La Cerra and Bingham provide a starting point for those wishing to gain some knowledge of the roots of human behaviour. They stress the individual - individuals ranging from the mundane to those breaking "patterns," exhibiting "abnormal" behaviour or showing creativity. They open with an explanation of how difficult it is to explain individuality in Darwinian terms, but acknowledge that evolution is basis of how our brains operate. With rich use of metaphor, and many examples from fiction, the text is free-flowing, if not "flowery." Devoid of footnotes and including what can only be described as a [sad] bibliography, the book is of mixed value.
The authors are exceptional at relative comparisons. In order to place humans in a frame of reference with other creatures, they describe the environmental sensitivity of a bacterium, E. coli. They explain that its information retention capacity lasts a duration of but four seconds. In that brief span it must decide whether to pursue possible "food" or rest and wait for a change in condition. They show that such decisions must be made by every living creature - how much energy to expend on survival strategies? This pattern, with added ramifications as you progress through more complex life forms, particularly ourselves, requires increasingly intricate reasoning powers. In humans, many of these powers have been shown to be dependent on various neurochemical processes. To the authors, this rules out any
genetic "absolutes" driving behaviour at the molecular level. This "strawperson" has been built and scattered before. La Cerra and Bingham raise their stook, then destroy it gently - but a straw man remains a straw man.
A number of scholars and their findings in cognitive studies are addressed, but only someone with a rich knowledge of the field is likely to perceive this. Many ideas are presented, but you remain unclear of their origins. Antonio Damasio and Steven Pinker are listed in the Bibliography, but the text makes no references to their views. Careful reading suggests neither scholars had much impact on the development of the authors' ideas. Daniel C. Dennett is given thanks "after publication" [??]. One yearns to read that "correspondence." To a degree this book insults the reader they wish to reach - those wanting to understand human reasoning and behaviour. It is difficult to accept that an inquiring reader is going to be diverted by a few pointers to further information. The reader is left with the impression that the authors have a new, innovative concept of thinking and behaviour. Sadly, that's false.
The rich use of metaphor guides the reader over what might be otherwise difficult concepts. The issues in cognitive studies are not simple, however, and require more explanation than the authors' seem able to give. The metaphors, instead of aiding in the explanation, become roadblocks to legitimate understanding. The authors leave the impression that all the issues in cognitive science have now been resolved by their book. Confidence in your own work is admirable, but should rest on a firmer foundation than La Cerra and Bingham provide. If the topic is new to you, this book may open a few doors. However, don't stop here, but move on to those who explain the background to the metaphors with sound research instead of simply breezy writing styles. Other scholars can write well. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]