- Hardcover: 459 pages
- Publisher: Amer Psychological Assn; 1 edition (October 30, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1591471818
- ISBN-13: 978-1591471813
- Product Dimensions: 7.2 x 1.2 x 10 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 9 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,344,187 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Origin of Mind: Evolution of Brain, Cognition, and General Intelligence 1st Edition
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In many occasions, I have used the knowledge of this book to debate creastionists.
As other reviewers have pointed out, this book is not written in the chatty, conversational tone of a pop-science paperback. Dr. Geary does not condescend or patronize the reader. He assumes we are intelligent adults who are willing to be challenged and enlightened. Further, the reader can easily select a chapter that interests him or her and read it in isolation.
I think this book conclusively demonstrates that the only way we will ever understand the brain/mind is via the lens of natural and sexual selection. It is not the final word on the topic but it is one hell of a mid-point salvo.
Here are the points I found most interesting. The human mind is unique in it's ability to create a sense of self which is stable over time and capable of utilizing past memories of self to generate behaviors likely to produce a desirable imagined future (a mental time machine). Human evolution was not driven so much by climatic or ecological change as by the need for different human tribes and subspecies to compete for and defend available ecological nitches. This produced brain systems supporting complex social behavior, abstract reasoning, the use of tools, and verbal communication. It also resulted in what the author calls an "evolutionary arms race". Read: evolution favored a war-like species capable of forming powerful inter-group attachments and loyalties and deeply rooted hostilities toward outside groups defined by geographic, racial, and cultural (and I would add religious) boundaries. Does this ring a bell as you read the newspaper?
However, unless you are a professional evolutionary neurobiologist, be warned. The task of diving for valuable pearls (and they are there) in this book is formidable. There is excessive use of undefined jargon. The organization is poor. Sections headings are uninformative. The badly needed glossary is simply absent.
I immediately abandoned any attempt to read the book cover to cover. Fortunately, an Introduction and Overview is provided which summarizes the content of each chapter. It also explaines the author's central theses and allows one to skip directly to the chaptes of most interest. For instance, Chapter 7 elaborates the brain functions distinguishing humans from apes and lower animals, their anatomical correlates, and the pressures driving their evolution.
Alas for a good editor! What is "folk biology" and "folk psychology"? With luck we will have spotted their parenthetical translations: "understanding other species" and "understanding other people". Ponder this sentence: "Comparative similarity is particularly divisive, as it provides strong evidence in support of the proposal that the human brain and mind are products of natural selection." The surrounding text doesn't help either, although one gleans that "divisive" has something to do with nature versus nurture.
My suggestion: read the introduction and overview very carefully. Skip around in the book. When something makes sense, highlight it. Take time, leave the book and come back to it. Your efforts will be rewarded.