Big Bangs, Behaviors, and Beliefs
“An engaging and complex examination of the development of the human brain throughout its evolutionary history” (Publishers Weekly).
After several million years of jostling for ecological space, only one survivor from a host of hominid species remains standing: us. Human beings are extraordinary creatures, and it is the unprecedented human brain that makes them so.
In this delightfully accessible book, the authors present the first full, step-by-step account of the evolution of the brain and nervous system. Tapping the very latest findings in evolutionary biology, neuroscience, and molecular biology, Rob DeSalle and Ian Tattersall explain how the cognitive gulf that separates us from all other living creatures could have occurred. They discuss
• The development and uniqueness of human consciousness
• How human and nonhuman brains work
• The roles of different nerve cells
• The importance of memory and language in brain functions, and much more
Our brains, they conclude, are the product of a lengthy and supremely untidy history—an evolutionary process of many zigs and zags—that has accidentally resulted in a splendidly eccentric and creative product.
In conjunction with the exhibition Brain: The Inside Story, American Museum of Natural History curators DeSalle and Tattersall (the duo behind Human Origins: What Bones and Genomes Tell Us About Ourselves) provide an engaging and complex examination of the development of the human brain throughout its evolutionary history. The "human brain's being the hugely creative and simultaneously both logical and irrational organ that it is," the authors are comfortable using references ranging from YouTube to detailed explanations of ionotropic glutamate receptors. The first three chapters, "The Nature of Science: Our Brains at Work," "The Nitty-Gritty of the Nervous System," and "Hanging Our Brains on the Tree of Life," feature diagrams of scientific concepts and phylogenetic trees, as well as cogent illustrated analogies, as when DeSalle and Tattersall show that an increased sample size of pennies greatly decreases the probability of flipping all heads or all tails. As the book builds upon itself like the layering of cells in a fish cortex lay readers will likely get bogged down in technical information. However, in the chapter "Decisions, Behaviors, and Beliefs," the authors hit their stride, focusing on human neuropsychology, "The First Cosmopolitan Hominid," and "The Emergence of Modern Behavior." Given the enormity of their subject, DeSalle and Tattersall maintain an admirably consistent level of enthusiasm, but the fact remains that the brain and this text are incredibly complicated entities.