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71 of 78 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential to Understanding Human Behavior
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...
Published on July 8, 2008 by Adam C. Leonard

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44 of 67 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars zzzzzzzz
The lesson is, don't take the word of only 5 reviewers. This book is a rehash of frequently used chimpanzee/human comparisons and other `socio-psychology-neurobiology' tales and studies. You have heard them all before if you have done even cursory reading in brain, memory, consciousness literature.
In between rehashed studies, it reads like a stream of consciousness...
Published on October 27, 2008 by Daphne


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71 of 78 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential to Understanding Human Behavior, July 8, 2008
This review is from: Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique (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.

The final chapter looks into the near future and considers likely advances in the emerging neuroprosthetic fields, where brain signals are tapped to control prosthetic devices; in robotics and artificial intelligence, where manmade devices take over Man's "dull, dangerous, or dirty" chores; and in gene therapy and "genetic engineering," where the Pandora's Box of manipulating our very nature may be creaking open. Dr. Gazzaniga's extensive work with the Council on Bioethics (which led to a previous book, "The Ethical Brain") makes him almost uniquely qualified to address the promises and dangers of gene manipulation.

And, yes, a summary can indeed be "seminal" if it brings together findings from many disciplines, lays them out in parallel, and shows how they have a common thread and converge toward a common conclusion.

Adam Leonard (Author of "Man by Nature: The Hidden Programming Controlling Human Behavior.")
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44 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read!, July 7, 2008
This review is from: Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique (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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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From neuroatomy to dating a chimp, July 7, 2008
This review is from: Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique (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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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars About Ourselves, July 8, 2008
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Leslie Ann Keller (Weaverville, NC USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique (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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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brain Candy, February 22, 2009
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This review is from: Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique (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. Counterintuitively, much of what makes us human is not an ability to do more things, but an ability to inhibit automatic responses in favor of reasoned ones; consequently we may be the only species that engages in delayed gratification and impulse control (thank you pre-frontal cortex).

Gazzaniga doesn't shy away hard problems such as why there is art. The attraction to fictional experiences - stories, plays, paintings, and music - is puzzling from an evolutionary perspective. "Why does the brain contain reward systems that make fictional experiences enjoyable?" Involvement with the imaginative arts, he observes, "is self-rewarding without an obvious functional payoff."

The answer is that fictional thinking engages innate "play" modules that enhance fitness by allowing us to consider possible alternatives - hypothetical scenarios - so that we can form plans in advance of dangers, hazards, or even unpleasant social scenarios. "It would be fitness enhancing to learn to hide or run from a predator, or stalk and search for food, before one actually needs to do it for survival." Amount of play, we learn, is correlated with species' brain size, and play is seen as practice for real life. "From having read the fictional story about the boy who cried wolf. . .we can remember what happened...and not have to learn that lesson the hard way in real life. The more fictional stories we hear, the more circumstances we become familiar with...The arts are not frosting but baking soda."

The controversial and hair-raising final chapter explores brain implants and germ-line gene therapy. It is one thing to accept interventions when future tests can detect cystic fibrosis or muscular dystrophy in a developing embryo, Gazzaniga notes. But we may soon identify genes that indicate a high probability of developing diabetes in middle age, or heart disease. Will we terminate the embryo and "start all over again, and try for a better one?" Or sneak inside and change offending genes merely because of their probabilistic tendencies?

The power of the last chapter is in its ability to cause one to rethink one's positions. Some may find the idea of a neural implant, a computer chip grafted to the brain to be, well, disgusting. But Gazzaniga artfully shows how the lines can become blurred. We already alter our neurochemistry through caffeine and alcohol (not to mention Prozac). People with thyroid or pituitary problems take pills or daily injections to restore their hormonal balance. Others wear cochlear implants or electrodes to stimulate parts of the brain that are injured. If these technologies were combined - if a chip could mediate thyroid function - that doesn't seem radically different from an injection. Or a neural implant may more conveniently stimulate the pre-frontal cortex and brain stem the way that caffeine or Ritalin or Prozac do. Will we accept an implanted memory restorer for people with Alzheimer's? What about schoolchildren, Gazzaniga asks: "Honey, I know that we were saving this money for a vacation, but maybe we should get the twins neural chips instead. It is hard for them in school when so many of the other kids have them. . ." But if this is fundamentally different from discussions in previous generations about buying glasses, hearing aids, or paying for Ritalin, that difference is not obvious. If a neural implant could keep Shadow from rolling in dead squirrel (and pilfering countertop cake and cookies) maybe it's not so disgusting after all.

Daniel J. Levitin is a Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Neuroscience at McGill University, and is the author of the New York Times bestsellers This Is Your Brain on Music This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession and The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening and Thought Provoking, September 27, 2009
This review is from: Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique (Hardcover)
In Human, Dr. Michael S. Gazzaniga provides us with a detailed (almost to a fault at times) examination of the human brain. Although I wouldn't recommend it for anyone without at least rudimentary knowledge of brain anatomy and function, it provides an enlightening and humbling look at just what exists inside our heads that makes us so dramatically different from every other species on Earth.

My tendency to devour science fiction books while pretty much ignoring the world of non-fiction had me apprehensive about reading such a lengthy and in depth work of legitimate science, but I found myself pleasantly surprised (and at times enthralled) by the many facets of this book and how well they blend together. Gazzaniga has mastered the art of keeping lengthy anatomical dissertations interesting by linking them with thought-provoking experiments and case-studies, all the while inserting chuckle-inducing one-liners and quips.

The book is laid out in four parts, with each part being around 100 pages long and consisting of two to three chapters apiece. Within the chapters are titled subsections that help keep the countless ideas and transitions neatly organized. Footnotes and citations abound throughout the book, and the last fifty or so pages consist of bibliographical notes and an index.

The first of the four parts is called The Basics of Human Life, which begins with Chapter 1: Are Human Brains Unique? In this chapter, Gazzaniga begins with a discussion of the basic anatomy of the brain, including size, regions and structures. He explains lateralization and cortical columns in a fair amount of detail, and begins showing how the human brain is physically different from the brains of other primates. This chapter may seem boring for readers, but it provides a good introduction to the human brain which is necessary for understanding the later observations of the book.

The next chapter begs the question of whether a chimp would be a good date, and it begins to delve deeper into the mental capacity and characteristics exhibited by humans and other primates. Gazzaniga immediately discusses the tendency of humans to personify other animals, and cautions against using that tendency to interpret the actions of chimpanzees and other animals in lieu of a purely scientific approach. He briefly touches on the genomic differences between humans and chimps before beginning a discussion on the physical similarities and differences between the two species, and how each species came to evolve these characteristics. The discussion soon leads to mental differences, including the use of language and theory of mind. Gazzaniga describes the areas of the brain responsible for these characteristics, and how the relative size of these regions differs greatly between the two species. Gazzaniga concludes that "a day spent with [a chimpanzee] would be very interesting," but he would "prefer more culture" (75).

Part 2 - Navigating the Social World - begins with a chapter called Big Brains and Expanding Social Relationships. In this chapter, Gazzaniga discusses the evolutionary origins and positive selection of social groups. The discussions regarding the evolutionary benefits and origins of gossip and intentional lying were particularly interesting and humorous.
The next chapter highlights the presence of morals in human culture and how our brain incorporates both moral inclinations and rational thought into the decision making process. An in depth illustration of the evolutionary development and advantages of the five "moral modules" - reciprocity, suffering, hierarchy, coalition, and purity - explains that all human virtues originated from one or more of these five modules (132). The chapter closes by mentioning that the rational and emotional parts of our minds often conflict with one another, but unconscious mental processes influence our decisions also.

The fifth chapter, called I Feel Your Pain, illustrates many examples of subconscious imitation and mimicry between humans, such as wincing when seeing another human in pain. Discussions of mirror neurons and their involvement in unconscious empathetic responses were very illuminating. The chapter continues on to mention conscious displays or suppression of emotion, and ends by touching on self-awareness and its importance in filtering automatic empathetic responses to distinguish between experienced and observed harm.

Part three (The Glory of Being Human) begins with the sixth chapter, entitled What's Up with the Arts. This chapter details the evolutionary roots and fitness benefits of art and music, which I found to be quite interesting. In addition to art and music, aesthetics and human ideals of beauty are shown to have fitness benefits that are purely biological, including sexual preferences for symmetry, which subconsciously suggests physical fitness.

Chapter seven examines the tendency of humans to emphasize the belief of duality of mind and body. This section struck me as unnecessarily lengthy and philosophical, though not without a few interesting points, such as the power of human intuition with regards to physics and the benefits and fallacies humans owe to their theory of mind.

The eight chapter, Is Anybody There, discusses in depth the specific regions and characteristics of the brain that allow humans to experience consciousness and self awareness. This chapter has a great deal of information about people whose brains have been injured and the effects of such injuries on their personalities or mental/physical functioning. Gazzaniga concludes with the statement that "consciousness is an emergent property and not a process in and of itself" (320).

As a fanatical science fiction reader and biomedical engineer, the last chapter (Who Needs Flesh) was the most interesting in the book. It describes the advances being made in neuroscience and what we have to look forward to from the future. Discussions of brain-computer interfacing, AI development, genetic modification, and medical device implantation were very in-depth and interesting. Detailed explanations of recent scientific advances should leave any reader anticipating the near future with optimism and excitement.

All in all, I'd say that Human is a very enlightening read for anyone interested in neuroscience or human evolution. It has definitely given me a new respect for the human brain, and maybe even an idea or two for a new science fiction story.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars not a sleeper - buckle up for the intense workout, April 3, 2012
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This review is from: Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique (Hardcover)
By far, the greatest book on neuroscience you can get. I'll give you the answer: what makes us human? : 1. Neo-cortex size; 2. Language capability; 3. Social capability; 4. Moral capability; 5. Empathy capability; 6. Aesthetic capability; 7. Dualism capability. There are neural correlates for all of these systems. Gazza gives you all of the substance for understanding these systems. A brilliant book. Quite a huge undertaking; but he does it with style and expertise. Mandatory reading by anyone interested in thinking. not casual reading material; but a book to study.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Human Review, February 24, 2011
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This review is from: Human (Kindle Edition)
Human by Michael S. Gazzaniga

Human is the fascinating book about what makes us uniquely human. Dr. Gazzaniga, a neuroscientist, uses his expertise in neuroscience and related fields to explain what makes human brains unique. This 464-page book is composed of the following four parts: 1. The Basics of Human Life, 2. Navigating the Social World, 3. The Glory of Being Human, and 4. Beyond Current Constraints.

Positives:

1. A very-accessible, enjoyable, educational and informative book.
2. This book is full of interesting research!
3. The wonderful theory of evolution once again provides the framework to understanding our brains.
4. How genetics has revolutionized neuroscience.
5. Accessible brain science from a renowned neuroscientist.
6. An investment of time that rewards you with "brain candy".
7. Dr. Gazzaniga not only explains what we know about our brains, he also discloses what we don't know.
8. Fascinating facts throughout, I can't stress that enough.
9. So what lead us to speak? Find out...
10. The "Theory of Mind".
11. Tracing our violent history.
12. Our animal instincts.
13. Group and sexual selection theories explained.
14. How food helped expand the human brain.
15. Gossip as evolutionary advantageous.
16. The impact of brain injuries...fascinating stuff!
17. Morality.
18. Voluntary and involuntary imitation.
19. Evolutionary theories about the origins of art.
20. Intuitive understanding of physics that innately human.
21. Fyborgs, yes fyborgs with an f!
22. Teleological reasoning.
23. Dr. Gazzaniga provides a comprehensive conclusion at the end of each chapter.

Negatives:

1. The book could have used more visuals to help convey concepts better.
2. Kindle links did not work.

In summary, this book is the science behind being human. It's as well-researched a book as you will find. Dr. Gazzaniga provides plenty of information and a luxury of details. Anyone interested in what makes us human with an emphasis on the brain should not hesitate to get this book. Fascinating stuff, I highly recommend it.

Recommendations: "The Belief Instinct..." by Jesse Bering, "Supersense" by Bruce M. Hood, "The Third Basic Instinct..." by Alex S. Key, "The Scientific American Brave New Brain..." by Judith Horstman, "The Blank State..." by Steven Pinker, and "The Ego Tunnel" by Thomas Metzinger.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Science Behind Being Human, December 13, 2010
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This review is from: Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique (Hardcover)
This book contains a wealth of information about what makes humans unique; however, I found myself having difficulty staying focused on the material as I read especially the beginning chapters. There was a lot of information about various experiments and studies and I guess all the detail did not keep my interest. Maybe it's just me. I also thought that the book could have used at least some illustrations, but there were none, not even one. There were numerous times when I thought that a pertinent illustration of the matter being discussed would have been nice, especially when discussing various regions of the brain.

The author obviously has a great deal of knowledge and experience in his field which is evident from the book. According to the author, humans are unique in many ways. Gazzaniga discussed many ways in which we are unique such as consciousness, theory of mind, abstract thought, imagination, time travel in our imagination, episodic memory and many more topics.

Gazzaniga also discussed the evolutionary trends that may have resulted in humans being unique such as the increase in brain size; here we are introduced to genetic variation in specific regulators for brain size and the force of social environments on intelligence development. There is also talk of reciprocal altruism, fitness indicators, parental investment and various other factors involved in the evolutionary process.

In chapter six, there is a discussion of the concept of artistic appreciation and the development of music ability. In chapter eight, we learn about the interpreter which is a process of the left hemisphere that processes information from various parts of the brain and comes to a conclusion, and information about various abnormal conditions of the brain and how these help us understand the development of the brain.

Overall, the book contains a wealth of information on the subject of why we are human, especially in regards to our brain.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Science as Knowledge, May 10, 2011
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This review is from: Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique (Hardcover)
I do not do these things. Have a natural tendency to lean toward the private side of life. Compelled by the comment (paraphrasing), 'never trust a 'great' rating with only five reviews'. Now, there will be at least six. I say this as someone who has read the book at least 3 times (as i do most books) and found something NEW each time. In the same way i lean toward being private, i also have a natural attraction for the simple concept of 'science as knowledge'. We are smart/intelligent enough to study not just our environment (right down to cow farts) but also ourselves... and no other species possesses this ability. I really do enjoy learning about how we got here. If you do not believe in evolution, please do not waste your time reading this book. I would like to think the author's ideas would prove to be compelling enough to convince you otherwise, but it is (next to) impossible to convince people of organized religions that there is knowledge which runs contrary to their can't-let-go-of beliefs. This author and book presents the latest scientific knowledge (2008) about why it so cool to be human. For people who are likewise inclined to knowing such things, i can promise you will enjoy this read. Time well-spent.
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Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique
Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique by Michael S. Gazzaniga (Hardcover - June 24, 2008)
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