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The Unpredictable Species:
What Makes Humans Unique
Philip Lieberman

Hardcover | 2013 | $37.50 | £31.95 | ISBN: 9780691148588
272 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 12 line illus.
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The Unpredictable Species argues that the human brain evolved in a way that enhances our cognitive flexibility and capacity for innovation and imitation. In doing so, the book challenges the central claim of evolutionary psychology that we are locked into predictable patterns of behavior that were fixed by genes, and refutes the claim that language is innate. Philip Lieberman builds his case with evidence from neuroscience, genetics, and physical anthropology, showing how our basal ganglia--structures deep within the brain whose origins predate the dinosaurs--came to play a key role in human creativity. He demonstrates how the transfer of information in these structures was enhanced by genetic mutation and evolution, giving rise to supercharged neural circuits linking activity in different parts of the brain. Human invention, expressed in different epochs and locales in the form of stone tools, digital computers, new art forms, complex civilizations--even the latest fashions--stems from these supercharged circuits.

The Unpredictable Species boldly upends scientifically controversial yet popular beliefs about how our brains actually work. Along the way, this compelling book provides insights into a host of topics related to human cognition, including associative learning, epigenetics, the skills required to be a samurai, and the causes of cognitive confusion on Mount Everest and of Parkinson's disease.


"His ability to marshal contemporary neuroscience to support his assertions is impressive, and his efforts to guide the field away from biological determinism (a 'stew of invented genes') are well-founded and important."--Publishers Weekly

"Those who enjoy reading about evolution, cognition, biology, and the brain will find this a compelling and enjoyable book. Recommended as a highly engaging and thought-provoking work of popular science."--Library Journal

"[W]hat reader can resist this compelling invitation to reflect on what it means to be human?"--Booklist

"Just got your head around evolutionary psychology's core idea, that our genetic code, designed in and for prehistory, dictates our behaviour? Well, Lieberman argues it's wrong, but not to worry, as you will adapt. . . . This expansive, erudite book argues our brains and the way they work are immensely complex. . . . [T]here is something appealing in his idea that no single theory explains us."--Stephen Matchett, Australian

"The Unpredictable Species: What Makes Humans Unique is a delightful book. It is extremely well written, engaging, and a pleasure to read, as one might expect from a linguist. Author Philip Lieberman weaves throughout the rather extraordinary experiences he and his wife have had in the Himalayas, adding even more interest. The book is written for that legendary individual, the educated layperson, and is at the right level--informative and not too technical."--Richard F. Thompson, PsycCRITIQUES

"This book is a worthwhile addition to any collection that provides information about humans as a species."--Choice

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Table of Contents:

Preface ix
Acknowledgments xiii
Chapter One - Brainworks 1
Chapter Two - Brain Design by Rube Goldberg 25
Chapter Three - Darwin Got It Right 60
Chapter Four - Chimpanzee Brain 2.0 82
Chapter Five - Stones, Bones, and Brains 121
Chapter Six - The Gene Game 156
Chapter Seven - What Makes Us Tick 189
References 209
Index 231

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