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Harnessed: How Language and Music Mimicked Nature and Transformed Ape to Man First Edition Edition

3.7 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1935618539
ISBN-10: 1935618539
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Editorial Reviews

Review


"...this remarkable book...promises to revolutionize thinking about what separates us from apes." — Daniel Simons, author of The Invisible Gorilla

"...builds a compelling case, and his wry style of storytelling makes for an entertaining read." — Discover Magazine

...brilliantly challenges...view...that the human brain's capacity for language [and music] is innate..." — Cynthia Knight, Library Journal

...makes a persuasive case in this fascinating volume." — New Scientist
"...simple but striking premise to show how language and music...harness our brains." — The Scientist

...this book might hold the key to one of humanity's longstanding mysteries..." — Stanislas Dehaene, author of Reading in the Brain

About the Author

Mark Changizi is an evolutionary neurobiologist aiming to grasp the ultimate foundations underlying why we think, feel and see as we do. His research focuses on "why" questions, and he has made important discoveries such as on why we see in color, why we see illusions, why we have forward-facing eyes, why letters are shaped as they are, why the brain is organized as it is, why animals have as many limbs and fingers as they do, and why the dictionary is organized as it is. He attended the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, and then went on to the University of Virginia for a degree in physics and mathematics, and to the University of Maryland for a PhD in math. In 2002, he won a prestigious Sloan-Swartz Fellowship in Theoretical Neurobiology at Caltech, and in 2007, he became an assistant professor in the Department of Cognitive Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. In 2010, he took the post of Director of Human Cognition at a new research institute called 2ai Labs. He has more than 30 scientific journal articles, some of which have been covered in news venues such as "The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, " and "Wired." He has written three books, "The Brain From 25,000 Feet" (Kluwer 2003), "The Vision Revolution" (BenBella 2009), and "Harnessed"(BenBella 2011).
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 216 pages
  • Publisher: BenBella Books; First Edition edition (August 2, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1935618539
  • ISBN-13: 978-1935618539
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #934,489 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on September 1, 2011
Format: Paperback
I always assumed that language developed using sound rather than sight because sight would not be effective at night and because in some environments (dense jungles and forests) it is easier to hear than it is to see. But what Changizi argues in this most interesting book is that the reason we use sound rather than say hand signals as language is that sounds, not sights, signal events.

He explains: "Audition excels at the `What's happening?' sensing a signal only when there's an event. Audition not only captures events we cannot see...but serves to alert us to events occurring even within our view. Nonevents may be screaming visually, but they are not actually making any noise, and so audition has unobstructed access to events--for the simple reason that sound waves are cast only when there is an event." (p. 34)

You can have sights without events. You can look out onto a landscape and see a myriad of things without anything moving, without a perceptible event taking place. But (to reiterate) you cannot have a sound without an event. Sounds signal events and that's what we are interested in. Something that changes. And that is why our eyes are tuned to movement, because it is movement in the visual world that signals change.

In Changizi's use of the word "harnessed" we can see the interplay between the organism and the environment. In one sense "harness" means "to restrain"; in another sense it means "to utilize." From one point of view the organism is restrained by the environment; in another sense it utilizes the environment. This is particularly true of humans.
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Format: Paperback
Unlike other reviewers so far, I found this book to be a major disappointment. The storyline generated does not hold up to scrutiny. It sounds good superficially and is at times thought-provoking but many limitations creep in throughout the text that call into question the basis of the research and its main conclusions.
The author tries to weave together an evolutionary story for why humans are a "musical species." This is a worthy task. However, most damningly to the whole premise of the book, there is little to no discussion about the real-world environmental and social context of humans' earliest days on Earth. Many of the examples used have no relevance to what sounds humans and our direct ancestors would have heard in the African and European "wild" environments; mostly he draws examples from more modern life to explain, post-hoc, why music evolved. It is very frustrating because it suggests that the author has little to no knowledge of human evolution--or worse, purposefully ignores it to make his case.
Also, there is a strange focus only on classical music throughout the book. It is not well justified and leads to the ignoring of all other types of music. Whether his ideas relate to other types of music is never discussed so it remains unclear whether the conclusions can be extrapolated to other genres. For someone professing to have an broad theory of why we listen to music, it would seem prudent to at least address why we listen, collectively, to so many different types of music.
The data sets used in the book from which to draw the conclusions seem to be all from the author's lab. Many of the data sets appear to have come from undergraduate projects; this is not a problem per se but it does raise questions about the quality of the data and arguments.
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This is an interesting popular science book about the evolution of speech and music. The author has his own theory to promote - which is that speech and music sound like nature. In particular, he claims that speech sounds like solid object interactions and music sounds like human movement. The book is a long string of arguments promoting these ideas. The book lacks much in the way of references, and instead tells the story of the discovery and goes over supporting evidence, which is often unpublished. The book is generally well written and readable. There's a fair amount of truth to the arguments presented by it. I don't know of others who promoted this idea earlier - though it seems fairly obvious that brains are adapted to sense nature and that sound and musical forms are adapted - via cultural evolution - to fit brains.

The book promotes a pure cultural evolution story - arguing against Pinker and Chomsky. Pinker and Chomsky are mistaken, and cultural evolution was obviously very important in the evolution of speech - but we do have a mature meme-gene coevolution theory - and a pure cultural evolution story for the origin of speech seems simply mistaken.

The book seeks one theory to rule them all. If a theory doesn't fit all the facts it gets rejected. The author rejects the "music sounds like sex" theory, the "music sounds like speech" theory and the "music sounds like emotive overtones" theories on these grounds. Science is a bit more pluralistic than this - it isn't necessary to have one theory that explains everything.

I felt that the book suffered from confirmation bias. The author constantly presented confirming evidence, while only rarely considering competing theories or possible criticism.
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