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Harnessed: How Language and Music Mimicked Nature and Transformed Ape to Man [Paperback]

by Mark Changizi
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

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Book Description

August 2, 2011 1935618539 978-1935618539
The scientific consensus is that our ability to understand human speech has evolved over hundreds of thousands of years. After all, there are whole portions of the brain devoted to human speech. We learn to understand speech before we can even walk, and can seamlessly absorb enormous amounts of information simply by hearing it. Surely we evolved this capability over thousands of generations.

Or did we? Portions of the human brain are also devoted to reading. Children learn to read at a very young age and can seamlessly absorb information even more quickly through reading than through hearing. We know that we didn’t evolve to read because reading is only a few thousand years old.

In Harnessed, cognitive scientist Mark Changizi demonstrates that human speech has been very specifically “designed” to harness the sounds of nature, sounds we’ve evolved over millions of years to readily understand. Long before humans evolved, mammals have learned to interpret the sounds of nature to understand both threats and opportunities. Our speech—regardless of language—is very clearly based on the sounds of nature.

Even more fascinating, Changizi shows that music itself is based on natural sounds. Music—seemingly one of the most human of inventions—is literally built on sounds and patterns of sound that have existed since the beginning of time.

From Library Journal:
"Many scientists believe that the human brain's capacity for language is innate, that the brain is actually "hard-wired" for this higher-level functionality. But theoretical neurobiologist Changizi (director of human cognition, 2AI Labs; The Vision Revolution) brilliantly challenges this view, claiming that language (and music) are neither innate nor instinctual to the brain but evolved culturally to take advantage of what the most ancient aspect of our brain does best: process the sounds of nature ... it will certainly intrigue evolutionary biologists, linguists, and cultural anthropologists and is strongly recommended for libraries that have Changizi's previous book."

From Forbes:
“In his latest book, Harnessed, neuroscientist Mark Changizi manages to accomplish the extraordinary: he says something compellingly new about evolution.… Instead of tackling evolution from the usual position and become mired in the usual arguments, he focuses on one aspect of the larger story so central to who we are, it may very well overshadow all others except the origin of life itself: communication.”

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Harnessed: How Language and Music Mimicked Nature and Transformed Ape to Man + The Vision Revolution: How the Latest Research Overturns Everything We Thought We Knew About Human Vision
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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).

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: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #518,037 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.]

Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
(12)
3.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting but bound to be controversial 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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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
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 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Radical (In a Good Way) Evolutionary Perspective August 23, 2011
By Aaron
Format:Paperback
Changizi has made a career out of fleshing out radical yet compelling ideas about how our species has evolved, and this book is no exception. Like other sensory systems, the auditory system evolved to interpret the natural environment. Language and music are both human inventions designed to be utilized by and appeal to this system. Given these assumptions, the seemingly radical notion that music and language mimic natural sounds becomes almost inevitable. As with much of his previous work, Changizi draws from a wide spectrum of evidence to make compelling arguments out of what first appear to be out-there ideas. While this is serious science, it is written in a very accessible and conversational manner with a healthy dose of humor. A must-read for anyone interested in where science can, but has yet dare to go.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific pop science -- full of new ideas 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
2.0 out of 5 stars Good reviews, dull book
I bought this based on some sterling press reviews, but I found the whole thing pretty tedious. The tone--which made me feel like a child being lectured at--did not help. Read more
Published 28 days ago by Patrick M. Mcmullen
3.0 out of 5 stars interesting idea, but the science is ???
I find the idea Changizi presents intreguing and with some merit, but it is not convincingly presented. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Just Me
5.0 out of 5 stars A unique perspective on what makes us human
First of all, it should be noted that the ideas presented in this book challenge the conventional theories of language evolution. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Felix G
2.0 out of 5 stars Music is movement? I don't think so
Despite the elaborate and ingenious arguments put forth in this book, the basic thesis that music derives from the sounds of movement is quite implausible. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Alan Eppel
3.0 out of 5 stars Great book, helpful staff
Update:

The problem with the figures in the Kindle version that I earlier reported was fixed. Read more
Published 22 months ago by R2D2
3.0 out of 5 stars No graphs/figures for Kindle
Liking the text, so far. To my disappointment, however, the graphs/figures/diagrams cannot be seen in the Kindle version! Is there any way to remedy this problem?
Published 23 months ago by Jason Rodgers
5.0 out of 5 stars With Vision Conquered, Changizi Turns His Sights to Sound
In his previous book, The Vision Revolution: How the Latest Research Overturns Everything We Thought We Knew About Human Vision, Mark Changizi presented a number of radical... Read more
Published on August 17, 2011 by Romann M. Weber
5.0 out of 5 stars From a Music Researcher
Having been involved with music and language research myself, I can easily say Harnessed has answered many of the questions that were on my mind. Read more
Published on August 16, 2011 by Eric
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