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Why Humans Like to Cry: Tragedy, Evolution, and the Brain [Kindle Edition]

Michael Trimble
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Human beings are the only species to have evolved the trait of emotional crying. We weep at tragedies in our lives and in those of others - remarkably even when they are fictional characters in film, opera, music, novels, and theatre. Why have we developed art forms - most powerfully, music - which move us to sadness and tears? This question forms the backdrop to Michael Trimble's discussion of emotional crying, its physiology, and its evolutionary implications.

His exploration examines the connections with other distinctively human features: the development of language, self-consciousness, religious practices, and empathy. Neuroanatomy and neurophysiology of the brain have uncovered unique human characteristics; mirror neurones, for example, explain why we unconsciously imitate actions and behaviour. Whereas Nietzsche argued that artistic tragedy was born with the ancient Greeks, Trimble places its origins far earlier. His neurophysiological and evolutionary insights shed fascinating light onto this enigmatic part of our humanity.

Editorial Reviews


Trimble ambitiously cracks the surface of a complex human process. Scientific American This is a stimulating adventurous book. Daily Telegraph Trimble earned my respect for his erudition and ambition ... an engaging storyteller. Randolph Cornelius, New Scientist Fascinating volume ... an insightful account ... offers a profound glimpse into the human heart as well as deep insight into the role of art in our lives. Guardian

About the Author

Michael Trimble, Emeritus Professor of Behavioural Neurology, Institute of Neurology, London

Michael Trimble is emeritus professor of Behavioural Neurology at the Institute of Neurology, Queen Square, London. His research for many years has been on the behavioural consequences of neurological disorders, especially epilepsy and movement disorders. He has a lifelong research interest in neuroanatomy, hence his ability to explore the neuroanatomical basis of crying. However, he is also a psychiatrist with much clinical experience of mood disorders, and had investigated the latter in patients using neurological techniques, such as brain imaging. He is the author of The Soul in the Brain (Johns Hopkins, 2007).

Product Details

  • File Size: 2194 KB
  • Print Length: 241 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0199693188
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford; 1 edition (November 22, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #900,481 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
3.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Rather muddled March 3, 2013
I am a layperson with a great interest in the emotions, and some small knowledge of the subject. Michael Trimble's book gives a great deal of information about the structure of the brain -- how the amygdala connects to the hippocampus and the like -- but it was over my head. That's not a criticism, exactly. Perhaps the book was aimed at a more knowledgeable audience or perhaps I didn't try hard enough. Still, I was disappointed.

More to the point, I found his discussions of Nietzsche and aesthetics to be muddled and not well connected to his material on the brain. And since his subject was the evolutionary development of some emotions, like sorrow, he should certainly have discussed the work of John Tooby and Leda Cosmides. To speak of the functions and mechanics of emotion without discussing Jaak Panksepp and Paul Ekman and quite a few others is not a good thing. Also, Professor Trimble makes many statements that are mere assertions. He says, for instance, that art was "initially of a religious nature." (p. 130.) Oh?

After reading the book, I felt I did not know any more about why humans like to cry than I did before.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ENGROSSING!! January 17, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In-depth exposure to the latest information in neuro-psych and neuro-anatomy...expounded upon by a virtuoso in the field of neuro-psychology. Ideal material for serious neuro studies.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a gem! January 29, 2013
Michael Trimble is one of the world's leading neurologists and knows how to present a fascinating story of humans and their brains that everyone can understand. This book is one of a series of such books he has written. It is devoted to the interesting fact that humans are the only species that cry when moved by sorrow, joy or pity. Professor Trimble first traces out the brain mechanisms involved in the emotional storms that lead to weeping, and then takes us through its evolutionary, psychological and cultural anthropological aspects. This story is interwoven with an account of the interplay of Dionysean and Apollonian themes in the theatre, particularly in classical Greece, that depict the human tragi-comedy that is life.
I warmly recommend this little masterpiece.
John Smythies
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars wonderful! January 26, 2013
In his new book, Why humans like to cry: Tragedy, Evolution and the Brain, Michael Trimble beautifully illuminates the links between neuroanatomical pathways, evolutionary biology, empathy, tragedy, and music that give rise to the "uniquely human ability" to cry emotionally. Trimble addresses why we cry drawing on his deep knowledge of neuro anatomy and human behavior to show us that it is our compassion, originating perhaps as far back as the early hominid communities, from which swell our tears in response to the tragedies of life that echo in Tragic drama and the language of music. This insightful book is highly recommended; the style is clear and the topic universal.
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3 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not very good December 20, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Rather poor and with two not too well-connected sides: the Nietzschean birth of tragedy and the neuroscience and physiology of tears...
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