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Harnessed: How Language and Music Mimicked Nature and Transformed Ape to Man Paperback – August 2, 2011

ISBN-13: 978-1935618539 ISBN-10: 1935618539

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 216 pages
  • Publisher: BenBella Books (August 2, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1935618539
  • ISBN-13: 978-1935618539
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #944,877 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review


"...this remarkable book...promises to revolutionize thinking about what separates us from apes." — Daniel Simons, author of The Invisible Gorilla

"...builds a compelling case, and his wry style of storytelling makes for an entertaining read." — Discover Magazine

...brilliantly challenges...view...that the human brain's capacity for language [and music] is innate..." — Cynthia Knight, Library Journal

...makes a persuasive case in this fascinating volume." — New Scientist
"...simple but striking premise to show how language and music...harness our brains." — The Scientist

...this book might hold the key to one of humanity's longstanding mysteries..." — Stanislas Dehaene, author of Reading in the Brain

About the Author

Mark Changizi is an evolutionary neurobiologist aiming to grasp the ultimate foundations underlying why we think, feel and see as we do. His research focuses on "why" questions, and he has made important discoveries such as on why we see in color, why we see illusions, why we have forward-facing eyes, why letters are shaped as they are, why the brain is organized as it is, why animals have as many limbs and fingers as they do, and why the dictionary is organized as it is. He attended the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, and then went on to the University of Virginia for a degree in physics and mathematics, and to the University of Maryland for a PhD in math. In 2002, he won a prestigious Sloan-Swartz Fellowship in Theoretical Neurobiology at Caltech, and in 2007, he became an assistant professor in the Department of Cognitive Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. In 2010, he took the post of Director of Human Cognition at a new research institute called 2ai Labs. He has more than 30 scientific journal articles, some of which have been covered in news venues such as "The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, " and "Wired." He has written three books, "The Brain From 25,000 Feet" (Kluwer 2003), "The Vision Revolution" (BenBella 2009), and "Harnessed"(BenBella 2011).

Customer Reviews

It became annoying by the end of the book.
L. Byrne
While this is serious science, it is written in a very accessible and conversational manner with a healthy dose of humor.
Aaron
This is the idea that speech, music and writing were all shaped by culture to mimic natural events.
Felix G

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 1, 2011
Format: Paperback
I always assumed that language developed using sound rather than sight because sight would not be effective at night and because in some environments (dense jungles and forests) it is easier to hear than it is to see. But what Changizi argues in this most interesting book is that the reason we use sound rather than say hand signals as language is that sounds, not sights, signal events.

He explains: "Audition excels at the `What's happening?' sensing a signal only when there's an event. Audition not only captures events we cannot see...but serves to alert us to events occurring even within our view. Nonevents may be screaming visually, but they are not actually making any noise, and so audition has unobstructed access to events--for the simple reason that sound waves are cast only when there is an event." (p. 34)

You can have sights without events. You can look out onto a landscape and see a myriad of things without anything moving, without a perceptible event taking place. But (to reiterate) you cannot have a sound without an event. Sounds signal events and that's what we are interested in. Something that changes. And that is why our eyes are tuned to movement, because it is movement in the visual world that signals change.

In Changizi's use of the word "harnessed" we can see the interplay between the organism and the environment. In one sense "harness" means "to restrain"; in another sense it means "to utilize." From one point of view the organism is restrained by the environment; in another sense it utilizes the environment. This is particularly true of humans.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By L. Byrne on February 12, 2012
Format: Paperback
Unlike other reviewers so far, I found this book to be a major disappointment. The storyline generated does not hold up to scrutiny. It sounds good superficially and is at times thought-provoking but many limitations creep in throughout the text that call into question the basis of the research and its main conclusions.
The author tries to weave together an evolutionary story for why humans are a "musical species." This is a worthy task. However, most damningly to the whole premise of the book, there is little to no discussion about the real-world environmental and social context of humans' earliest days on Earth. Many of the examples used have no relevance to what sounds humans and our direct ancestors would have heard in the African and European "wild" environments; mostly he draws examples from more modern life to explain, post-hoc, why music evolved. It is very frustrating because it suggests that the author has little to no knowledge of human evolution--or worse, purposefully ignores it to make his case.
Also, there is a strange focus only on classical music throughout the book. It is not well justified and leads to the ignoring of all other types of music. Whether his ideas relate to other types of music is never discussed so it remains unclear whether the conclusions can be extrapolated to other genres. For someone professing to have an broad theory of why we listen to music, it would seem prudent to at least address why we listen, collectively, to so many different types of music.
The data sets used in the book from which to draw the conclusions seem to be all from the author's lab. Many of the data sets appear to have come from undergraduate projects; this is not a problem per se but it does raise questions about the quality of the data and arguments.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Rio on August 17, 2011
Format: Paperback
In Harnessed, Mark Changizi puts forth a radical idea: that humans didn't evolve specialized brain mechanisms to process music and language. Instead, he argues that music and language were shaped by culture to sound like nature -- language sounds like objects hitting, sliding, and ringing, and music sounds like people moving around us. Along the way, he answers questions you didn't even know you had, like why rhyming words are so easily grouped together or why a song's melody changes more quickly than its loudness. The case is compelling, and it's all backed up with hard data and sound logic.

Pop psychology books are a dime a dozen these days, but what makes Harnessed stand out is that it isn't just a watered-down rehasing of old journal articles. Instead, it's full of new ideas, fresh from the frontier of science. That alone is enough to warrant a careful reading by specialists, and they'll find enough meaty prose and scatter plots to keep them happy. But as someone with little background in language -- and sadly without a musical bone in my body -- I still found the book very accessible. Sure, I read to re-read a few sections, but summaries at the end of each chapter help bring it all back together. Changizi's writing is superb throughout. His style is conversational, and at times laugh-out-loud funny.

That said, a book this far-reaching is bound to overstep at times, and Harnessed is no exception. Changizi is enthusiastic in support of his theory, but sometimes fails to acknowledge its shortcomings, or the questions it leaves open. If music evovolved to sound like people moving around us, why don't we listen to music in surround sound, like we do with movies? (When's the last time you bought a Quadrophonic record?
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Most Recent Customer Reviews


More About the Author

MARK CHANGIZI is a theoretical neurobiologist aiming to grasp the ultimate foundations underlying why we think, feel and see as we do. His research focuses on "why" questions, and he has made important discoveries such as on why we see in color, why we see illusions, why we have forward-facing eyes, why the brain is structured as it is, why animals have as many limbs and fingers as they do, why the dictionary is organized as it is, why fingers get pruney when wet, and how we acquired writing, language and music.

He attended the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, and then went on to the University of Virginia for a degree in physics and mathematics, and to the University of Maryland for a PhD in math. In 2002 he won a prestigious Sloan-Swartz Fellowship in Theoretical Neurobiology at Caltech, and in 2007 he became an assistant professor in the Department of Cognitive Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. In 2010 he took the post of Director of Human Cognition at a new research institute called 2ai Labs.

He has more than three dozen scientific journal articles, some of which have been covered in news venues such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek and WIRED. He has written three books, THE BRAIN FROM 25,000 FEET (Kluwer 2003), THE VISION REVOLUTION (Benbella 2009) and HARNESSED: How Language and Music Mimicked Nature and Transformed Ape to Man (Benbella 2011). He is working on his fourth non-fiction book, this one on emotions and facial expressions, called FORCE OF EMOTIONS. He is simultaneously working on his first novel, called HUMAN 3.0.

[Photo credit: Rensselaer / Mark McCarty.]

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