Book Reviews and Excerpts About Evolution, Cognition, and the Neurobiology of Behavior
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When I started doing research for a novel I am working on, I started keeping notes on books that help me better understand the human brain and human behavior. As part of my notes, I often keep track of favorite quotations. You will find some of those quotations below. Since I turned my note taking activity into
MyBrainNotes.com™, many of the books featured below are discussed in other parts of this website.
I will update this section of MyBrainNotes.com™ on a regular basis as I identify books that pertain to human evolution, cognition, and behavior.
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John Allman Evolving Brains Scientific American Library, W.H. Freeman, 2000.
Although some of his writing requires a science background in order to fully understand its meaning, much of John Allman's book is highly accessible to the general reader. He cites the work of a wide variety of outstanding scientists, elucidating how decades of research have brought us to a new understanding of what it means to be human.
David Bainbridge The X in Sex: How the X Chromosome Controls our Lives
Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 2003.
A note from Sarah-Neena-Koch: As pointed out in The MATING System, the Brain, and Gender Determination, one of the webpages in MyBrainNotes.com, gender is determined as much by the brain as it is by one's genitalia. The X in Sex is enlightening. See the excerpts below. If you are interested in gender differentiation, also check out Deborah Rudacille's The Riddle of Gender.
"Testicles make boys by releasing hormones, … ." page 22
"Although it may seem a bit disconcerting, before six weeks of development we all have the forerunners of sperm tubes, Fallopian tubes, and a uterus. … To become a boy or a girl, all we have to do is discard the set of tubes we do not require. The tubes that boys need are called the 'Wolffian' ducts and the tubes that girls need are called the 'Mullerian' ducts. This is how Mullerian inhibiting substance got its name—one of its main jobs in boys is to destroy the Mullerian ducts. Men do not need a uterus and this hormone is what rids them of it." page 22
"Human beings are not simply male or female. In fact, all those ancient myths of male-female duality have turned out to be, well, mythical. 'Intersexuality' is a fact of life, and not a particularly rare one either. Even when babies acquire so called 'normal' XX or XY chromosomal complements, later stages of the sex-determination process can go wrong, and all in all these bring the total up to about 1 percent of humanity who have a sexuality that differs from XX female or XY male. The human sexes are not two opposites, or even two equivalents—the human sexes are many and varied, and while two predominate, the others form a continuous spectrum of gender that stretches between those two, and beyond them." page 167
John Brockman (editor) Science at the Edge: Conversations with the Leading Scientific Thinkers of the Day Union Square Press; Updated edition, 2008
A Note from Sarah-Neena-Koch: Depending on your background, some essays in this book may be easier to understand than others. I particularly enjoyed the essays related to evolutionary biology. Also, in Science at the Edge, Jared Diamond provides a relatively succinct answer to the very important question about human development that he poses below. Or, you could read his book on the topic—Guns, Germs, and Steel. I include below some material that the late John Brockman published on his website, Edge.org, along with a few other interesting ideas that I found while reading Science at the Edge. All the authors cited below have books to their credit. I have included a few book jackets to pique your interest.
From "A New Scientific Synthesis of Human History," by Jared Diamond:
"Why did human development proceed at such different rates on different continents for the last 13,000 years? Historians tend to avoid this subject like the plague, because of its apparently racist overtones. Many people, or even most people, assume that the answer involves biological differences in average IQ among the world's populations, despite the fact that there is no evidence for the existence of such IQ differences. In case the stink of racism still makes you feel uncomfortable about exploring this subject, just reflect on the underlying reason that so many people accept racist explanations of history's broad pattern: We don't have a convincing alternative explanation. Until we do, people will continue to gravitate by default to racist theories. That leaves us with a huge moral gap, which constitutes the strongest reason for tackling this uncomfortable subject."
From "A Biological Understanding of Human Nature," by Steven Pinker:
"I believe that there is a quasi-religious theory of human nature prevalent among pundits and intellectuals which includes both empirical assumptions about how the mind works and a set of values that people hang on those assumptions. The theory has three parts: [T]he Blank Slate—that we have no inherent talents or temperaments because the mind is shaped completely by the environment (parenting, culture, and society). The second is the myth of the Noble Savage—that evil motives are not inherent in people but spring from corrupting social institutions. The third is the Ghost in the Machine—that the most important part of us is somehow independent of our biology, so that our ability to have experiences and make choices can't be explained by our physiological makeup and evolutionary history."
From "Getting Human Nature Right," by Helena Cronin:
"Certainly, human nature is fixed. It's universal and unchanging, common to every baby that's born, down through the history of our species. But human behavior, which is generated by that nature, is endlessly variable and diverse. After all, fixed rules can give rise to an inexhaustible range of outcomes. Natural selection equipped us with the fixed rules—the rules that constitute our human nature. And it designed those rules to generate behavior that's sensitive to the environment. So, the answer to genetic determinism is simple. If you want to change behavior, just change the environment. And to know which changes would be appropriate and effective, you have to know those Darwinian rules. You need only to understand human nature, not to change it."
From "Natural-Born Cyborgs," by Andy Clark:
"For we shall be cyborgs not in the superficial sense of combining flesh and wires but in the more profound sense of being human/technology symbionts—thinking and reasoning systems whose minds and selves are spread across biological brain and nonbiological circuitry." page 72
From "What Shape are a German Shepherd's Ears?" by Stephen M. Kosslyn
"But my particular brain or your particular brain is the way it is not only because of the particular genes we have but also because of the way the environment up-regulated or down-regulated those genes during development, sculpting our brains certain ways, and because of the ways our genes respond to environmental and endogenous challenges." page 146
John Buckingham Chasing the Molecule The History Press, 2005
By the middle of the 1800s, chemists established that many natural products were made of just three elements: carbon, oxygen and hydrogen. These molecules are the fundamental substances of organic chemistry and turned out to be the building blocks of DNA, which would not be discovered until the next century. One reviewer on Amazon.com, M. Taylor, writes: "A very different book, verging on a novel in style with the discipline of a reference text. It should be appealing to readers with a bent for science and history."
A Note from Sarah-Neena-Koch: This book is on my BOOKS-TO-READ list.
Thomas B. Czerner What Makes You Tick? The Brain in Plain English
John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, 2001.
"Deep within your brain but well above the brain stem, neurons in your pituitary and hypothalamus evolved from cells that enabled your chordate ancestors to sense the chemical perfume of an unseen mate in a distant meadow and initiate a courtship. Now the sense and regulate the hormones in your blood. They lie deep in the subcortical, central region of the brain, which could be called the seat of your animal soul. This area, truly the heart of your brain, includes several important nuclei that produce and regulate your degree of arousal, the tone and depth of your feelings, and your emotionally directed behavior. The behavior produced in this middle portion of the brain is often labeled instinctual and unthinking because it is less easily modified than the more deliberately planned, finely turned responses generated in the newly acquired cerebral cortex above it."
Antonio R. Damasio Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain
Penguin Books, New York, 1994.
"The distinction between diseases of "brain" and "mind," between "neurological" problems and "psychological" or "psychiatric" ones, is an unfortunate cultural inheritance that permeates society and medicine. It reflects a basic ignorance of the relation between brain and mind." page 40
"There are several billion neurons in the circuits of one human brain. The number of synapses formed among those neurons is a least 10 trillion, and the length of the axon cable forming neuron circuits totals something on the order of several hundred thousand miles. [I (Damasio) thank Charles Stevens, a neurobiologist at the Salk Institute, for the informal estimate.] … The time scale for the firing is extremely small, on the order of tens of milliseconds—which means that within one second in the life of our minds, the brain produces millions of firing patterns over a large variety of circuits distributed over various brain regions." Later, Damasio adds, "…the elementary secrets of mind reside with the interaction of firing patterns generated by many neuron circuits, locally and globally, moment by moment, within the brain of a living organism." page 259
Charles Darwin Descent of Man, originally published in 1871, presented here by Plume, 2007
"We must acknowledge, as it seems to me, that man with all his noble qualities, with sympathy which feels for the most debased, with benevolence which extends not only to other men but to the humblest living creature, with his god-like intellect which has penetrated into the movements and constitution of the solar system—with all these exalted powers—man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin." — Charles Darwin
"The difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind." — Charles Darwin
Science essayist Carl Zimmer edited this abridged edition of Darwin's groundbreaking book. Zimmer provides an introduction to each of nine excerpts. Each excerpt represents one of Darwin's major themes.
"All living things have much in common, in their chemical composition, their germinal vesicles, their cellular structure, and their laws of growth and reproduction. Therefore I should infer that probably all the organic beings which have ever lived on the earth have descended from some one primordial form"
Douglas Fields The Other Brain: From Dementia to Schizophrenia, How New Discoveries about the Brain Are Revolutionizing Medicine and Science Simon & Schuster, 2009.
Fields' book, The Other Brain, is all about glial cells. The term glia is Latin for "glue." In his review, calling Fields' book "compelling," Richard Restak explains that "the brain's glial cells—traditionally considered mere 'packing materials' separating nerve cells—may be living a secret life of their own."
Melinda Wenner, of Scientific American Mind, writes that thanks in part Fields' own research, "glia are now being uncovered as critical players in brain development, learning, memory, aging and diseases, including schizophrenia, epilepsy and Alzheimer's disease." Wenner quotes Fields: "The rapid 'within an eyeblink' functions of our nervous system are actually a narrow slice of cognition." Wenner explains that "slower processes—such as emotions, learning and aging," develop over time with glia cell involvement. So "the other brain," as Fields calls it, actually works differently from brain activity involving neurons.
In the Booklist review, Carl Hays writes: "In 16 absorbing and accessible chapters, Fields gives life to a potentially dry medical topic by eavesdropping on the work of other neuroscientists, past and present, and shows how penetrating glia's secrets offers hope for breakthroughs in healing Alzheimer's, brain tumors, and even spinal cord injuries."
A Note from Sarah-Neena-Koch: I have just ordered this book from Amazon (2/17/2011) and plan to read it along with V.S. Ramachandran's The Tell-Tale Brain. Check back here for my take on things.
"About Psychoanalysis: 5 Lectures given at the 20th Anniversary Celebration of the founding of Clark University in Worcester, Mass.," September 1909.
"We ought not to go so far as to fully neglect the original animal part of our nature…."
David Stafford-Clark What Freud Really Said
Schocken Books, 1966 (reissued 1997)
A Note from Sarah-Neena-Koch: Freud's ideas are dated, to be sure, but we still want to know how he would interpret our dreams, especially when we have a really good one.
"The remarkable characteristic of the male organ which enables it to rise up in defiance of the laws of gravity, one of the phenomena of erection, leads to its being represented symbolically by balloons, flying-machines and most recently by zeppelin airships. But dreams can symbolize erection in yet another, far more expressive manner. They can treat the sexual organ as the essence of the dreamer's whole person and make him himself fly. Do not take it to heart if dreams of flying, so familiar and often so delightful, have to be interpreted as dreams of general sexual excitement, as erection-dreams. … and do not make an objection out of the fact that women can have the same flying dreams as men. Remember, rather, that our dreams aim at being the fulfillments of wishes and that the wish to be a man is found so frequently, consciously or unconsciously, in women. …" pages 83-84
Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior.
A Harvest Book, Harcourt, Inc., Orlando, 2005.
"People were animals, too, once, and when we turned into human beings we gave something up. Being close to animals brings some of it back." page 308
"Animal behavior is a complex mixture of learned behaviors, biologically based emotion, and hardwired instinctual behavior." page 309
"The pig brain was a big shock for me, because when I compared the lower-level structures like the amygdala to the same structures in the human brain I couldn't see any difference at all. The pig brain and the human brain looked exactly alike. But when I looked at the neocortex the difference was huge. The human neocortex is visibly bigger and more folded-up than the animal's, and anyone can see it. You don't need a microscope." page 53
Bernd Heinrich The Snoring Bird, My Family's Journey Through a Century of Biology Harper Perennial, 2008
A Note from Sarah-Neena-Koch: I became acquainted with Heinrich when I read an article in Scientific American titled "Just How Smart are Ravens?" by Bernd Heinrich and Thomas Bugnyar (profiled below). I cannot wait to read The Snoring Bird.
This "tale of two naturalists," writes David Barber, in The New York Times Sunday Book Review (6/24/07), "reads like a cross between a Darwinian parable and a Nabokov novel: an absorbing scientific saga rife with uncanny twists and fraught with quandaries over the primordial tussle between nature and nurture."
Bernd Heinrich and Thomas Bugnyar
"Just How Smart are Ravens?" Scientific American, April 2002, page 64-71.
"By some process that still remains one of the great unsolved mysteries of biology, exquisitely precise behaviors can be genetically programmed in animals with brains no larger than a pinhead. Consider, for example, a wasp that makes paper expertly from the time it is born, that fashions a nest of precise architecture with that paper, while another wasp uses mud to make a mortar nest of a very different but also very specific shape. Similarly, birds of each species are programmed to make predetermined nests. All barn swallows build a shelf nest from mud that hardens when it dries. Cliff swallows construct ovenlike nests, also out of mud but with a small round entrance hole."
Kay Redfield Jamison Touched With Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament The Free Press, MacMillian, Inc., 1993
A Note from Sarah-Neena-Koch: In Touched with Fire, Jamison creates a lexicon for the overflowing emotions that often propel creativity and define the artistic temperament. She uses phrases such as "fluency of thoughts" and "rapid thinking." She discusses "expansiveness" as it relates to ideas and feelings. I should note here that "manic depressive illness" and "bipolar disorder" are interchangeable terms. This is one of my favorite books. Jamison's excellent memoir is profiled below.
"The fact that lithium, antidepressants, and anticonvulsants are now the standard of care for manic-depressive illness (and psychotherapy or psychoanalysis alone, without medication, is usually considered to be malpractice) raises particularly interesting questions about the treatment of writers and artists." page 7.
"Profound melancholy or the suffering of psychosis can fundamentally change an individual's expectations and beliefs about the nature, duration, and meaning of life, the nature of man, and the fragility and resilience of the human spirit." page 117.
"The constant transitions in and out of these constricted and then expansive thoughts, subdued and then violent responses, grim and then ebullient moods, withdrawn from and then involving relationships, cold and then fiery states—and the rapidity and fluidity of moves across and into such contrasting experiences—can be painful and confusing." page 125
Kay Redifeld Jamison An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, 1995
Regarding manic-depressive illness, Jamison points to the "positive aspects of the illness that can arise during the milder manic states: heightened energy and perceptual awareness, increased fluidity and originality of thinking, intense exhilaration of moods and experience, increased sexual desire, expansiveness of vision, and a lengthened grasp of aspiration." page 128.
"This polarization of two clinical states flies in the face of everything that we know about the cauldronous, fluctuating nature of manic-depressive illness; it ignores the question of whether mania is, ultimately, simply an extreme form of depression; and it minimizes the importance of mixed manic-and-depressive states, conditions that are common, extremely important clinically, and lie at the heart of many of the critical theoretical issues underlying this particular disease." page 182.
Robert Karen Becoming Attached: First Relationships and How They Shape Our Capacity to Love
Oxford University Press, 1998.
From the original article in The Atlantic that lead to the book: "Captivated by ethological ideas, [John] Bowlby now had a biological basis for his belief that a child needs a reliable ongoing attachment to a primary caregiver and that he suffers grievously, even irreparably, if that attachment is interrupted or lost. He developed the concept of 'internal working models' to describe how the infant's sense of self and other unfolds through interactions with that primary caregiver. A brilliant synthesizer, Bowlby was the first theorist to exhaustively combine cognitive and emotional development, to build a bridge between Mahler and Freud. Having written the three-volume work Attachment and Loss, he is the uncontested father of the movement. But Mary Salter Ainsworth's Strange Situation put attachment theory on the map, by providing empirical evidence for a number of conclusions that until then had only been intuited.… 'She enabled psychology to look at the emotional development of children in a reliable, quantifiable way.' Says Bowlby, 'Her work has been indispensable. It's difficult to know what might have happened otherwise.'"
Melvin Konner The Tangled Wing: Biological Restraints on the Human Spirit
Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, 1982.
"To explain is not to explain away, and to understand, in my opinion, is not necessarily to forgive. But to understand is to get a better grasp on things, and that is an inevitable advantage." page 180
Peter D. Kramer Listening to Prozac: The Landmark Book About Antidepressants and the Remaking of the Self, Revised
"Kindling rewires the brain.… the brain reshapes itself anatomically in response to small noxious stimuli.… Kindling appears to be a kind of learning, but a learning that can occur independent of cognition.… Illness, once expressed, can become responsive to ever smaller stimuli and, in time, independent of stimuli altogether. The expression of the disorder becomes more complex over time." pages 112-114
Eve LaPlante Seized: Temporal Lobe Epilepsy as a Medical, Historical, and Artistic Phenomenon
In her book about temporal lobe epilepsy, Eve LaPlante notes the observations of Norman Geschwind, a twentieth-century Harvard neurologist. In evaluating some of his epileptic patients, Geschwind found that hypergraphia often occurred among patients who imbued their experiences with religious and moral significance. LaPlante adeptly explains Geschwind's theory that over-activity within the temporal lobe "enhances the tissues' normal functions of emotion and memory, causing patients to feel experiences unusually deeply, to imbue those experiences with religious or moral significance, and to record them compulsively in drawing or writing."
In Part 1 of MyBrainNotes.com, we discuss that Geschwind and his colleagues, although criticized at the time, were correct in suggesting that the unusual behaviors associated with TLE might have, as LaPlante puts it "a distinct anatomical base."
Joseph LeDoux The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life Simon & Schuster, 1996
"While conscious control over emotions is weak, emotions can flood consciousness. This is so because the wiring of the brain at this point in our evolutionary history is such that connections from the emotional systems to the cognitive systems are stronger than connections from the cognitive systems to the emotional systems." page 19
"We know our emotions by their intrusions (welcome or otherwise) into our conscious minds. But emotions did not evolve as conscious feelings. They evolved as behavioral and physiological specializations, bodily responses controlled by the brain, that allowed ancestral organisms to survive in hostile environments and procreate. " page 40
"According to [Neal] Miller, the findings showed that fear is a drive, an internal energizer of behavior, and that behaviors that reduce fear are reinforced and thereby become habitual ways of action (note, however, that 'fear' is an internal bodily signal, like hunger, and does not necessarily refer to subjective, consciously experienced fear in this theory)." page 233-234
Simon LeVay Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why: The Science of Sexual Orientation
From the Author's Website: "What causes a child to grow up gay or straight? In this book, I summarize a wealth of scientific evidence that points to one conclusion: Sexual orientation results primarily from an interaction between genes, sex hormones, and the cells of the developing body and brain."
"I helped create this field in 1991 with my own much-publicized study in Science, where I reported on a difference in brain structure between gay and straight men. Since then, an entire scientific discipline has sprung up around the quest for a biological explanation of sexual orientation. In this book, I provide a clear explanation of where the science stands today, taking the reader on a whirlwind tour of laboratories that specialize in genetics, endocrinology, neuroscience, cognitive psychology, evolutionary psychology, and family demographics. I describe, for instance, how researchers have manipulated the sex hormone levels of animals during development, causing them to mate preferentially with animals of their own gender. I also report on the prevalence of homosexual behavior among wild animals, ranging from Graylag geese to the Bonobo chimpanzee."
"Although many details remain unresolved, the general conclusion is quite clear: A person's sexual orientation arises in large part from biological processes that are already underway before birth."
What is Sexual Orientation
Why We Need Biology
The Outline of a Theory
Characteristics of Gay and Straight Adults
The Role of Sex Hormones
The Role of Genes
The Older-Brother Effect
Amir Levine and Rachel S.F.Heller Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find—and Keep—Love
J.P. Tarcher/Penguin Group, 2010
For those looking for love, this book is a must read! Levine and Heller explain how the attachment style a person develops in relating to his/her mother during early development—whether secure, anxious, or avoidant—persists into one's adulthood and plays an integral role in shaping intimate relationships.
In a section within Part 3 of MyBrainNotes.com, we discuss
ethology and attachment theory, which John Bowlby developed, as well as how
his associate, Mary Ainsworth, later developed the Strange Situation to define attachment styles.
The paragraphs below are from a Scientific American Mind article (January/February, 2011) and were excerpted from the book. You may subscribe to future issues of Scientific American Mind by taking the link at left.
"Infants with a secure attachment style are able to use their mother as a secure base from which to explore the environment, learn and thrive, and derive comfort and reassurance when they are upset or tired. Those who have an insecure attachment style (anxious or avoidant) are too preoccupied with the mother's whereabouts to be easily soothed (anxious) or too seemingly indifferent toward her to use her as a secure base for comfort in times of need (avoidant)."
"Basically, secure people feel comfortable with intimacy and are usually warm and loving. Anxious people crave intimacy, are often preoccupied with their relationships and tend to worry about their partner's ability to love them back. Avoidant people equate intimacy with a loss of independence and constantly try to minimize closeness."
"The result is sometimes referred to in the literature as the 'dependency paradox': the more effectively dependent people are on one another, the more independent and creative they become."
Dorothy Otnow Lewis Guilty by Reason of Insanity: A Psychiatrist Explores the Minds of Killers
Fawcett Columbine / The Ballantine Publishing Group, New York, 1998.
"What fascinates me most is the fact that brain concentrations of substances like serotonin are not immutable. They are not simply genetic givens—experience affects them. Certain kinds of stressors can decrease brain serotonin levels and thereby change behavior. For example, if you isolate animals at crucial developmental stages, if you keep them caged all alone, their serotonin drops. What is more, when you then release them and put them in contact with other animals, they are fiercely aggressive. Pain and fear also reduce serotonin levels and promote aggression. That's how pit bulls are trained to fight. Heat, crowding, discomfort, and upbringing by aggressive members of a species all increase animal aggressiveness." page 289
Paul D. MacLean
"Psychosomatic disease and the visceral brain. Recent developments bearing on the Papez theory of emotion" Psychosom. Med. 1949, 11, 338-353.
"Finally, it should be emphasized that the cortex of the
hippocampal formation has a similar architecture throughout its entire length and presents the same general picture in all mammals from mouse to man." page 338
"It is possible that if a certain electrical pattern of information were to reverberate for a prolonged period or at repeated intervals in the neuronal circuit, the nerve cells (perhaps, say, as the result of enzymatic catalysis in the dentritic processes at specific axone-dendritic junctions) would be permanently 'sensitized' to respond to this particular pattern at some future time. Such a mechanism would provide for one variety of enduring memory in a way that is remotely analogous to a wire recorder. These hypothetical considerations suggest how oft-repeated childhood emotional patterns could persist to exert themselves in adult life." page 349
Malcolm Macmillan An Odd Kind of Fame: Stories of Phineas Gage
MIT Press, 2002.
The importance of the brain—especially frontal regions of the neocortex—in shaping behavior and personality began to be realized in the aftermath of an astonishing injury to a man named Phineas Gage in 1848, then a reliable and successful construction foreman working on the railroad in Vermont. Gage was using a tamping iron to compact material—including explosive powder that at some point in time is topped with sand—into a hole drilled into a bed of rock when he accidentally set off an explosion that sent a tamping iron through his head.
In An Odd Kind of Fame: Stories of Phineas Gage, not only does Macmillan detail the facts of the accident and the subsequent medical treatment Gage received, he also details how the Gage case influenced the evolution of medical thinking about the brain—especially in regard to the localization of brain functions—the idea that different areas of the brain are specialized for different functions. Wikipedia calls this "functional specialization."
A most interesting aspect of the book in my opinion was the unpleasant but very interesting details about how physician John Martyn Harlow treated Gage's injury. Medicine has changed a lot since 1848!
Also, Macmillan's book documents how events and small facts evolve over time into knowledge and understanding about a complex subject matter. Although some other accounts of the Gage case imply that our knowledge of brain functions was immediately illuminated by Gage's behavior after the accident, Macmillan documents that this was not the case. An Odd Kind of Fame is accessible medical history and serves to remind us that knowledge is not produced overnight.
Aubrey Manning and Marian Stamp Dawkins Introduction to Animal Behaviour
Cambridge University Press, 5 edition, 1998.
"Mutual grooming or preening are quite common, with one animal grooming parts of the body, such as the head, neck and back, that the animal itself cannot reach. This may occur between relatives but is also found in animals that are unrelated but very familiar associates. It is particularly well developed in the primates where … friendly contact helps to cement bonds which may have all sorts of other payoffs within the social group. Both parties gain from the interaction and both can break it off if the other does not participate." page 352
"Mutual grooming … is very important as a placatory gesture in primates. Often a dominant animal will 'allow' itself to be groomed by a subordinate following a brief threat to which the subordinate has deferred." page 408
"… Seyfarth (1984) was able to show that frequent grooming between certain members of a vervet monkey group set up relationships such that one monkey was more likely to call upon another to aid it in a conflict situation, and was more likely to be sucessful if it did so. It is also very common to find that a mother and her offspring, particularly her daughters, form the most enduring of mutual support groups within the overall social structure." page 410
Adrian R. Morrison An Odyssey with Animals: A Veterinarian's Reflections on the Animal Rights & Welfare Debate Oxford University Press, 2009
"An Odyssey with Animals demonstrates that even someone who has held hard-line positions in the animal research/rights debate can offer a thoughtful perspective, and suggest points where compromise might be reached. This is one of the strengths of Morrison's book—the way his story becomes a journey of exploration, and the way that he not only solidifies some of his own opinions but also allows himself to be open to possible shifts. The book highlights how precious (and precarious) is the potential for change in the midst of conflict—both because it offers such resolution and because Morrison's perspective, along with his role in the history of this movement, is so valuable. Morrison's reputation as an outstanding researcher and his importance as one of the rare scientists willing to speak out on this issue will undoubtedly make An Odyssey with Animals a valued part of the continuing public discussion on animal research."
—Deborah Blum, Professor of Journalism, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and author of The Monkey Wars.
Jaak Panksepp Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions
Oxford University Press, New York, 1998.
"Fortunately, if one learns the subcortical neuroanatomy of one mammalian species, one has learned the ground plan for all other mammals. Indeed, by mastering the brain of one mammal, one immediately enjoys a good understanding of the subcortical neuroanatomy of most other vertebrate species." page 60
"Still, the failure of psychology to deal effectively with the nature of the many instinctual systems of human and animal brains remains one of the great failings of the discipline. The converse could be said for neuroscience." page 122
"Although the details of human hopes are surely beyond the imagination of other creatures, the evidence now clearly indicates that certain intrinsic aspirations of all mammalian minds, those of mice as well as men, are driven by the same ancient neurochemistries." page 144-145
Katharine A. Phillips The Broken Morror: Understanding and Treating Body Dysmorphic Disorder
Oxford University Press, USA, revised expanded edition, 2005
"Like Sarah, most people with BDD have a special and torturous relationship with mirrors. Most check excessively, and some get stuck there for hours each day, caught between a desire to flee the unattractive image they see and a compelling desire to fix it. But fixing it isn't simple and often is unattainable. Because looking in mirrors can generate such intolerable anxiety, people who've found ways to avoid them usually say they're better off." (page 29, 1996 edition)
Regarding skin picking: "They pick to make their skin look better—to make it smoother, clearer, more attractive. Some try to remove dirt, pus, or "impurities" from under the skin. While many use their hands to pick, pinch, or squeeze, others use tweezers, needles, pins, razor blades, staple removers, or knives." In worst case scenarios, a person so afflicted will attempt or commit suicide." page 115 (1996 edition)
Steven Pinker The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature
New York, Viking Penguin Group, 2002
Pinker writes: "…the evidence is overwhelming that every aspect of our mental lives depends entirely on physiological events in the tissues of the brain." Later he writes: "Each of us feels that there is a single 'I' in control. But that is an illusion that the brain works hard to produce." page 41 and 42
Regarding the astonishing results of commissurotomy, Pinker writes: "When surgeons cut the corpus callosum that joins the cerebral hemispheres, each hemisphere can exercise free will without the other one's advice or consent. Even more disconcertingly, the left hemisphere constantly weaves a coherent but false account of the behavior chosen without its knowledge by the right." page 43
Judith L. Rapoport The Boy who Couldn't Stop Washing:
The Experience & Treatment of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
E.P. Dutton, New York, 1989.
"I believe that such an unchanging pattern must come from an inborn [innate] program in the brain, much as ethologists have described behaviors that occur in developing animals, even when they are raised in isolation." page 17
"Almost 85 percent of our patients have some grooming or washing ritual." page 81
"I am fascinated by the resemblance of my patients' compulsive rituals to the fixed behaviors of some animal species." page 176
V.S. Ramachandran The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientists's Quest for What Makes Us Human W. W. Norton & Company, 2011
Ramachandran is a physician, a neurologist, as well as a neuroscientist. In the Booklist review, Ray Olson writes: "Ramachandran uses his neurology patients' predicaments to inspire inquiries into how we see and know, the origins of language, the mental basis of civilization, how we conceive of and assess art, and how the self is constructed."
This books has been called a "masterpiece" and Ramachandran has been called a "wizard of neuroscience." His readers agree that The Tell-Tale Brain is fascinating as well as easy to read. One criticism relates to the fact that some of the case histories were previously covered in Ramachandran's Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind and other of his books. Ramachandran addresses this issue in the preface of The Tell-Tale Brain, emphasizing that he has "new things to say about even my earlier findings and observations." He goes on to say: "Brain science has advanced at an astonishing pace over the past fifteen years, lending fresh perspectives on—well, just about everything."
A Note from Sarah-Neena-Koch: I have just ordered my on copy of The Tell-Tale Brain (2/17/2011) and cannot wait to read it. Check back for my take on things.
Richard M. Restak Brainscapes: An Introduction to What Neuroscience Has Learned about the Structure, Function, and Abilities of the Brain (1995),
Brainscapes is not Restak's most recent work but it has been especially helpful to me over the years. To see his more recent work, click on the book jacket to the left and then click on the author's name: "Richard M. Restak," below the book title on the Amazon.com page.
Deborah Rudacille The Riddle of Gender: Science, Activism, and Transgender Rights
Anchor Paperback (2006) / Random House Digital, 2009
A note from Sarah-Neena-Koch: I have just bought the Kindle version of this book. I can't wait to read it. As pointed out in The MATING System, the Brain, and Gender Determination, one of the webpages in MyBrainNotes.com, gender is determined as much by the brain as it is by one's genitalia. To read an fascinating excerpt from The Riddle of Gender, click on the book jacket to the left and then, under the Amazon's product description, click on the See All Editorial Reviews link.
Amazon Product Description:
When Deborah Rudacille learned that a close friend had decided to transition from female to male, she felt compelled to understand why.
Coming at the controversial subject of transsexualism from several angles—historical, sociological, psychological, medical—Rudacille discovered that gender variance is anything but new, that changing one's gender has been met with both acceptance and hostility through the years, and that gender identity, like sexual orientation, appears to be inborn, not learned, though in some people the sex of the body does not match the sex of the brain.
Informed not only by meticulous research, but also by the author's interviews with prominent members of the transgender community, The Riddle of Gender is a sympathetic and wise look at a sexual revolution that calls into question many of our most deeply held assumptions about what it means to be a man, a woman, and a human being.
Robert M. Sapolsky Biology and Human Behavior: The Neurological Origins of Individuality, 2nd Edition
In 24 lectures, investigate how the human brain is sculpted by evolution, constrained or freed by genes, shaped by early experience, modulated by hormones, and otherwise influenced to produce a wide range of behaviors, some of them abnormal. You will see that little can be explained by thinking about any one of these factors alone because some combination of influences is almost always at work.
Robert M. Sapolsky Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers:
The Acclaimed Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases, and Coping
Henry Holt and Company, New York, Third Edition, 2004.
"Touch is one of the central experiences of an infant. We readily think of stressors as consisting of various unpleasant things that can be done to an organism. Sometimes a stressor can be the failure to provide something essential, and the absence of touch is seemingly one of the most marked developmental stressors that we can suffer."
"When it comes to psychiatric disorders, it seems that increases in the catecholamines have something to do with still trying to cope and the effort that involves, where overabundance of glucocorticoids seems more of a signal of having given up on attempting to cope. You can show this with a lab rat. Rats, being nocturnal creatures, don't like bright lights, are made anxious by them. Put a rat in a cage whose edges are dark, just the place a rat likes to hunker down. But the rat is really hungry and there's some wonderful food in the middle of the cage, under a bright light. Massive anxiety—the rat starts toward the food, pulls back, again and again, frantically tries to figure ways to the food that avoid the light. This is anxiety, a disorganized attempt to cope, and this phase is dominated by catecholamines. If it goes on for too long, the animal gives up, just lies there, in the shaded perimeter. And that is depression, and it is dominated by glucocorticoids." page 320
"It is true that hope, no matter how irrational, can sustain us in the darkest of times. But nothing can break us more effectively than hope given and then taken away capriciously. Manipulating these psychological variables is a powerful but double-edged sword." page 400
"When it comes to what makes for psychological stress, a lack of predictability and control are at the top of the list of things you want to avoid." page 238
Robert M. Sapolsky The Trouble with Testosterone
and Other Essays on the Biology of the Human Predicament
Scribner, New York, 1997
"People with anxiety disorders can be thought of as persistently mobilizing coping responses that are disproportionately large. For them, life is filled with threats around every corner, threats that demand a constant hypervigilance, an endless skittering search for safety, a sense that the rules are constantly changing." page 139
Michael Shermer Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design
Times Books, Henry Holt and Co LLC, New York, 2006.
"If we define the spirit (or soul) as the pattern of information of which we are made—our genes, proteins, memories, and personalities—then spirituality is the quest to know the place of our essence within the deep time of evolution and the deep space of the cosmos." page 157
"As we are pattern-seeking, story-telling primates, to most of us the pattern of life and the universe indicates design. For countless millennia we have taken these patterns and constructed stories about how life and the cosmos were designed specifically for us from above. For the past few centuries, however, science has presented us with a viable alternative in which the design comes from below through the direction of built-in self-organizing principles of emergence and complexity. Perhaps this natural process, like the other natural forces which we are all comfortable accepting as non-threatening to religion, was God's way of creating life. Maybe God is the laws of nature—or even nature itself—but this is a theological supposition, not a scientific one." page 160
"If religion and spirituality are supposed to generate awe and humility in the face of the creator, what could be more awesome and humbling that the deep space discovered by Hubble and the cosmologists, and the deep time discovered by Darwin and the evolutionists." page 161
Neil Shubin Your Inner Fish: A Journey Into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body
A Note from Author Neil Shubin
This book grew out of an extraordinary circumstance in my life. On account of faculty departures, I ended up directing the human anatomy course at the University of Chicago medical school. Anatomy is the course during which nervous first-year medical students dissect human cadavers while learning the names and organization of most of the organs, holes, nerves, and vessels in the body. This is their grand entrance to the world of medicine, a formative experience on their path to becoming physicians. At first glance, you couldn't have imagined a worse candidate for the job of training the next generation of doctors: I'm a fish paleontologist.
It turns out that being a paleontologist is a huge advantage in teaching human anatomy. Why? The best roadmaps to human bodies lie in the bodies of other animals. The simplest way to teach students the nerves in the human head is to show them the state of affairs in sharks. The easiest roadmap to their limbs lies in fish. Reptiles are a real help with the structure of the brain. The reason is that the bodies of these creatures are simpler versions of ours.
During the summer of my second year leading the course, working in the Arctic, my colleagues and I discovered fossil fish that gave us powerful new insights into the invasion of land by fish over 375 million years ago. That discovery and my foray into teaching human anatomy led me to a profound connection. That connection became this book.
Shankar Vedantam The Hidden Brain
Spiegel & Grau, Random House, New York, 2010.
The subtitle of this book is: "How our unconscious minds elect presidents, control markets, wage wars, and save our lives."
Vedantam writes: "Joshua Greene, a Harvard neuroscientist and philosopher, told me that much of what we call ethics and morality, in fact, might not be handed down to us by holy books and human laws, but handed up to us by algorithms in the hidden brain, ancient rules developed in the course of evolution." page 55
In reference to the subcortical structures beneath the human neocortex that drive behavior more by instinct than intellect, Vedantam writes: "Remember, the hidden brain has one simple, blunt-edged priority: to quickly acculturate us to our world and give us a set of simple tools to enable us to make quick decisions." page 73
Nicholas Wade Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors The Penquin Press, New York, 2006
A Note from Sarah-Neena-Koch: I liked this book so much I plan to re-read it as soon as possible. Also, Wade's 2009 book, The Faith Instinct, profiled below, is on my books-to-read list.
"Several primate species have communication systems of considerable sophistication. Gelada baboons have 22 different kinds of call, and gorillas have been recorded using some 30 different gestures. One of the best studied animal communication systems is the repertoire of alarm calls uttered by the vervet monkeys of East Africa. Vervets lead a perilous existence, at constant risk from eagles, leopards and snakes, and they possess a distinctive warning call for each. When researchers record one of these calls and play it back to other vervets, the monkeys reliably scan the skies in response to the eagle call, look down at the ground at the snake call, and leap into buses at the leopard call.
"In an interesting link with human language, the basic mechanisms of the vervet's calls seem to be innate but are refined by learning. Baby vervets will give the eagle call in response to almost anything airborne, including falling leaves, but by the time they are adults the call has become focused on eagles, particularly the martial eagle, while nonpredatory birds like vultures are ignored." page 36
"… a climatic catastrophe, the return of the glaciers 20,000 years ago, emptied Europe and Siberia of people. Descendants of the survivors spread north again several thousand years later as the Pleistocene ice age drew to a close. Some of these new northerners, the Siberians in the eastern half of Eurasia, contrived the first domestication, that of the dog, and discovered the land bridge that then joined Siberia to Alaska and the Americas." page 8.
"Wolves almost never bark. Barking was probably a character that was selected by the dog's first domesticators. That suggests they weren't much interested in using dogs for hunting, where a bark is no asset. But if the first use of dogs was in sentry duty, to warn of strangers, intruders, and attackers creeping in for a dawn raid, then a fierce and furious bark would have made a dog an invaluable defense system. … It is perhaps significant that the first settlements occurred at the same time as dogs were domesticated. … In biological relationships between two species, it is common for each to evolve in response to the other." page 110
Nicholas Wade The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why it Endures
Penguin Press, 2009
Nicolas Wade writes: "In [The Faith Instinct] I first explore how religious behavior evolved in early humans, and then follow the cultural development of religion from hunter gatherer societies to those of the present day. One of the book's themes is that religious behavior evolved because it conferred significant advantages on the first societies to practice it, and that it is of continuing value today. The book should be of interest both to people of faith and to those with none. It does not attack the central position of either side, having nothing to say about whether or not God exists; it's about religious behavior, which everyone agrees does exist."
E.O. Wilson Anthill
W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2010.
A Note from Sarah-Neena-Koch:
In the novella, The Anthill Chronicles, within the larger novel, Anthill, the esteemed sociobiologist E.O. Wilson paints a vivid picture of a superorganism that the reader is unlikely to forget. It is incredible how Wilson manages to turn ant colonies into characters.
As he describes in the prologue, Wilson's story takes place in three parallel worlds: the world of ant societies, the world of human societies, and the biosphere. In this regard, this is a truly different kind of novel. Personally speaking, Anthill has made a difference in how I regard the natural environment and our human place within it.
I provide here a link to Diane Rehm's April 22, 2010 radio interview with Professor Wilson.
During the interview, Wilson emphasizes that complex ant behavior is based purely on instinct. He also points out that while humans orient to and communicate within the world both aurally and visually, ants orient and communicate through their sense of smell and a large number of glands that secrete pheromones. To hear the interview, click on the "Listen" icon. Remember to use your browser's BACK button to return to MyBrainNotes.com.
Simon Winchester The Professor and the Madman Harper Perennial, 2005
Publisher's Weekly explains that the first edition of The Oxford English Dictionary used 1,827,306 quotations to help define its 414,825 words. Tens of thousands of the quotations used in the first edition came from the erudite, moneyed American Civil War veteran Dr. W.C. Minor who was, at the time of his contributions, confined to a cell at the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum.
A Note from Sarah-Neena-Koch: I read this fine book and came away with a greater understanding of how both mental illness and extraordinary ability can coexist in one human's mind. I cannot help but wonder what we might learn from mentally ill people if we took the time to meaningfully include them in our conversations and problem-solving efforts. I highly recommend this book.
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