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Archive for 'human evolution'

new book – ‘The Shape of Thought: How Mental Adaptations Evolve’ by H. Clark Barrett

January 3, 2015

The Shape of Thought

The Shape of Thought: How Mental Adaptations Evolve by H. Clark Barrett (Oxford University Press, 2015)

(amazon.co.uk)

Book description from the publisher:

The Shape of Thought: How Mental Adaptations Evolve presents a road map for an evolutionary psychology of the twenty-first century. It brings together theory from biology and cognitive science to show how the brain can be composed of specialized adaptations, and yet also an organ of plasticity. Although mental adaptations have typically been seen as monolithic, hard-wired components frozen in the evolutionary past, The Shape of Thought presents a new view of mental adaptations as diverse and variable, with distinct functions and evolutionary histories that shape how they develop, what information they use, and what they do with that information.

The book describes how advances in evolutionary developmental biology can be applied to the brain by focusing on the design of the developmental systems that build it. Crucially, developmental systems can be plastic, designed by the process of natural selection to build adaptive phenotypes using the rich information available in our social and physical environments. This approach bridges the long-standing divide between “nativist” approaches to development, based on innateness, and “empiricist” approaches, based on learning. It shows how a view of humans as a flexible, culturally-dependent species is compatible with a complexly specialized brain, and how the nature of our flexibility can be better understood by confronting the evolved design of the organ on which that flexibility depends.

Google Books preview:

See also: Author’s webpage

Comments (0) - cognitive science,human evolution,new books,psychology

new book – ‘Guilt, Shame, and Anxiety: Understanding and Overcoming Negative Emotions’ by Peter R. Breggin

December 30, 2014

Guilt, Shame and Anxiety

Guilt, Shame, and Anxiety: Understanding and Overcoming Negative Emotions by Peter R. Breggin (Prometheus Books, 2014)

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

Book description from the publisher:

With the first unified theory of guilt, shame, and anxiety, this pioneering psychiatrist and critic of psychiatric diagnoses and drugs examines the causes and effects of psychological and emotional suffering from the perspective of biological evolution, child development, and mature adult decision-making. Drawing on evolution, neuroscience, and decades of clinical experience, Dr. Breggin analyzes what he calls our negative legacy emotions—the painful emotional heritage that encumbers all human beings. The author marshals evidence that we evolved as the most violent and yet most empathic creatures on Earth. Evolution dealt with this species-threatening conflict between our violence and our close-knit social life by building guilt, shame, and anxiety into our genes. These inhibiting emotions were needed prehistorically to control our self-assertiveness and aggression within intimate family and clan relationships.

Dr. Breggin shows how guilt, shame, and anxiety eventually became self-defeating and demoralizing legacies from our primitive past that no longer play any useful or positive role in mature adult life. He then guides the reader through the Three Steps to Emotional Freedom, starting with how to identify negative legacy emotions and then how to reject their control over us. Finally, he describes how to triumph over and transcend guilt, shame, and anxiety on the way to greater emotional freedom and a more rational, loving, and productive life.

Google Books preview:

See also: Author’s website

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new book – ‘The Domestication of Language: Cultural Evolution and the Uniqueness of the Human Animal’ by Daniel Cloud

December 1, 2014

The Domestication of Language

The Domestication of Language: Cultural Evolution and the Uniqueness of the Human Animal by Daniel Cloud (Columbia University Press, 2014)

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

Book description from the publisher:

Language did not evolve only in the distant past. Our shared understanding of the meanings of words is ever-changing, and we make conscious, rational decisions about which words to use and what to mean by them every day. Applying Darwin’s theory of “unconscious artificial selection” to the evolution of linguistic conventions, Daniel Cloud suggests a new, evolutionary explanation for the rich, complex, and continually reinvented meanings of our words.

The choice of which words to use and in which sense to use them is both a “selection event” and an intentional decision, making Darwin’s account of artificial selection a particularly compelling model of the evolution of words. After drawing an analogy between the theory of domestication offered by Darwin and the evolution of human languages and cultures, Cloud applies his analytical framework to the question of what makes humans unique, and how they became that way. He incorporates insights from David Lewis’s Convention, Brian Skyrms’s Signals, and Kim Sterelny’s Evolved Apprentice, all while emphasizing the role of deliberate human choice in the crafting of language over time. His clever and intuitive model casts humans’ cultural and linguistic evolution as an integrated, dynamic process, with results that reach into all corners of our private lives and public character.

Google Books preview:

See also: Author’s homepage

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new book – ‘Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human’ by David Roden

September 25, 2014

Posthuman Life

Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human by David Roden (Routledge, 2014)

(amazon.co.uk)

Book description from the publisher:

We imagine posthumans as humans made superhumanly intelligent or resilient by future advances in nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science. Many argue that these enhanced people might live better lives; others fear that tinkering with our nature will undermine our sense of our own humanity. Whoever is right, it is assumed that our technological successor will be an upgraded or degraded version of us: Human 2.0.

Posthuman Life argues that the enhancement debate projects a human face onto an empty screen. We do not know what will happen and, not being posthuman, cannot anticipate how posthumans will assess the world. If a posthuman future will not necessarily be informed by our kind of subjectivity or morality the limits of our current knowledge must inform any ethical or political assessment of that future. Posthuman Life develops a critical metaphysics of posthuman succession and argues that only a truly speculative posthumanism can support an ethics that meets the challenge of the transformative potential of technology.

See also: Author’s website

Comments (0) - human evolution,mind,new books

out in paperback – ‘The Neurobiology of the Prefrontal Cortex: Anatomy, Evolution, and the Origin of Insight’ by Richard E. Passingham and Steven P. Wise

July 1, 2014

Neurobiology of the Prefrontal Cortex

The Neurobiology of the Prefrontal Cortex: Anatomy, Evolution, and the Origin of Insight (Oxford Psychology Series) by Richard E. Passingham and Steven P. Wise (Oxford University Press, 2014)

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

Book description from the publisher:

The prefrontal cortex makes up almost a quarter of the human brain, and it expanded dramatically during primate evolution. The Neurobiology of the Prefrontal Cortex presents a new theory about its fundamental function. In this important new book, the authors argue that primate-specific parts of the prefrontal cortex evolved to reduce errors in foraging choices, so that particular ancestors of modern humans could overcome periodic food shortages. These developments laid the foundation for working out problems in our imagination, which resulted in the insights that allow humans to avoid errors entirely, at least at times.

In the book, the authors detail which parts of the prefrontal cortex evolved exclusively in primates, how its connections explain why the prefrontal cortex alone can perform its function, and why other parts of the brain cannot do what the prefrontal cortex does. Based on an analysis of its evolutionary history, the book uses evidence from lesion, imaging, and cell-recording experiments to argue that the primate prefrontal cortex generates goals from a current behavioural context and that it can do so on the basis of single events. As a result, the prefrontal cortex uses the attentive control of behaviour to augment an older general-purpose learning system, one that evolved very early in the history of animals. This older system learns slowly and cumulatively over many experiences based on reinforcement. The authors argue that a new learning system evolved in primates at a particular time and place in their history, that it did so to decrease the errors inherent in the older learning system, and that severe volatility of food resources provided the driving force for these developments.

Written by two leading brain scientists, The Neurobiology of the Prefrontal Cortex is an important contribution to our understanding of the evolution and functioning of the human brain.

Google Books preview:

See also: R. Passingham’s webpage

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