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Big Brain: The Origins and Future of Human Intelligence (MacSci) 1st Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1403979780
ISBN-10: 1403979782
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Editorial Reviews

Review

“An excellent book...very well written and informative.” ―CHOICE

“[A] fascinating and provocative account of the human brain's recent past.” ―Joseph LeDoux, author of The Emotional Brain

“A much needed book on big brains… Big Brain is a popular account of how brains enlarge, in both evolutionary and developmental terms. The strength of the book lies in the neuroscience, especially its treatment of neural plasticity and the "association areas" of the brain… ” ―William H Calvin, New Scientist

“The Lynch and Granger combination is like mixing gas with fire. In this book there are big, explosive ideas by two ingenious brain scientists.” ―Michael Gazzaniga, author of The Ethical Brain

“On a planet in which everything seems to be getting bigger (the internet), hotter (our climate), or more numerous (the world's population), Gary Lynch and Rick Granger reveal the intriguing possibility that people with larger brains than us may have been around a few thousand years ago. Their account of the mysteries of the brain and intelligence challenges conventional views in a scholarly yet wonderfully accessible manner.” ―Richard Morris, Director of the Centre for Cognitive and Neural Systems, University of Edinburgh, and President, Federation of European Neuroscience Societies, and Former Chair, Brain Research Association of the United Kingdom

“Riveting…the book tracks the evolutionary development of the human brain…” ―Anthony Doerr, Boston Globe

“...A riveting account of how the human brain evolved.” ―Nicole Branan, Scienticfic American

About the Author

Gary Lynch is a professor at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of more than 550 scientific publications that are among the most cited in the field of neuroscience. He is the co-inventor of a novel family of cognition-enhancing drugs called "ampakines", is co-founder of three technology companies (Cortex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: COR), Synaptics (NASDAQ: SYNA), and Thuris Corporation), has served as advisor to multiple professional entities including the Society for Neuroscience and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and has been featured in major television networks, newspapers, and magazines ranging from the Los Angeles Times to Popular Science.

Richard Granger is W.H. Neukom Distinguished Professor of Computational Science and of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth. He has been the principal architect of a series of advanced computational systems for military, commercial and medical applications, and co-inventor of FDA-approved devices and drugs. He is a consultant, co-founder, and board member of numerous technology corporations such as Thuris Corporation and Cortex Pharmaceuticals, and government research agencies including the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the National Science Foundation, and the Office of Naval Research. His work has been highlighted in numerous popular press and television features, including recent stories in Forbes, Wired, and on CNN.

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Product Details

  • Series: MacSci
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1 edition (March 4, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1403979782
  • ISBN-13: 978-1403979780
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,378,711 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Phillip Stall on March 20, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Edit: This review has been edited as of 2013 to reflect new information (actually, in fact, old information) regarding the anthropology in the book.

Professors Gary Lynch and Richard Granger have put forth a strong body of work in support of why we humans have big brains and the implications for the future of our species, doing so in the context of anthropological and neuroscientific evidence.

As a neuroscience student who is interested in anthropology, it certainly was interesting to read Lynch and Granger's posit of a species that had brains which were spectacularly larger than ours per body size. While explaining the development of brains in the context of evolution, Lynch & Granger make an effort to confront, as they refer to it, the ultimate "irresistable fallacy"-- that evolution favors us precisely because of our intelligence--strongly arguing why our intellectual capacity differs from other species (our big brains, or more accurately, our high brain:mass ratio), and how this came about over millions of years. Lynch & Granger also portend, based on the tenets of their argument, what lies ahead for species with bigger brains--or in the case of the Boskops, what lies in the past.

This is a must read for anyone who believes they have evolution 'figured out', and/or for anthropological fans intrigued as to differences between primates based on neuroscientific knowledge.
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Format: Hardcover
Granger & Lynch are both accomplished neurobiologists, but they clearly didn't do their homework on evolutionary biology & evolutionary anthropology. How so? The "Boskop" race of humans that are a central point of discussion in this book only existed for about 40 years, after researchers started digging up ancient crania in South Africa, & before they started analyzing them with modern science. Google the topic, & you'll find that in the professional literature, the Boskops were dismissed as artifacts of shoddy scholarship over 50 years ago! To make a long story short, geological & archeological contextual affinities are a bit more important than similarities of morphology in identifying populations. Are Shaquille O'Neal & Yao Ming from the same population because they're both extremely tall? This is basically how the Boskops were created by early 20th century scientists...
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Format: Hardcover
The thesis at the heart of this book is highly questionable. Take a look at what paleoanthropologist John Hawkes' has to say:

"I hate to think that the theme of a 2008 book was pulled straight from a 1958 essay, but I don't know where else they would have gotten the idea. No anthropologists have written much about the so-called "Boskopoids" since 1958. There is no such thing as an "IQ estimate" for a fossil human; that's entirely nonsensical. There's no question that there have been massive cultural changes in the last 10,000 years. But the idea that our brains' functions have atrophied from some Pleistocene state has been left long behind in the dust of nineteenth-century race studies.
So I'm left wondering: Why would two neuroscientists, after going to all the trouble to write a book about the evolution of the human brain, use completely obsolete anthropological information without doing a simple Google search to see if the facts have stayed the same as in 1923?"

Based upon this, you've got to wonder...

[...]
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Format: Hardcover
Summary
Granger and Lynch have done an excellent job of explaining brain evolution; how the human brain evolved and adapted over millions of years. There are many theories out there of how our brains came to be and this summarizes the research very well. The book revolves around an interesting but controversial finding of a race of humans that had bigger brains than we did. Granger and Lynch manage to explain the controversy well and use this as a starting point to think about what it means to have bigger brains.

Audience
If you want to understand how brains evolved read this book. Don't let the controversies around the discoveries stop you. I have read many books on neuroscience and brain evolution and this book provides one of the best explanations of brain evolution.

Details
Granger and Lynch use the discovery of the Boksops, a race of humans that possibly had bigger brains then we do to explain how our brains evolved. They explain the controversies and background around the discovery and why it was shunned by the establishment. BUT this book is so much more than just about the boksops. The book delves into the meaning of bigger brains and the evolution of the brains from early mamals to homo sapiens and beyond. Granger and Lynch don't shy away from the controversy and provide new angles on the subject. This is a fascinating area of research and it adds a new dimension to how brains work. Don't let human-centric chauvinism distract you from understanding the human brain.

Take Aways
If you want to understand the brain more, what it means to have bigger brains and how it relates to intelligence, then pick up this book.
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