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Human: The Science Behind What Makes Your Brain Unique Paperback – June 30, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. As wide-ranging as it is deep, and as entertaining as it is informative, the latest offering from UC–Santa Barbara neuroscientist Gazzaniga (The Ethical Brain) will please a diverse array of readers. He is adept at aiding even the scientifically unsophisticated to grasp his arguments about what separates humans from other animals. His main premise is that human brains are not only proportionately larger than those of other primates but have a number of distinct structures, which he explores along with evolutionary explanations for their existence. For instance, a direct outgrowth of the size and structure of the human brain, along with their origins in the complexity of human social groups, was the development of language, self-awareness and ethics. (Gazzaniga offers some surprising comments on the evolution of religion and its relation to morals.) Throughout, Gazzaniga addresses the nature of consciousness, and by comparing the intellectual capabilities of a host of animals (chimps, dogs, birds and rats, among others) with those of human babies, children and adults, he shows what we all share as well as what humans alone possess. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Thinking through human characteristics, and deciding whether they are in fact distinctly human, is the aim of this popular work about neuroscience. Gazzaniga is a prime name in the field, and in jaunty, colloquial language, he mediates the research of neurobiologists as well as evolutionary and cognitive psychologists. Opening with a run through the gross anatomy of the brain and concluding that, yes, ours really is a bigger, more complex noggin than that of any other species, Gazzaniga asks: “Would a chimp make a good date?” Meaning: Are we justified in imputing humanlike thought to animals such as chimps or dogs? No, is Gazzaniga’s general conclusion. They fail tests for theory-of-mind, the ability to act on the knowledge that other creatures have their own thoughts. Humans innately acquire that skill—as Gazzaniga demonstrates through descriptions of cognitive studies of children—so what’s it for, he asks? He finds answers in the universal proclivity to talk, mostly about other people. From gossip to morals to art, Gazzaniga pays scientific compliments to what makes us human. --Gilbert Taylor --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Michael S. Gazzinga looks into what makes humans exceptionally unique compared to other organisms and deciphers what change occurred for this process to happen overtime. Human: The science behind what makes your brain unique stresses into the factors that make the human brain remarkable, the significance of language, artistic abilities, and intelligence, and the fundamentals of individual consciousness.
Overall Opinion of Book:
The book overall was a great read for me! I was extremely captivated by Gazzinga's ability to explain the brain in terms of such simplicity; however, he also emphasized on the nitty-gritty aspects in the brain that distinguished one organism from another. As a classical dancer as well, I was especially intrigued by the section of the book noted as "The Glory of Being Human" which went into the artistic capabilities and skills wired in the human brain. I definitely was able to relate to this book because it not only showed differences between human beings and other organisms, but it also showed how we are different from other people through the anatomy and patho-physiology of our brains.
Synopsis of Book:
The book is broken up into four different parts, and each individual part ties into the uniqueness of the human brain. The first few pages gives acknowledgements to different people who helped in the process of writing the book, and then, the book proceeds to a prologue, that gives an introduction of the book, as well as source documentation.
Part one of the book talks about the basics of human life. The book first looks into an evolutionary perspective, where despite the bio-molecular and physiological aspects of the brain, humans are evidently different from any type of organism in the world. In this section, the cortex of the human brain is compared to chimps, and it is understood that human beings have more of an understanding and grasp of the real world.
Part two of the book emphasizes on the social world and how human beings developed morality and righteous behavior. This part of the book especially details on empathy, in the chapter known as "I feel your pain," where the author explains how one is able to empathize and relate to another individual.
Part three highlights on the beginning of art, music, and literature in an evolutionary perspective, and how art affects split-brain epileptic patients. The reader in this sense is informed about how every human being has the privilege to be artistic in his or her own way through the converter function, or dualism.
Part four of the book is exceptionally intriguing because it explores the topic on how technology will affect what the definition of a "human" is going to be in the future. Gazzinga explores the idea of a neural chip in this chapter and how it can alter the neurochemistry of the future generations.
Style and Structure of Book:
The book is divided into four parts, with about two or three chapters in each part. Before the four parts of the book, there is an acknowledgments section and prologue section. Part One is on the basics of Human Life, and it is sectioned into two chapters that explains how exactly the human brain is unique and how the human brain is unique compared to a chimp's brain. Part Two is on the navigations through the social world, and it is sectioned into three chapters, which explains how we expand social relationships, what exactly draws us to others, and how we build relationships with other individuals. Part Three is on the glory of being a human through artistic abilities. Part Three is divided into three chapters: `What's up with the arts?' `We all act like dualists: the converter function', and `Is anybody there?' Part Four wraps up the entire book by emphasizing beyond any current constraints in the uniqueness of the brain. This part of the book goes into multiple case studies of the brain. The book is concluded finally with an afterword, additional notes, and an index.
Opinions on specific parts or aspects of the book:
Part One: The Basics of Human Life:
I was truly intrigued by the laterization and connectivity that each brain had to offer. As a biology major, I believe that Gazzinga did a great job in recognizing the molecular and genetic dimensions that distinguished us from chimps and other organisms. The second chapter in this section was written in a creative manner, where Gazzinga explains the difference between the interactions in the brain of two humans going on a date versus a human and a chimp going on a date. This part really helped me in understanding not just the anatomy and physiology of the brain but also, on how the brain affects how you react to certain things in society.
Part Two: Navigating the Social World:
This section in particular was extremely interesting because I had always wondered if innately, we knew what was moral and not moral. Gazzinga looks into an example of incest, where a brother and sister end up having sexual intercourse. Though the brother and sister did not find anything wrong with it, the majority of people in society may believe that it is wrong. However, Gazzinga proves that the incest taboo ("sex with my sibling is wrong") is something that was actually taught in society. In these situations, Gazzinga questions where ethical modules have come from and why they exist. This is truly a brilliant chapter as it made me question if our moralistic actions are truly a "gut feeling" or something that is learned through society.
Part Three: The Glory of Being Human:
This part of the book is definitely my favorite, as it divulges into the brain and its artistic abilities. Gazzinga illustrates that everyone is an artist in his or her own way, and he uses music as his primary example. According to Darwin, music is a form of communication- it is spoken by everyone. The reason why humans find the arts so pleasing is also due to a more active cerebral dominance, which could in turn increase survival advantage. As a dancer, this concept really changed my perspective on the arts, as it is not just a hobby, but a survival technique as well.
Part Four: Beyond Current Constraints:
Part four of the book raised a lot of questions, as Gazzinga proposed if technology as a whole would turn humans into another creature as a whole. This part of the book was extremely uncomfortable because Gazzinga explained how technology and things we do on a day-to-day basis has already changed what humans are as a whole. Gazzinga mentions how we have already altered our neurochemistry through caffeinated products, alcohol, and other psychological medications that determine the amount of neurotransmitters our brain can take. What's not to say that one day we will have a brain chip for intelligence enhancements? It truly questions if we are becoming into a "brave new world".
Useful and interesting quotes from the book:
A great part of this book is that there is a quotes section before each chapter. It introduces the reader on what they are about to read in the upcoming chapter. Some quotes I found extremely interesting and enthralling are:
"A man who works with his hands is a laborer; a man who works with his hands and his brain is a craftsman; but a man who works with his hands and his brain and his heart is an artist" ~ Louis Nizer
"From having read the fictional story about the boy who cried wolf when we were children, we can remember what happened to him in the story and not have to learn that lesson the hard way in real life." ~ Gazzinga
"Men ought to know that from the brain, and from the brain only, arise our pleasures, joy, laughter and jests, as well as our sorrows, pains, griefs, and tears" ~ Hippocrates, c. 400 B.C.
Summary of Book Review:
Overall, this book is a great read, and it is very easy to understand! The author's style of writing is very conversational; however, it explains the complexities of the human brain in an educational and informative manner. The book also places importance into cognitive neuroscience, the artistic skills and abilities that comes with being a human, and the future technologies that can foster the uniqueness of the brain.
Recommendation for potential readers:
I would definitely recommend this book for anyone who is interested in neuroscience, cognitive neuroscience, cognitive psychology, personality theories, social psychology, abnormal psychology, evolutionary psychology, or engineering psychology. I would also recommend this book to individuals whose research is on cellular and molecular biology, as well as individuals who partake in the healthcare field as their profession. As an undergraduate student, I would recommend this book to colleagues who are interested in the biological/human sciences. Also, the art section would especially be relevant to those who are in an artistic field (dancers, musicians, painters, etc).
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.
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!
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.
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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