information-processing and computer-based metaphors that are so prevalent now in attempts to "explain" behavior. It also addresses the easier targets of dualism and anthropomorphism, though in some surprising ways. More important, though, the criticism is a relatively small part of the book. She offers an alternative perspective, one that is straightforward and reasonable.

Barrett draws from robotics, philosophy, insect behavior, neuroscience, comparative psychology (comparative cognition) and evolutionary thinking to describe and illustrate a perspective called ‘extended cognition.’ She builds an argument sequentially, starting with the behavior of spiders and crickets and them increasing in complexity through micro-robots (didabots) and finally to growing children. Although she doesn't mention it, her approach is also compatible with the more sophisticated, contemporary behavioral approaches to psychology (forget silliness like blank slates and denial of obvious existence of private events, we're simply talking about a reluctance to build a science on a foundation of computer metaphors).

Briefly, her idea is that complex behavior emerges out of simple mechanisms, behavior-environment relations arise out of interactions of an organism with a behavioral history in that environment and the skin is an arbitrary, and sometimes not very meaningful, barrier. There is no central computer that stores, retrieves, decides, but rather an environment that influences what we do via multiple, distributed, and sometimes fantastically simple, processes within the body (including the brain) and that is, in turn, remodeled by behavior.
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Format: Hardcover
In her book Beyond the Brain, How Body and Environment Shape Animal and Human Minds, Louise Barrett explores the behavior of animal cognition and how it is affected by the surrounding environment. She does not simply look at the brain by itself, but instead argues that the environment perceived by the brain has a very substantial role on human and animal behaviors. Throughout the book, Barrett intertwines various scientific fields in order to support her arguments and attack those who do not believe in the interaction of the brain and its surroundings. She backs up her claims with facts and studies, but her writing doesn't feel like a textbook's. Despite the sometimes esoteric topics discussed in this book, the author explains them in a digestable way, making for a pleasant read.

The book is structured into 11 chapters that build into one theme: that environmental inputs are necessary for the development of behavior and intelligence in animals. These chapters can be divided into 4 sections:

Chapters 1 and 2 deal with attacking the concept of anthropomorphism. Through several real-life examples, including the social behaviors of apes and the mental developments of human babies, Barrett shows how the tendencies of humans to anthropomorphize can lead to confusion and errors in explaining the behaviors of animals. She urges her readers to throw away their human-centric beliefs, as they can cause significant bias while attempting to describe animal psychology. The repeated references that Barrett makes help remind the readers of what they have read and help link new concepts to ones explained previously, easing them into the more in-depth chapters of the book. One such reference is that of Santino, chimpanzee who lives in a zoo.
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