- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: Pantheon; First Edition edition (March 17, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 037542198X
- ISBN-13: 978-0375421983
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 19 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,396,244 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Why Us?: How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves First Edition Edition
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“Simple and compelling; a bold attempt to reunite science with a sense of wonder.”
—The Sunday Times (London)
“An extraordinary work of science. . . . Quite wonderfully refreshing.”
—A. N. Wilson, Reader’s Digest (UK)
“[Le Fanu reminds us] that life is finally inexplicable, and the universe full of mysteries that are inaccessible to scientific probing. The fact that these rarely stated realities are so superbly brought to life here makes this a brave, brilliant and fascinating book.”
—The Sunday Telegraph (London)
“Excellent. . . . An important, luminously written book. . . . Carefully-documented, scrupulously fair-minded. . . . It deserves a very wide readership. . . . A careful reader, analyst, and conveyor of this body of research, and an admirer of its revelations and the ingenuity of those who have made them, LeFanu is also possessed of something even rarer than a gift for luminous explication of scientific complexity: he has what the great, polymathic thinker Blaise Pascal called 'l’esprit de finesse,' or a philosophical mind.”
“James Le Fanu’s lively literary imagination makes this book such a stimulating and challenging read.”
—Literary Review (UK)
“Erudite and beautifully written. . . . Le Fanu lucidly analyses the limitations of that narrow intellectual prison in which science has languished too long.”
—The Spectator (UK)
“Le Fanu sets his stall out with admirable clarity, and not a little brio. . . . [He is] a lucid and compelling writer.”
—Evening Standard (UK)
“This challenge is so knowledgeable, so meticulously constructed that mere prejudice will not be enough to undermine this major work.”
“A bold synthesising polemic.”
“Le Fanu eviscerates salvation by science. The Double Helix is impenetrable, the brain unfathomable, the genome over-rated, the self a mystery.”
“An outstandingly readable and informative book. . . . Le Fanu knows a lot but wears his erudition lightly.”
—David Klinghoffer, The Discovery Institute
From the Trade Paperback edition.
About the Author
For the past twenty years James Le Fanu has combined working as a doctor in general practice with contributing a weekly column to The Sunday Telegraph and The Daily Telegraph. His articles and reviews have appeared in the New Statesman, The Spectator, GQ, the British Medical Journal, and the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. He has made original contributions to current controversies over the value of experiments on human embryos, environmentalism, dietary causes of diseases, and the misdiagnosis of non-accidental injury in children. His previous book, The Rise and Fall of Modern Medicine, won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in 2001. He lives in England.
Top customer reviews
Essentially, the author takes two "unexpected" developments: (1) the Human Genome Project's discovery that, instead of the 100,000 or so genes anticipated, we have only about 25,000 genes, and that humanity's genotype is identical to 98% of the genotype of our primate cousins, and (2) that after substantial resources in recent decades have been plowed into neuroscience including the "Decade of the Brain" project, we still don't have a clear idea how the brain creates the mind and how consciousness is sustained. Le Fanu suggests the former development erodes genetic reductionism (it's all in our genes) since how can man's gifts, relative to the primates, be explained by a 98% overlapping of genes. The latter development indicates, according to Le Fanu, that neuroscience reductionism has likewise failed in connecting neuronal circuits and synapses to mental states and subjective experiences. The human "mind" seems to be a complex phenomenon not easily explained by physical brain functioning. The reader could easily label Le Fanu a "dualist" in neuroscience (one who believes, according to Descarte, that the brain and mind are separate and unconnected phenomena) and a "vitalist" in biology as one who believes the mystery and spark of life go beyond biochemistry. These are of course obsolete positions in modern science, and the strict science-oriented reader may decide right now to forego this book, but it is well-written, the science is treated respectfully and knowledgeably, and the ideas are provocative.
Personally, I believe his "vitalism" is off-target, and his criticism of evolution, more specifically natural selection as the mechanism for evolution, erodes his credibility. While not an avowed "creationist", he has received a favorable review from the Discovery Institute. His criticisms of Darwinian evolution have been heard before, and I won't rebut them here, but I do agree with him that evolutionary psychology has aggressively extended Darwinian explanations into areas where cultural explanations are more fruitful. I am much more sympathetic to his assessment of neuroscience and its seeming failure to closely connect the mind and consciousness to specific brain functions. Theories abound, but in fairness this is an awesome research task for neuroscience and so labeling it a failure is surely premature. Since I'm not a strict materialist and I think consciousness may pervade our universe, I'm open to Le Fanu's idea that the mind is a distinct entity not completely "connected" to the brain, and may even affect physical states. Thus, he discusses research that shows how brain scans showed indirect evidence of synaptic rewiring from both cognitive and behavorial therapy. While not covered in the book, I believe the placebo effect is another manifestation of this.
Regarding genetics, Le Fanu argues that recent advances in our understanding (including the mapping of the complete human genome) call into question the adequacy of the traditional theory of macroevolution (species to species) through random mutation over time. Turning to brain science, Le Fanu argues that recent research undermines any conceptual model of the brain-as-computer and "thought" as the simple result of chemical reactions. Taken together, these discoveries raise a challenge to the strict materialism that has characterized science for many decades, a materialism that (according to Le Fanu) can blind its proponents to the extraordinary implications of the data before them and has contributed to a growing sense of sterility in the field. Importantly, this strict materialism is not a necessary part of good scientific method. Indeed, Le Fanu believes we are on the verge of another major paradigm shift in science of the type Thomas Kuhn has described; that before long a tipping point will be reached and the hegemony of certain inadequate assumptions will be over.
Le Fanu is not a "creationist" properly speaking and any efforts to classify him as such would be lazy at best. He accepts the scientific consensus of an ancient earth and part of his argument rests on the evidence for periodic "explosions" of life in the Cambrian period and other eras. However, he does believe that to make sense of the life sciences in general - and humanity in particular - the rational disciplines of philosophy and theology must have a place at the table. And not in a child's high-chair, it would seem.
Le Fanu writes well, argues respectfully, and incorporates a generous number of useful illustrations. The work could have been improved by tighter organization of the overall argument and expanded implications for humanity. But perhaps that's where the philosophers and theologians come in.
Whilst not himself either a creationist or exponent of intelligent design, he argues forcefully that the evolutionary theory of neo-Darwinism cannot account for the extraordinary world of detailed information contained in every cell of the human body; nor for the workings of the human brain. For those willing to question the doctrine of neo-Darwinism, this is fascinating and very important material.
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She reads these type of reading material.
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I purchased this book in hardback in 2009, and have now read it carefully right...Read more