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Brain and Culture: Neurobiology, Ideology, and Social Change Paperback – August 29, 2008

ISBN-13: 978-0262731935 ISBN-10: 0262731932 Edition: Reprint

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: A Bradford Book; Reprint edition (August 29, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262731932
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262731935
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #766,922 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

A pioneering and bold effort to construct a bridge between scientific findings about the brain and the diversity, strengths, and fragilities of human cultures. This book helps to 'center' a pendulum that has in recent years swung too far in the direction of biological determinism.

(Howard Gardner, Graduate School of Education, Harvard University, author of Multiple Intelligences and Changing Minds)

A fascinating step forward in deconstructing the seemingly universal us/them mentality.



Bruce Wexler's Brain and Culture is a major achievement, touching the deepest biological and human issues and framing them in verifiable terms. A very powerful and very important book.

(Oliver Sacks, author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat)

From the Back Cover

"Bruce Wexler's Brain and Culture is a major achievement, touching the deepest biological and human issues and framing them in verifiable terms. A very powerful and very important book." -- Oliver Sacks, author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

"The emerging field of social neuroscience receives a tremendous boost from the publication of Bruce Wexler's Brain and Culture. The brain, he argues, does not merely dictate how we respond to changes in the environment, but is itself shaped through interaction with the social world. In cogent and convincing writing, Wexler argues that social relations, even culture and ideology, involve a neurobiology that can now be explored through the tools of modern neuroscience. Through psychiatric case studies, historical analysis, experiments with various species, and human neuroimaging, he reveals that distinctions between mind and brain, self and environment, and individual and culture can no longer be understood in traditional ways. This book is essential for anyone who wants a deeper understanding of the connections between the neurological and social worlds." --Peter Salovey, Chris Argyris Professor of Psychology and Dean of Yale College, Yale University

"A pioneering and bold effort to construct a bridge between scientific findings about the brain and the diversity, strengths, and fragilities of human cultures. This book helps to 'center' a pendulum that has in recent years swung too far in the direction of biological determinism." --Howard Gardner, author of Multiple Intelligences and Changing Minds

"There can't be many authors bold enough to speak authoritatively of brain structures, the Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky, and the Albigensian heresy. Wexler demonstrates an impressive intellectual range as he weaves a rich tapestry of the interactions of neuronal systems and the sociocultural environment in the development of humans' uniquely adaptable brains and minds." --Steven Rose, The Open University and University College London --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

Wexler's book is well worth while but its overprice will discourage sales.
Paul Carleton
This is the best summary I have found of the connections between neurophysiology and sociology.
Amazon Customer
And if we can't do that, then we interpret the real world in a way that makes "sense" to us.
Eric Balkan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Richard G. Petty on July 2, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The study of psychology has traveled down some interesting roads during the last century. After the long flirtation with the fascinating but flawed theories of psychoanalysis, a dominant theme became the idea that humans were no more than programmable robots. By way of a dozen detours, we then arrived at a new type of robot, one that was pre-programmed by his or her genes with environment contributing a little or a lot, depending upon our own beliefs about human nature. For that was always one of the problems: beliefs, biases and politics all played with the findings of psychology and neurology. For the totalitarian state, the idea that all people are born biologically equal and that, with the right prodding, they could be guided to be good citizens, became an article of faith in some parts of the world. Research, often only half understood, lead to grotesque attempts at social engineering.

Now the pendulum has swung again. Genes do not so much determine our behavior but influence our responses to the environment. During childhood our brains are incredibly plastic. The developing brain requires the right mix of nutrients, sensory, emotional and intellectual stimulation to realize its potential. The lion's share of higher cortical functions are dedicated to social functioning, and children first learn to develop in order to learn the social rules that help them to conform. During adolescence and early adulthood, this conformity is usually replaced by increasing individuality and drives to leave the parental nest. This leads to gradual attempts to shape the environment to fit with the structure of his or her brain and mind. Yet some plasticity remains throughout life, and we are likely able to create new neural connections and even new neurons into old age.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Karen Chung on December 6, 2008
Format: Paperback
This book makes a deep examination of the fundamental social, political, religious, and personal issue of why we try so hard to make others think like us. It has huge implications for interactions between different races and cultures, Muslims, Christians and atheists, and between McCain and Obama supporters.

Wexler starts off the painstaking development of his arguments by outlining the need of the brain for stimulation in order to develop properly, echoing Norman Doidge in his The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science (James H. Silberman Books), the book through which I learned about this volume. Wexler describes in concrete terms how parents guide children to be functioning humans, and to be much like they are. He addresses groupthink, how we are influenced by others, and how the plasticity we enjoy as children is sharply reduced after we enter adulthood. He also points out how we tend to like things simply because they are familiar. Changes in our worlds, such as the death of a family member, or moving to a new culture, seriously challenge our ability to adjust and cope. This all leads up to an exposition on how we try to change the world when we find it is not in line with our personal internal reality. This for me was the most revealing and useful concept I took away from this book.

This book's one major drawback for me was its dry academic style. Like in many such works, this is certainly due to a conscious effort to appear and be rigorous, but it made this book really difficult to get through, in spite of my deep interest in what it had to say. I did however finally manage to finish it, and am very glad I did.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Eric Balkan on June 8, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Wow! The research described here by author Wexler really explains some fundamental aspects of human behavior. I should note that this is not the only book out there on this subject, but most of this material hasn't yet made it to the popular press, and so most people, even academics, are likely as unaware of it as I was.

Essentially, Prof. Wexler notes that human beings go through a lifelong process of matching our internal representation of the world to what the real world is actually like. When we're very young, this process consists largely of neural pathways in the brain developing according to sensory input. (Neuro-plasticity.) An extreme example of this is someone blind at birth who never develops the brain functions to process visual input, or the visual memory to retain that input. As babies get most of their sensory input from their parents, and particularly their mothers, the particular culture of the mother actually affects brain development.

As we get older, our neural plasticity decreases, i.e., our ability to learn new things, so this internal representation becomes harder and harder to change. But we're still trying to match internal and external, and so we shift to making the real world look like what we think it should be. And if we can't do that, then we interpret the real world in a way that makes "sense" to us. From this we get popular expressions like "we see what we want to see". Or, as a sociologist would put it, we see what we've been socialized to see.

Anything that doesn't fit our conception of the world takes us out of our comfort zone.
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Brain and Culture: Neurobiology, Ideology, and Social Change
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