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new book – ‘The Origins of Language: A Slim Guide’ by James R. Hurford

April 21, 2014

Origins of Language

Origins of Language: A Slim Guide by James R. Hurford (Oxford University Press, USA, 2014)

(kindle ed.), (amazon.co.uk), (UK kindle ed.)

Book description from the publisher:

Origins of Language: A Slim Guide offers a concise and accessible overview of what is known about the evolution of the human capacity for language. Non-human animals communicate in simple ways: they may be able to form simple concepts, to feel some limited empathy for others, to cooperate to some extent, and to engage in mind-reading. Human language, however, is characterized by its ability to efficiently express a wide range of subtle and complex meanings. After the first simple beginnings, human language underwent an explosion of complexity, leading to the very complicated systems of grammar and pronunciation found in modern languages.

Jim Hurford looks at the very varied aspects of this evolution, covering human prehistory; the relation between instinct and learning; biology and culture; trust, altruism, and cooperation; animal thought; human and non-human vocal anatomy; the meanings and forms of the first words; and the growth of complex systems of grammar and pronunciation. Written by an internationally recognized expert in the field, it draws on a number of disciplines besides linguistics, including philosophy, neuroscience, genetics, and animal behaviour, and will appeal to a wide range of readers interested in language origins and evolution.

Google Books preview:

See also: Author’s homepage

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Kindle Daily Deal (Mon. 4/21) – ‘This Explains Everything: 150 Deep, Beautiful, and Elegant Theories of How the World Works’ ed. by John Brockman

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new book – ‘Consciousness and Moral Responsibility’ by Neil Levy

April 18, 2014

Consciousness and Moral Responsibility
 
 

Consciousness and Moral Responsibility by Neil Levy (Oxford University Press, 2014)
 

(amazon.co.uk)
 

Book description from the publisher:

Neil Levy presents an original theory of freedom and responsibility. Cognitive neuroscience and psychology provide a great deal of evidence that our actions are often shaped by information of which we are not conscious; some psychologists have concluded that we are actually conscious of very few of the facts we respond to. But most people seem to assume that we need to be conscious of the facts we respond to in order to be responsible for what we do. Some thinkers have argued that this naive assumption is wrong, and we need not be conscious of these facts to be responsible, while others think it is correct and therefore we are never responsible. Levy argues that both views are wrong. He sets out and defends a particular account of consciousness–the global workspace view–and argues this account entails that consciousness plays an especially important role in action. We exercise sufficient control over the moral significance of our acts to be responsible for them only when we are conscious of the facts that give to our actions their moral character. Further, our actions are expressive of who we are as moral agents only when we are conscious of these same facts. There are therefore good reasons to think that the naive assumption, that consciousness is needed for moral responsibility, is in fact true. Levy suggests that this entails that people are responsible less often than we might have thought, but the consciousness condition does not entail that we are never morally responsible.

Google Books preview:

See also: Author’s website

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new book – ‘I Can Hear You Whisper: An Intimate Journey Through the Science of Sound and Language’ by Lydia Denworth

April 17, 2014

I Can Hear You Whisper

I Can Hear You Whisper: An Intimate Journey through the Science of Sound and Language by Lydia Denworth (Dutton, 2014)

(kindle ed.), (amazon.co.uk)

Book description from the publisher:

An investigation into the science of hearing, child language acquisition, neuroplasticity, brain development, and Deaf culture. 

A mother notices her toddler is not learning to talk the way his brothers did… Is something wrong?  Her search for answers is a journey into the mysteries of the human brain.

Lydia Denworth’s third son, Alex, was nearly two when he was identified with significant hearing loss that was likely to get worse. Her sweet boy with the big brown eyes had probably never heard her lullabies.

Denworth knew the importance of enrichment to the developing brain but had never contemplated the opposite: Deprivation.  How would a child’s brain grow outside the world of sound most of us take for granted? How would he communicate?  Would he learn to read and write—weren’t phonics a key to literacy? How long did they have until Alex’s brain changed irrevocably? In her drive to understand the choices—starting with the angry debate between supporters of American Sign Language and the controversial but revolutionary cochlear implant—Denworth soon found that every decision carried weighty scientific, social and even political implications.  As she grappled with the complex collisions between the emerging field of brain plasticity, the possibilities of modern technology, and the changing culture of the Deaf community, she gained a new appreciation of the exquisite relationship between sound, language and learning.  It became clear that Alex’s ears—and indeed everyone’s—were just the beginning.

An acclaimed science journalist as well as a mother, Denworth interviewed the world’s experts on language development, inventors of ground-breaking technology, Deaf leaders, and neuroscientists at the frontiers of research.  She presents insights from studies of everything from at-risk kids in Head Start to noisy cocktail party conversation, from songbirds to signal processing, and from the invention of the telephone to sign language.

Weaving together tales from the centuries-long quest to develop the cochlear implant and simultaneous leaps in neuroscientific knowledge against a tumultuous backdrop of identity politics, I Can Hear You Whisper shows how sound sculpts our children’s brains and the life changing consequences of that delicate process.

Google Books preview:

See also: Author’s website

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new book – ‘The Punisher’s Brain: The Evolution of Judge and Jury’ by Morris B. Hoffman

April 16, 2014

The Punisher's Brain
 

The Punisher’s Brain: The Evolution of Judge and Jury by Morris B. Hoffman (Cambridge University Press, 2014)

(amazon.co.uk)

 

Book description from the publisher:

Why do we punish, and why do we forgive? Are these learned behaviors, or is there something deeper going on? This book argues that there is indeed something deeper going on, and that our essential response to the killers, rapists, and other wrongdoers among us has been programmed into our brains by evolution. Using evidence and arguments from neuroscience and evolutionary psychology, Morris B. Hoffman traces the development of our innate drives to punish – and to forgive – throughout human history. He describes how, over time, these innate drives became codified into our present legal systems and how the responsibility and authority to punish and forgive was delegated to one person – the judge – or a subset of the group – the jury. Hoffman shows how these urges inform our most deeply held legal principles and how they might animate some legal reforms.

See also: Author’s webpage

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