Liars, Lovers, and Heroes: What the New Brain Science Reveals About How We Become Who We Are (Anglais) Relié – 1 octobre 2002
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Description du produit
Revue de presse
“An evocative solution to a classic problem: which is more important in shaping the human brain, nature or nurture? ” (Sandra Blakeslee, The New York Times)
“wide-ranging...linking cutting-edge neuroscience with social history and popular culture...postmodern culture and globalization....” (Publishers Weekly)
“Smart authors with a lot of hot stuff to report on.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“An entertaining and startling survey of what it means to be human.” (Discover magazine)
Présentation de l'éditeur
This exciting, timely book combines cutting-edge findings in neuroscience with examples from history and recent headlines to offer new insights into who we are. Introducing the new science of cultural biology, born of advances in brain imaging, computer modeling, and genetics, Drs. Quartz and Sejnowski demystify the dynamic engagement between brain and world that makes us something far beyond the sum of our parts.
The authors show how our humanity unfolds in precise stages as brain and world engage on increasingly complex levels. Their discussion embraces shaping forces as ancient as climate change over millennia and events as recent as the terrorism and heroism of September 11 and offers intriguing answers to some of our most enduring questions, including why we live together, love, kill -- and sometimes lay down our lives for others.
The answers, it turns out, are surprising and paradoxical: many of the noblest aspects of human nature -- altruism, love, courage, and creativity -- are rooted in brain systems so ancient that we share them with insects, and these systems form the basis as well of some of our darkest destructive traits. The authors also overturn popular views of how brains develop. We're not the simple product of animal urges, "selfish" genes, or nature versus nurture. We survive by creating an ingenious web of ideas for making sense of our world -- a symbolic reality called culture. This we endow to later generations as our blueprint for survival.
Using compelling examples from history and contemporary life, the authors show how engagement with the world excites brain chemistry, which drives further engagement, which encourages the development of cultural complexity. They also share provocative ideas on how human development may be affected by changes in our culture. Their insights, grounded in science and far-reaching in their implications, are riveting reading for anyone interested in our past, present, and future.
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The author's examination of human nature begins with anecdotes of how the brain is the center for our true selves. Using case studies such as a subject with Alzheimer's, and one with frontal lobe damage, they attempt to illustrate how delicate our neural network is; and how essential its full functioning is to being us. But, before we can be robbed of our personhood by disaster and disease, a human being is made whole by some unknown process which the authors aim to illuminate. They present to readers two competing camps: biology and environment. Better known as the nature versus nurture debate, these camps have been at odds since the dawn of metacognition. It is in light of this ongoing feud that the authors reveal something blindingly insightful: neither camp is wholly correct. Neither can claim full responsibility for molding each person into who they become. Furthermore, they elucidate, it is our biology working in tandem with our environment that dictates the inner workings of our brain that in turn determine our personality and give each of us our humanity. It takes about four chapters to build up to this supposed revelation that in reality is not as controversial or new fangled as they make it out to be.
Quartz and Sejnowski go on to equate the human brain to a massive and efficient computer that works in and out of conscious control. This computer, they say, possesses timed developmental programs that react and activate based on environmental stimulation. The brain is constantly plugging away; pruning and creating circuits that make sense of our environment. Our brain is highly evolvable and based on inputs received from our surroundings the brain can compensate and reformat. Examples of this include three eyed frogs that develop ocular dominance columns and people without sight whose brain scans show activity in areas typically responsible for vision when reading Braille with their fingertips. And surely this adaptation and flexibility is what allows organisms to respond to the changing environment that our ancestors may have faced.
But let's get down to the major topic of this book; what makes us uniquely human? Is it (as they assert early on) our conception of self or ability to feel grief, empathy and guilt? They draw the conclusion that it is indeed these traits that give us our humanity and use examples from a work of fiction (of all places) to bolster their assertion. Quartz and Sejnowski tip toe around evidence presented in recent studies that suggest chimps and other primates are quite capable of experiencing grief, assigning guilt and developing a sense of self, rudimentary as it may be. Even though I found their outright dismissal of primates' abilities in this context a bit disappointing, they are admittedly correct in the sense that human conceptualization of selfhood is far more developed. This forms the framework for Quartz and Sejnowski's major premise and they propose that our ability to perceive others as individuals with thoughts and emotions is found in the prefrontal cortex and that humans are unique in their abilities to conceptualize personhood.
Happily, the authors do have scientific and physiological evidence as to where exactly our human sense of self comes from. Using evidence from modern case studies, as well as physical evidence from the evolution of humans, Quartz and Sejnowski make a strong case for the prefrontal cortex. Despite its still mysterious nature, much evidence suggests that our capacity to experience ourselves and others as part of a complex social network, that functions in continuum from past experiences to future ones, is situated there. Evolutionarily speaking, the prefrontal cortex was one of the last areas of our brain to develop and although our brains grew overall the amount of growth seen in the prefrontal cortex was massive in comparison to other brain areas. The prefrontal cortex varies significantly from our closest primate relatives in size as well as development, maturing well into adolescence. The long maturation process of the prefrontal cortex, according to Quartz and Sejnowski, implies that something about our social world may impact its growth and this may very well be true. Lesions to this area are implicated in decrements in social learning, autobiographical memory, memory and planning behavior for the future. As before though, the facts they present do little to undermine evolutionary psychology theories and perhaps even bolster ideas of kin group altruism and the prisoner's dilemma.
The authors seem overly eager to prove the pervasive importance of the prefrontal cortex and are rather forceful in regards to its role in emotion and reward. They argue that because the ventral tegmental area (VTA) (which is implicated in dopamine (DA) reward systems) has projections into the prefrontal cortex that it must play a vitally important role in emotional regulation and our ability to learn to predict rewards. However, they take it one step too far and plainly state that damage to systems that connect the VTA to the prefrontal cortex causes retardation. This sounded quite extreme, so I looked more closely into the source cited. The article referenced had claimed nothing of the sort and the boldest statement made by the author was that damage to the VTA caused "impaired performance on tasks." (A. Diamond 1998) And in fact, that sentence was the article's only mention of the VTA/ prefrontal connection. Impaired performance on memory tasks is a far cry from mental retardation and this severe exaggeration calls into question the other scientific evidence put forth in their book.
The book continues in a similar fashion, exalting the union of biology and environment and their shaping of the human mind, referring to the interactions of neurotransmitters in the brain as chemical soup and making oblique references to the "internal guidance system" that governs daily life. This concept is frequently referenced and questions about temperament, personality and morality are posed around the idea but it is never explained in a satisfactory way. As the book climbs further into the enigma that is human nature, it becomes exponentially less related to brain science and more a soapbox used to antagonize evolutionary psychology.
Quartz and Sejnowski are quick to comment on the uglier side of human nature, and their disgust at the idea that violence may somehow be ingrained into us comes off as disingenuous and dramatic. The authors imply that when other animals inflict harm for seemingly no reason it is a base innate drive; yet when humans do, it becomes a cultural construct. They reject explanations that hypothesize that some unsavory behaviors may linger because of the slow nature of brain evolution and dismiss them as though such theories merely excuse appalling behavior. In fact much of this book seems more an argument against evolutionary psychology than the detached scientific exploration of the brain that it makes itself out to be. Their point, it seems, is that there is some fundamental difference between the evolution of the brain and the evolution of our physical body. Humans have spent thousands of years evolving from our early ancestors to homo sapiens and it is clear that both our brains and bodies have changed. Yet, the authors are incapable of conceding the fact our brains may be stuck, like our bodies, in a past time. In the same way our bodies have yet to learn to efficiently cope with modern lifestyles, it is quite possible that our brains are playing catch up in our ever developing society. In my opinion it does not make humans baser to have brains that predispose us to be tempted to act in an animalistic way. Being genetically predisposed to behave a certain way certainly doesn't excuse the rapist or murderer of their crime. But to me Quartz and Sejnowski's major misstep stems from the fact that ignoring such urges and being able to reason against our thoughts is a more uniquely human facet than displays of guilt or shame post crime. It is our concerted effort to establish and fit into a society with social norms where selfish and violent action is looked down upon that sets us further apart from our relatives in the animal kingdom and gives us our "humanity."
Liars Lovers and Heroes, like so many other books "based in science" fails to deliver on what it has promised. Instead of coming away with biologically based insight as to how our brain's chemistry and organization helps to make us who we are, I came away with the feeling that this book was in desperate need of a fact checker. Despite the interesting anecdotes employed by the authors, neuroscience is underutilized and scientific evidence is sparse. It seems that neurobiology is correctly employed primarily when making reference to anatomical position. Using anecdotal evidence to supplement fact and science, the author's mold information to suit their theories of sociological biology as evidenced by their bold assertion that sociopaths can only be made and not born. It often felt as though the authors' spent much of their time ignoring or glossing over evidence that contradicted their speculations. Although they frequently declare that our humanity is "too complex" to pigeon hole into simple systems they are more than willing to do so if it so suits them (and go to extremes misrepresenting the VTA/prefrontal cortex connection). While there is certainly no shame in trying to make science accessible to the general public there is something unsavory and dubious about the shortcuts and oversights employed by Quartz and Sejnowski. In an attempt to appeal to a broader audience the authors employ half truths and crap science that left me, as a reader, feeling cheated. The brain science exalted on the cover is anything but science and is more akin to "brain philosophy." In retrospect the authors' common bond does seem to be Quartz's theoretical neuroscience fellowship at the Salk Institute which may account for its highly philosophical prose. Perhaps most disappointing of all was that the entire book seemed to be building up to some great revelation but as it came to a close it became quite clear that it had posed more questions than it was ever fit to answer.
The authors do not hesitate to embed their discussion of cultural biology in the historical backdrop in which it arose. As the authors report, some of the early research in the subject was met with harsh criticism, as for example the reaction against the book on sociobiology by E.O. Wilson. The vituperation leveled against Wilson by prominent intellectuals has no place in scientific debate and should not be engaged in under any circumstances.
The ability to image the brain and to model it with sophisticated computational tools has led to more knowledge about it in the last ten years than all of previous history, the authors argue. Brain imaging techniques such as MRI, PET, and optical topography have given experimental support for theories of the brain, giving much more valuable information that is needed to understand various diseases and abnormalities of the brain. Philosophical speculation and rhetoric have been eliminated in favor of careful scientific analysis and measurements, fortunately.
The book is packed full of interesting examples and surprises, and space does not permit a detailed review of these, but a few of them include: 1. The fact that the brain can detect and respond correctly to regular patterns in the environment without a person's conscious awareness of them. Experiments illustrating this are discussed in the book. 2. Neural network models of the basal ganglia indicate that it learns in essentially the same way as the brain of a bee. 3. The fact that the brain functions at different time scales, depending on the problem that it is presented with, from milliseconds all the way to minutes. This wide gap in processing time no doubt reflects evolutionary pressures that optimized the brain to prioritize some problems relative to others. 4. The suggestion that the anterior cingulate in humans may be the site of free will. 5. The suggestion that the "area 10" region in the front of the prefrontal cortex is the origin of our sense of self and our self-awareness. 6. The fact that half of the cortex is devoted to visualization. 7. The experimental evidence that indicates that environmental stimulation induces the maturing of brain cells in the hippocampus. 8. The fact that the brain is 90% of its final size at age five, and keeps growing until adolescence. 9. The rise of the "neural constructivist" view that the brain uses information from the world to build itself. Called "self-organization" by those who work in the field of dynamical systems, the constructivist point of view holds that the interaction with the world is a special type of learning that changes the brain and assists in building it. The authors refer to the brain/environment interaction as "constructive learning", and believe that the slow time scales needed for cortical development optimizes the influence of the world on the human brain, and thus make being human possible. The more time the brain has to develop, the likelihood of helpful inputs from the world to guide the construction of highly complex neural circuits increases. The result of this is a mind that can deal efficiently and accurately with the complexities of human existence. 10. The evidence that the development of the brain is non-uniform, but rather occurs hierarchically. The portions of the brain dealing with sensory information develop earlier than those that are responsible for the encoding of more abstract information. 11. The reason for suicidal behavior lies in the prefrontal cortex, which is also involved in mental disorders such as schizophrenia and depression. 12. The origin of drug addiction being in the ventral tegmental area of the basal ganglia. 13. The effects of serotonin and its manufacture in the brain by a group of neurons called the dorsal Raphe nucleus. Interestingly, despite being a small cluster of neurons, it is able to influence billions of neurons in the cerebral cortex. 14. The TD-Gammon learning machine and its ability to teach itself backgammon. The authors believe that the TD-Gammon machine exhibits real machine intelligence, and it is the opinion of this reviewer that they are quite correct in asserting this. 15. The origin of human personality as being from the anterior cingulate cortex, which uses previous experiences in order to construct the appropriate cognitive and emotional responses to novel situations. Attention to difficult problems is correlated with high activity in the anterior cingulate. 16. The fact that the male and female brains are the result of hormones, such as testosterone. The male brain becomes "masculinized" under the influence of testosterone, but only indirectly: the brain converts testosterone into estrogen, interestingly. The authors are careful to point out that testosterone and estrogen do not act at all places in the brain, and that sexual identity has its origin mostly in the hypothalamus. 17. The suggestion that it is the concurrent release of opiates and the oxytocin that produce the sensation of orgasm. 18. The origin of romantic love as being in the various chemical processes of the brain, and the experiments involving transgenic mice that supported this viewpoint. 19. The evidence from neuroscience that supports the "Aristotelian" conception of human nature, i.e. that family ties, friendship, and trust are more characteristic of humans than antisocial or individualistic behavior. Humans need to identify with something larger than their private existence, the authors argue. 20. The neuroscientific explanations for involvement in cults and for conformity to groups. 21. The authors' view of "constructive intelligence", and how it is at odds with the modern "IQ" version of intelligence.
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