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Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life Paperback – October 5, 2009
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“A fresh and absolutely fascinating book.” (Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma)
“A bright, entertaining book . . . [that] covers broad, interesting territory.” (Janet Maslin - The New York Times)
About the Author
Top Customer Reviews
Born to Be Good is something less than the subtitle (The Science of a Meaningful Life) suggests. More accurately, it covers the science of certain selected emotions and, more narrowly still, primarily the research of certain psychologists, bolstered by a bit of neuroscience. Most specifically, it focuses in large part (although not exclusively) on the work of Paul Ekman (the author's mentor) and the research of Keltner himself (along with his students).
Ekman was a pioneer in developing a technique to match facial expressions to associated emotions. He found that several basic emotions -- such as anger, disgust, fear, sadness, surprise, and happiness -- register in the same facial muscle actions across cultures. Keltner has carried on in this tradition.
Following Jonathan Haidt and others, Keltner's larger thesis is that evolution has honed moral intuitions into embodied emotions that abet the development of morality and communal cooperation. For instance, one can easily see the social benefits of compassion, and the research shows it to correlate to activity in the vagus nerve, a bodily system which developed deep in our mammalian past.
So far, so good. However, Keltner stretches the point to claim that we have evolved a set of emotions that enable us to live a meaningful life, and that, "The key to happiness is to let these emotions arise, to see them fully in oneself and others, and to train the eye and mind in that practice." He proposes what he calls a "jen ratio" to reflect the balance between the "good and uplifting" and the "bad and cynical.Read more ›
Since we are all made from genes, some believe that we, too, as a species are selfish by nature. As the book states, our every action is designed to maximize wealth. We help others expecting we would in turn receive help someday. We would satisfy the "pleasure centers" of our brains through sex, drug, money, self-interest, or any other means anytime we could. "Thou shalt not kill" implies that murder is in our blood and therefore the need for such a commandment in the first place. In the greater scheme of an evolutionary wilderness, acts of kindness toward others are simply aberrations or misfires in the brain.
The book disagrees.
Darwin himself observed that sympathetic communities are more likely to produce healthier offspring than cruel ones. Human history shows that compassion always pulls through in times of war. And new studies of our body's physiology show that caretaking emotions are wired within our nervous systems.
As a species, we evolved at some point to walk on two feet. In doing so, the female's birth canal narrowed. Our babies therefore have to be born small in order to pass through the smaller opening. In comparison to other animals whose newborns can walk upright the moment they're born, our babies need a long time of nursing -- at least eighteen months and continually at that all throughout the day -- before they can survive on their own.Read more ›
Keltner has developed what he calls "jen" science. The Confucian concept of "jen" refers to a complex mixture of kindness, humanity, and respect that transpires between people. Keltner's "jen" science is the study of facial expressions, patterns of touch, and tones of voice. He uses neuroscience, evolution, psychology, and Eastern thought to explain how we evolved to be good.
And this is the third book I've read recently that deals with Paul Eckman's Facial Action Coding System (FACS). It was discussed in Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink" and "Social Intelligence" by Daniel Goleman. FACS is a method of identifying, frame by frame, facial muscle movement to detect emotional expression during social interaction. Apparently we express emotions in millisecond bursts of facial muscle movement which conveys much more than language can with its inherent limits. Ekman also proved that facial expression is cross-cultural - all humans express the same emotions using the same facial muscle movements.
In chapters devoted to "pro-social" emotional displays such as smile, laughter, tease, compassion, and awe, Keltner shines new light on the exact meaning of certain emotional displays.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I like the positive message the book provides. The research discusses different types of beliefs, but does not allow the basic culture of Christianity to influence or inspire any... Read morePublished 5 months ago by bald_eagle
This book brings up a lot of interesting reasons to why we should be good and that it is natural for us to be. It is a nice, easy read, and very warm hearted. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Calvin
It helps that I'm just nuts about this subject but Dacher covers so much of what makes us good. The science that supports it and how we can capitalize on it to make our life... Read morePublished 7 months ago by Brenda L. Hewitt
I simply cannot get into this. Perhaps it is just too "west coast touchy feely" for me. Introduces (needlessly) the concept of "Jen" then just beats you over the... Read morePublished 8 months ago by Fixed Gear Tom
This book includes a breadth of examples from many cultures, art, and literature from the time of the Greeks to the modern period on the meaning of facial expressions and the... Read morePublished 11 months ago by Robert Miller
Spurious references to "scientific" experiments and a writing style that borders on nauseating make this book difficult to slog through. Read morePublished 19 months ago by John