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Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique 1st Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0060892883
ISBN-10: 0060892889
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. As wide-ranging as it is deep, and as entertaining as it is informative, the latest offering from UC–Santa Barbara neuroscientist Gazzaniga (The Ethical Brain) will please a diverse array of readers. He is adept at aiding even the scientifically unsophisticated to grasp his arguments about what separates humans from other animals. His main premise is that human brains are not only proportionately larger than those of other primates but have a number of distinct structures, which he explores along with evolutionary explanations for their existence. For instance, a direct outgrowth of the size and structure of the human brain, along with their origins in the complexity of human social groups, was the development of language, self-awareness and ethics. (Gazzaniga offers some surprising comments on the evolution of religion and its relation to morals.) Throughout, Gazzaniga addresses the nature of consciousness, and by comparing the intellectual capabilities of a host of animals (chimps, dogs, birds and rats, among others) with those of human babies, children and adults, he shows what we all share as well as what humans alone possess. (July)
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From Booklist

Thinking through human characteristics, and deciding whether they are in fact distinctly human, is the aim of this popular work about neuroscience. Gazzaniga is a prime name in the field, and in jaunty, colloquial language, he mediates the research of neurobiologists as well as evolutionary and cognitive psychologists. Opening with a run through the gross anatomy of the brain and concluding that, yes, ours really is a bigger, more complex noggin than that of any other species, Gazzaniga asks: “Would a chimp make a good date?” Meaning: Are we justified in imputing humanlike thought to animals such as chimps or dogs? No, is Gazzaniga’s general conclusion. They fail tests for theory-of-mind, the ability to act on the knowledge that other creatures have their own thoughts. Humans innately acquire that skill—as Gazzaniga demonstrates through descriptions of cognitive studies of children—so what’s it for, he asks? He finds answers in the universal proclivity to talk, mostly about other people. From gossip to morals to art, Gazzaniga pays scientific compliments to what makes us human. --Gilbert Taylor
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; 1 edition (June 24, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060892889
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060892883
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #396,935 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

73 of 80 people found the following review helpful By Adam C. Leonard on July 8, 2008
Format: Hardcover
To understand human social behavior it is necessary to be familiar with most (if not all) of the material Michael Gazzaniga covers in this seminal summary of how humans are alike and different from other animals. Since Dr. Gazzaniga is not only a pioneering neuroscientist, but also an accomplished writer noted for his ability to render scientific material understandable and entertaining, there is likely no better way to become familiar with leading edge thinking on human behavior than by reading "Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique."

Dr. Gazzaniga's stance (as proclaimed in the Prologue) is that although most human activity can be related to antecedents in other animals, somewhere in the evolution of our brain the equivalent of a "phase shift" occurred and we became unique: His rallying cry is "... let us start the journey of understanding why humans are special, and let's have some fun doing it." "Human" succeeds in doing that throughout its nine chapters.

All of the recent discoveries and salient theories from the fields of neuroscience, molecular biology, genetics, evolutionary and cognitive psychology, and artificial intelligence (among others) are presented in a cogent and evenhanded way; whenever Dr. Gazzaniga favors one theory over another, he carefully explains why, and the result is that readers can weigh the data and various viewpoints themselves to improve their comprehension of human behavior.
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45 of 50 people found the following review helpful By LMC on July 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Michael Gazzaniga, a preeminent brain scientist who has made the study of the human mind scientifically viable, has hit a grand slam with his new book. In it he tackles a fundamental question of our existence, one that has been largely avoided by modern science: what makes humans beings unique? In a breezy and easy to understand style, he weaves a story that combines cutting-edge information from diverse disciplines, ranging from molecular biology to social psychology. The result is a book that is as entertaining as it is informative. HUMAN is a must read for every thinking person.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By M. Marmarelis on July 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Dr. Gazzaniga elegantly explores what makes humans unique by drawing from a large body of research and presenting it with seemingly effortless wit. Whether he is talking about the anatomy of specific parts of the brain or deciding whether a human would have a good time on a date with a chimp, he keeps the reader engaged and entertained. All in all, this book was a wonderful way to learn about some of the fascinating research that has been done on the brain.
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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Leslie Ann Keller on July 8, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a comprehensive and readable account of what we know thus far--about ourselves. Human is a compendium of thought-provoking research concerning what makes us unique as a species, as well as what connects us to all other living things. Gazzaniga does not shy from celebrating human life, giving credit to nature where credit is due. We are complex beyond measure. It is amazing how much information the author can relay while still remaining accessible and downright fun. The Brain's the thing!
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Levitin on February 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover
My dog, Shadow, does not have an intact disgust module. Neither did the succession of best friends who preceded him: Isabella, Charlotte, Karma, or "99." Dogs will eat or roll in practically anything, and show no sensitivity to an emotion that seems to be uniquely human. Human infants don't have it until they're five to seven years old.

Disgust is one of the five emotional modules that distinguish humans from other species. Other emotional modules are common across species, says Michael Gazzaniga, an eminent cognitive neuroscientist (and co-inventor of the field). Neither we, nor human infants, nor wallabies, for example, have to be explicitly taught to avoid certain dangers. Encountering a fast approaching, large something with sharp teeth - even if one has never encountered it before - causes an automatic fear and avoidance reaction. Evolution has hard-wired a general fear template into our brains, rather than a fear of specific things - you never know what you might encounter, and you don't want to sit there ruminating about it while you become lunch. Speaking of ruminating, part of what makes human brains special is that we are the only animals who even bother to ask the question of why we're special, or who worry about what others think.

Human makes a lively and fun tour through the latest research on brain evolution. (Full disclosure: three of my papers are mentioned in his book, out of the hundreds of studies discussed). The human brain turns out to be less different from other animal brains than you might think. Language and social cognition fall along a continuum across species. Deceiving others, for instance, long thought to be unique to humans, is present in monkeys and crows, who can even hide their attempts to deceive.
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