Runaway Brain the Evolution of Human Uniqueness

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9780002552752: Runaway Brain the Evolution of Human Uniqueness

You might not suspect it, but we are currently living through a revolution in scientific knowledge. What we know about the human brain's workings and about the earliest history of our distant humanoid ancestors changes almost weekly. A new view of humanity is being forged - new theories appear all the time, splinter, are revised and adandoned. Scientists from different fields of research are finally co-operating and sharing their insights in order to map out a new view of the human brain. Paleaoanthropologists digging in Kenya, neuropyschologists building organic robots in their labs and geneticists unearthing the secret in all our genes have all thrown their ideas into the melting pot...where they combust. The way we view who we are, where we came from and how we came to think at all is being altered irrevocably. And this is the subject-matter of this book.

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From Kirkus Reviews:

Remember the ``mitochondrial Eve'' (popularly interpreted to mean that we're all descended from an African mom upward of 200,000 years ago)? Remember Carleton Coon and the independent origin of the races of mankind? These are among the new and older ideas revisited in this wide-ranging review by Wills (Biology/UC San Diego; Exons, Introns, and Talking Genes, 1991). Essentially, Wills agrees with Stephen Jay Gould and others that evolution doesn't mean progress and hasn't stopped with Homo sapiens. What appears to be progress in our case, he says, is not a case of the uniqueness of human evolution, but of the evolution of human uniqueness. This has come about by interactions between the genome and the cultural milieu that have led to the feedback phenomenon of the ``runaway brain.'' Contributing factors include the narrowness of the birth canal, which ushers babies into the world at an immature stage, and personal interactions that facilitate the rapid growth and expansion of the brain, with its diverse systems and capabilities. To arrive at these conclusions, Wills summarizes the paleontological evidence, including the personae and controversies: He offers the corrective that the mitochondrial Eve might be much older and have had numerous companions who passed on their nuclear (as opposed to mitochondrial genes); he speculates that Homo erectus might have spread across the continents with all its apparatus in place to evolve to sapiens. Wills undergirds this argument with the latest findings from molecular genetics about the roles of duplicate genes and mutations with ``potential.'' Along the way, he finds time to discuss the origin of language, the brains of idiot savants (now called ``individuals with savant syndrome''), and the potential for human self- and planetary destruction. An impressive compendium of data and theories of human evolution, along with the author's own speculations--sure to trigger controversy in a field known for contention. -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Publishers Weekly:

Wills begins this superb, detailed, lucid survey of current controversies over human origins by debunking the popular theory that all human beings share a common ancestry rooted in a particular kind of DNA from a "mitochondrial Eve" who lived in Africa some 200,000 years ago. Next, he applies new findings from molecular genetics and fossil digs to clarify the two competing models of human evolution: the "politically correct" Noah's Ark model, which holds that modern humans arose relatively recently in Africa and fanned out through the Old World, replacing less advanced hominids; and the multiple-origins model, according to which our ancestors made the transition to full humanity more than once, in different parts of the planet. A biologist at UC San Diego, Wills suggests that Homo sapiens is caught up in a process of "runaway brain evolution," the result of a feedback loop between genes and the environment, which has transformed our brains into "sponges for knowledge," giving human evolution the appearance of progress and directionality. Illustrated. First serial to Discover; Library of Science main selection.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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