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8/11/09

Michael Gazzaniga--Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique

I recall when I was in college and read various descriptions of human beings: Man is the only animal that thinks, or the only one that is moral. The one I like best is Mark Twain's, "Man is the only animal that blushes--or needs to." (Those were times when Man was used as a term to encompass humanity, although today we encounter sentences such as "When we think about God we realize that she is, if anything, abundant.") Of course, each of the "only's" became scratched off the list as more knowledge was gained of our fellow creatures.

Michael Gazzaniga also compares us to other creatures. In the comparison, he finds that though most of our activity can be found as antecedents in other animals, something in our species has made us unique. This uniqueness can be found by tracing the evolution of the human brain. In easy to understand language, Dr. Gazzaniga explains findings in fields in neuroscience (his own discipline), molecular biology, genetics, evolutionary and cognitive psychology, and artificial intelligence.

What follows is an excerpt from a review of his recent book, Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique.

" If there is one question that has puzzled humans longer than anything else, it must surely be: who am I? And just what makes me human? In short: why are humans seemingly so different from all other species of animals? Michael Gazzaniga’s new book takes us through a virtuoso cavalcade of research over the last decade in search of the answer. It is a tour de force, because it covers such a wide range of disciplines from ethology and animal behavior to cognitive psychology and neuroscience, at each stage patiently steering the reader through layers of technical complexity to the core gems that lie within.

Mind, if you just want the answer, you could save yourself a long read—Gazzaniga gives it to us in the book’s opening sentences (as it happened, I naturally read it last because it came in a short chapter entitled “Prologue” …):

  • I always smile when I hear Garrison Keillor say, “Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.” It is such a simple sentiment, yet so full of human complexity. Other apes don’t have that sentiment. More in PDF.
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