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Denial: Self-Deception, False Beliefs, and the Origins of the Human Mind First Edition Edition

3.8 out of 5 stars 40 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1455511914
ISBN-10: 1455511919
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"This is perhaps the most exciting idea in evolution that I have read since Darwin. Danny Brower's manuscript survived his untimely death and how it came to Ajit Varki's hands is an evolutionary story in itself. Varki is a renowned physician-scientist, and what Ajit is doing is to take this manuscript and reworking it, producing a work of beauty and simplicity. It is the tale of the very thing that makes us human. A marvel."―Abraham Verghese, Author of Cutting for Stone

"Groundbreaking new ideas often come from the most unexpected sources. Here is such an instance, wherein two scholars from disparate disciplines unrelated to human origins have come up with a completely novel theory--to explain one of the most fundamental of human questions: where did we humans come from, and how did we get here? A must read for anyone interested in this age-old quest."―Peter Agre, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

"A highly readable manifesto for anthropogeny (the study of human origins), DENIAL is written in a lively and engaging style that communicates the excitement of asking the big questions: how are humans different from all other species, and why did other species not evolve a full theory of mind, given the wide-ranging benefits that this brings to humans? Issuing a provocative challenge to future scientists, Ajit Varki's scholarly journey leads him to speculate about the role of our awareness of our mortality, and our simultaneous tendency to live in denial of it."―Simon Baron-Cohen, director, Autism Research Centre, Cambridge University

"This book answers the never-ending quest of what sets our species apart with a delightful suggestion. It is not so much our awareness of mortality that is special, the authors claim, but rather our ability to push this awareness to the farthest recesses of our minds. The ostrich has nothing on us."―Frans de Waal, author of The Bonobo and the Atheist

"Quite a book, with a revolutionary point of view that I find critically interesting. An enormous effort--an intriguing message and a major contribution."―Roger Guillemin, winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine

"A tremendously engaging story-full of human interest, wit, scientific detective work, and imaginative speculation. It's great to see Varki and Brower pushing the limits. It makes us fellow-travellers into the field of the known unknowns."―Nicholas Humphrey, Author of Soul Dust and The Mind Made Flesh

"I found DENIAL intriguing at first, while perusing it. It soon became fascinating as I started to read it in earnest. I have long held that once they acquired the advanced intelligence characteristic of Homo sapiens, our ancestors became aware of their mortality. Anxiety about death leads to belief in the afterlife and other religious and ethical tenets. That is what I had learned from philosophers, theologians, and others. DENIAL turns these ideas on their head. DENIAL forcefully argues that it was awareness of mortality and its ensuing denial that prompted the evolution of our exalted intelligence. Original, engaging, and beautifully written."―Francisco J. Ayala, University Professor and Donald Bren Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of California, Irvine; recipient of the National Medal of Science and the Templeton Prize, author of The Big Questions: Evolution

"A magnificent scholarly work, both in terms of the science and the manner in which Varki has ethically tackled a gigantic path opened up by Brower. Wherever one dips into it, one gets involved almost immediately in some fascinating question. A superb book."―Derek Denton FRS, University of Melbourne, author of Primordial Emotions

"Engaging and intellectually exciting. Almost as fascinating as the novel ideas of Brower on the evolutionary origins of a distinctly human consciousness is Varki's story of how he stumbled upon them, and became preoccupied with their potentially profound implications about what differentiates humans."―Sanjay Nigam, author of Snake Charmer and Transplanted Man

"A surprising and stimulating book that explores a deep insight into those psychological innovations that make us human."―Peter Lawrence, Cambridge University, Darwin Medalist of the Royal Society

"A gifted scientist with an encompassing humanitarian vision, Ajit Varki suggests that our blithe but false supposition that we will just go on living, day after day, is an evolutionary adaptation--one that has played a crucial role in the evolution of the human brain. Clear, cogent and compelling, DENIAL makes you ponder our habitual death-denial and why it is so robust. Does this hypothesis convince me? I am constitutionally a tough sell, especially when it comes to big ideas. Still, I do take this one very seriously. The more I kick its tires, the more sturdy it seems."―Patricia Smith Churchland, MacArthur Fellow, University of California Presidential Professor of Philosophy, author of Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells us About Morality

About the Author

Ajit Varki is a physician-scientist who is currently Distinguished Professor of Medicine and Cellular and Molecular Medicine, Associate Dean for Physician-scientist Training, Co-director of the Glycobiology Research and Training Center at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), and co-director of the UCSD/Salk Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny.

Danny Brower, an insect geneticist, was Professor and Chair of Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Arizona in Tucson. He died in 2007.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Twelve; First Edition edition (June 4, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1455511919
  • ISBN-13: 978-1455511914
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #889,962 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition
If you are hoping to read a well-written, logically-consistent and scientifically-sound exploration of the phenomenon of the human mind; if, for example, you hold in high regards books by Daniel Dennett and Steven Pinker, then you will likely find this book a disappointment.

The author's thesis, that human-type intelligence is only possible after the denial of mortality, is not made convincingly; and the notion seems to have been stretched with difficulty into book-length, leaving much room for the author to pontificate on side issues.

To call the book a "magnificent scholarly work," as does one reviewer cited by Amazon, is a huge misrepresentation. It is much closer to being popular pseudo-science. Note that the publisher, Twelve (imprint of the Hachette Book Group), is not an academic publisher but (according to their website) a printer of books "that illuminate, inspire, provoke, and entertain."
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The book puts forth an interesting hypothesis of how modern humans developed the ability to understand each other's consciousness and mortality and use selective denialism to make this a benefit to natural selection. I feel the authors do a good job of making their case. There are, however, many as yet unknown facts about our ancestors that may modify this understanding.

This is definitely a book for those with a scientific or fact based viewpoint. I don't think many readers from a theological or religious perspective will accept the premise or conclusions of the authors.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I love the fact that this author really knows his stuff AND writes it with a new spin on things...really made me think --- just this week, mainstream media came out with the news that dinosaurs may have been warmblooded...however he has it already written in his book. I like that he's up on the information. I actually bought two copies bc my spouse and I are reading this for our own family book club. We *really* enjoy reading about theory of mind...just a really great read. I highly recommend!
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Format: Hardcover
I very highly recommend this book to the scientist and non-scientist alike.

Very well-written, and evidence of lots of reading and exploration on the authors' part.

Don't listen to any reviewer that says the book is unscientific. The particular topic of this book is simply not subject to a simple pass/fail test, and that is why the book is so interesting.

Think of it this way. We know what human nature is like, if we just look around us and read history. This book describes this nature accurately. We also know that human nature must have evolved from evolution. What the authors do is provide a good reason of why our human nature evolved this way.

If you can tell a better story of why we evolved our particular human nature, then write a book, because thus far Varki and Brower have the best story. The fact that it isn't 100% provable detracts nothing from the story.
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Format: Kindle Edition
The co-authors met casualy at an academic event. Dr. Varki found Dr. Brower's research fascinating, but had other interests to pursue. By the time Dr. Varki returned to the idea, Dr. Brower had died, but his widow entrusted his notes to Dr. Varki. So Danny Brower gets co-author credit, revealing Dr. Varki as not only a brilliant researcher but a nice guy.

The book sets out to answer the question why we alone, among so many other intelligent species, managed to fully develop our intelligence. The answer turns out to be the apparent paradox that we learned to deny reality! Details are far too complex for a short review.

Dr. Varki's intellectual integrity is impressive. He does not oversell his idea. Where there is solid research evidence, he presents it. Where he is more speculative, he warns us. In a summary chapter, he lists all the problems he can see and openly calls for more research.

Last but by no means least, Dr. Varki is a good writer. Academic jargon is minimized, but when nothing else will do, he gives an "English Translation" at point of first use.

Overall, this book is an accessible account of an interesting new research topic.
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Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed this book and thought the thesis was clear and well supported. The thesis is essentially identical to John Schumaker's in his books, "Wings of Illusions" and "The Corruption of Reality." I was surprised that neither was cited in "Denial." I think Varki would be astonished at the similarities between his book and Schumaker's books.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
this book talks directly about the way we are built to live in the dangerous times of origins...not always easy to think about, but that has to do with the real difficulty of the subject matter...if you want to get closer to understanding how we are designed, and how it helps and hinders us in the modern world, this book will get you into the thick of it...
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This describes various forms of self deception by human beings and suggests how this may have been essential for the evolution of human intelligence. The historical, philosophical, and medical background is discussed. The book is well written and a pleasure to read.
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