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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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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