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Evolution of Consciousness: The Origins of the Way We Think Paperback – November 1, 1992

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Ornstein's elegant inquiry into the history of consciousness revises Darwin and Freud by positing that the modern mind is a disunified jumble.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (November 1, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0671792245
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671792244
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #750,155 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

76 of 77 people found the following review helpful By Abdullah Z Jefri on July 23, 2003
Format: Paperback
I came across this book as I was searching for answers to the many questions concerning the consciousness of human beings and the enigmatic process of intelligent thinking. Subsequently, I was attracted to this book by the title and by the credentials of the author, who is a neuropsychiatric researcher and is the president of the Institute for the Study of Human Knowledge and a professor at the University of California Medical Center in San Francisco and at Stanford University. The author has done extensive research on the human brain and is the author of twenty books concerning the human brain. It wasn't difficult to realize that if anyone is to speak about the human consciousness, Dr. Ornstein is the one.
The book begins by shocking the foundations of your knowledge of the human brain. The first thing the author tells you is that "The mind is a squadron of simpletons. It is not unified, it is not rational, it is not well designed - or designed at all." And as you may have noticed by now, you must be a fan of the Evolution theory to even carry on after this sentence as the first third of the book discusses the steps that our ancestors had to evolve through for us to end up with the conscious mind. Dr. Ornstein discusses the most recent biological and paleontological findings that can help us reconstruct the history of the evolution of the human brain. Then, he takes a shot at answering one of the famous dilemmas of the human evolution theory that questions the reasons behind the evolution of the human brain. Why did a brain capable of landing humans on the moon, splitting the atom, painting the Mona Lisa, writing Hamlet, and composing Don Giovanni evolve at a time when human beings were barely working with stone tools?
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32 of 32 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 27, 2003
Format: Paperback
Trying to do scientific reading on consciousness studies can often be as pleasant as pulling teeth, the stuff of nightmares for those who are not biology majors. For all those interested in the subject but yearn for an authoritative scientist who speaks layman's English, this book is for you. Dr. Ornstein was one of the groundbreaking researchers in hemispherical differences in brain functioning (right v. left), and here he treats the reader to an eminently enjoyable exploration of how--and why--human consciousness likely evolved, what its true properties are, and what these mean for understanding ourselves. The illustrations in the book are priceless and hilarious (much in the tradition of Macaulay's "The Way Things Work), along with Ornstein's witty writing style and easily digestible prose to communicate complex ideas and concepts in a lucid, exciting manner.
His euphemism "a squadron of simpletons" is a common and welcome refrain--he shows us a human brain equipped with more non-specialized neurons than it will ever need, adaptable to more habitats and social situations we can ever imagine. His tie-in of Freud to Darwin is ingenious, and proves his point that much greater: fundamentally the human brain, he argues (echoing colleagues like Gerald Edelman, etc.), is not a rational mechanism like a computer; it was never designed to be. Instead, it is adaptive: the ultimate gift of evolution to our species of the ultimate survival adaptation--evolution becoming conscious of itself. This book does indeed clear one's mind in a rather "zen"-like fashion, once you understand the transitory and fragmentary nature of ordinary consciousness and the revisionist nature of memory.
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13 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 21, 1999
Format: Paperback
This is a great book for the person on a quest for the evolution of consciousness. Ornstein does a super job of writing about a very complex matter in terms everyone can understand. If you are looking for a place to begin your search on the subject of consciousness be sure to choose this book first.
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I first read this book years ago, when it came out. (1991 as I recall) I was just beginning to read up on current neuroscience and had read The Three-Pound Universe and a few others.
I recalled this one as particularly good, but I confess I had not retained much of what I read 20+ years ago.

Well worth the re-read. Ornstein is talking about concepts in this book that are just now beginning to be talked about in popular science reporting. The fact that our subconscious minds make decisions prior to our conscious minds being aware of it, for instance.
As well, the concept of being in "the zone" where part of our subconscious is literally running the show. I just listened to an interview on NPR with an author who had written a book on this phenomena... Ornstein was writing about it in 1991.

The evolutionary basis for the development of "mind" is fascinating.
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This work is of excellent quality, however, it is more useful as a foundational resource. Many of the concepts are now dated but still historically relevant. Language and writing style are also dated but accessible.
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This is a wonderful book if you care about how we come to certain ideas and thoughts. It is amazing how we are influenced and have no idea! Well wrtiien .. it will open your mind.. to more possibilities .... !
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