The main idea of this book is to present curiosity as a very important natural phenomenon specific for humans, review vast range of experiments that supports specific understanding of curiosity development in human children, demonstrate vulnerability of this process and negative impact on educational and consequent wellbeing success if this curiosity suppressed. It is also to provide some recommendations on methods to support curiosity in children.
1. Capturing Curiosity
Author begins with her childhood recollection of all kinds of experimentation as free child in 1960s and how much it was driven by the plain curiosity, which then decreased over time. Then she refers to research demonstrating that curiosity decreases between ages 7 and 12. She refers to work of Daniel Berlyne who identify the human specific feature: curiosity without immediate utilitarian application, which is mainly prompted by need to resolve uncertainty. Author also discusses research related to development of curiosity that led to conclusion that sometime between ages 3 and 11 children either develop appetite for knowledge or they don’t. At the end of chapter author discusses in some detail individual differences in curiosity, needs for knowledge acquisition, and formulates her objective this way:” there are several sources of individual variation, and each has its developmental moment. Attachment in toddlerhood, language in the three-year-old, and a succession of environmental limitations and open doors all contribute to a person’s particular kind and intensity of curiosity. The twenty-two-year-old bears the imprint of all these experiences, which act as a series of layers on which each exploration or question in adulthood rests. This book is about why some children remain curious and others do not, and how we can encourage more curiosity in everyone.”
2. Safe Havens and Expeditions
In this chapter author looks at different periods of human development starting with curiosity of baby, which is universal and practically insatiable, but only to the point of familiarity. Author discusses several experimental works related to genetical equipment necessary for human specific need to know:” At a surprisingly early age human babies show how different they are from the young of other species by attending to differences beyond the bare necessities—novelty that helps them simply survive. They have what is called epistemic curiosity—an interest not only in what, who, when, and where, but why and how. Not only are children between the ages of nine months and thirty-six months eagerly absorbing information about what objects look like, taste like, sound like, can do, and can be done to, they are beginning to try to figure out why things happen the way that they do. They don’t always know that they are looking for reasons and explanations, but their behaviors tell us they are.” After that author discusses what quells curiosity in toddlers, confirming once again that it is familiarity, but also stating that it is highly personal and depends on temperament of a child. She refers here to works of Jerome Kagan on individual development, Nachman Stern and Best on novelty, and Simon Baron-Cohen of autism. Author also goes beyond individual internal process, stressing:” equally important idea that emerges from the work: human relationships are a key ingredient in the child’s ability to investigate the physical environment. Indeed, a series of experiments has shown that children with greater emotional and self-governing resources do in fact exhibit more curiosity as they get older.”
3. The Conversationalist
This chapter is about the next step in human development: use of language to obtain information from others. Author discusses the process of development of ability to ask questions that begins with pointing and then normally develops into highly intensive process of questioning. She looks at works of William Labov and his wife who traced in minute detail linguistic development of their child and questions this research asked. Author also present another interesting research:” Using the CHILDES database, Michelle Chouinard analyzed the questions of four children from the time they were fourteen months old until they were five years and one month of age. The recordings provided a total corpus of 24,741 questions and represent 229.5 hours of conversation. The children in this study asked an average of 107 questions per hour—an extraordinary volume of questions” Obviously all this is highly individual, but among consistent findings is strong correlation between levels of language acquisition in early childhood and future success in learning or lack thereof. Author also refers to cross cultural studies looking not only at quantity, but also quality of questions and type of information a child is trying to obtain.
4. Invitations and Prohibitions
In this chapter author moves to discuss exploratory behavior of child that starts with ability to move independently. However, this independence is generally limited by adults, which encourage some behavior and limit other. Author reviews this process by comparing environment and limits on exploration of city vs. rural children. Author also looks at methods that adults use to control children behavior and especially curiosity. It turned out that adult attitude has huge impact on development and curious and innovative people usually grew in permissive and supportive environment where they were encouraged exploring whatever they were interested in and supported in this exploration.
5. Curiosity Goes to School
In this chapter author discusses process of encounter of developing child with formal educational system. Author presents research in which incidents of curiosity in class were observed, counted, and analyzed. General finding is that formal education generally causes curiosity level drop over time. Here is author’s explanation of this process:” So what might explain the drop? When you look at children’s sensitivity to social clues, and their increasing selectivity about what makes them curious, and you put this together with teachers’ reluctance to deviate from a plan, the pressure they are under to meet certain goals (goals that are not consonant with sating one’s curiosity), and the general neglect toward providing young learners with the materials that speak to their particular curiosity, one begins to see why children seem so incurious in schools.”
6. What Fuels Learning
Here author discusses drivers of learning referring to specific experimental work:” We’ve had experimental evidence for at least the past fifty years to support the idea that children’s intrinsic interest is the most powerful ingredient for learning. Daniel Berlyne’s experiments were premised on the idea that curiosity was a drive, much like hunger or sexual desire. And much like other kinds of arousal, it can be negative or positive. Either way, it motivates the person feeling it to reduce the arousal. The reduction of such arousal feels temporarily rewarding. The greater the arousal and its reduction, the greater the sense of reward.” She also discusses role of attention in learning process and experiments demonstrating how it works. Finally, author looks at variances in individual curiosity and approach to learning and presents some experimental evidence that it could be improved via interactions with other children and adults:” To sum up, from an early age, some children are more curious than others. But there is also great fluctuation from one setting to another. A child who is usually timid about opening things or asking questions can be beckoned into inquiry. Children who are ordinarily inquisitive can be hushed into a kind of intellectual listlessness. The characteristics that fuel curiosity are not mysterious. Adults who use words and facial expressions to encourage children to explore; access to unexpected, opaque, and complex materials and topics; a chance to inquire with others; and plenty of suspense … these turn out to be the potent ingredients.”
7. The Gossip
In this chapter author moves from the processes of curiosity and learning to object of these processes, which is for the gossip is live of other people. Author discusses how gossip is naturally developing in children from the early age, forming foundation of ability to learn from words of others about something not directly accessible or observable by individual. Finally, author discusses how the process of gossiping used as social weapon applied to manipulate people and obtain some objectives of gossiping individual. She also uses her childhood memories about Truman Capote, who was close friend of author’s mother, to discuss how gossip in its highest form could produce literature.
8. The Uses of Time and Solitude
In this chapter author expands the discussion of gossip as precursor of literature by moving to books and human:” ability to understand the world as a series of stories (hence the primacy of scripts in early cognitive development). Anthropologists and cross-cultural psychologists have found that though every culture uses stories, cultures vary greatly in how frequently they tell stories, how they form their narratives, and why they tell stories. But one thing everyone everywhere seems to have in common is the ability to follow a plot. And therein lies the first reason reading satisfies curiosity”. She then connects this with solitude and discusses unappreciated importance of this process:” Solitude plays an important and often underrecognized role in a child’s chance to pursue her questions and interests. In recent years there has been such focus on the importance of peer relations, and on the value of good instruction and good schooling, we may have lost track of an equally vital strand of childhood experience—free time and time alone. The bulk of contemporary developmental research has emphasized the perils of time alone, which tends to be cast as loneliness rather than solitude. Research has focused on children who have trouble making friends, or who are alone because of adverse life circumstances (weak family structure, poverty, and so on). It’s no wonder then that a relationship emerges between solitude and various kinds of problems—depression, and difficulty in social situations, to name two. The link, once established, leads to research that frames solitude in its most extreme or persistent forms—children who unwillingly spend time alone, or spend copious amounts of time alone.
This is reflected in society at large, where sociability is valued so highly. When children report on how they feel when they are by themselves, they may unconsciously see such time as the absence of companionship, rather than the opportunity to think, garner one’s personal resources, or experience things without the noise or dilution of others. The bias toward sociability overlooks the importance of unstructured solitude when it comes to developing one’s interest and feeding one’s curiosity in specific domains. A look at the lives of many of our greatest minds suggests that time spent daydreaming and exploring while alone, free of responsibilities, is crucial to the acquisition of knowledge—in other words, crucial for the curious mind.”
In the second part of chapter author discusses an importance of time available for free and unstructured research and experimentation, which is necessary for developing some area of deep interest and curiosity. Author discusses relevant research with use of internet and some implications of overzealous use of SWIBAT (for “students will be able to.…”) that leads to time limitation on free search. Here is how author summarizes the finding of research presented in this chapter:” Curiosity is an internal phenomenon—a feeling like a tickle, or an itch. But it’s a feeling that leads to action (including the act of thinking). This book for the most part has not focused on fleeting moments of curiosity, but the kind of curiosity that persists, unfolding over time and leading to sustained action (inquiry, discovery, tinkering, question asking, observation, research, reflection). Such sustained inquiry may be more likely to blossom when children have free time, and some time alone. This chapter began with a book—because reading is one of the most accessible and richest ways for people to satisfy all kinds of intellectual appetites. But books require time alone, and the kind of reading that satisfies curiosity depends on freedom to read what you want.”
9. Cultivating Curiosity
The final chapter is about methods of cultivating curiosity, which includes embracing ambiguity and promote a free search to satisfy curiosity, rather than formal data acquisition directed at success in testing. Author then discusses various methods used to cultivate curiosity, and concludes with the following statement:” Einstein was only partly right when he said, “Curiosity is a delicate little plant which, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom.” It turns out that like many delicate plants, in order to flourish, curiosity needs to be cultivated.”
MY TAKE ON IT:
I find that lots of experimental data presented in this book pretty much consistent with my believes based on what I know from both books and my own life experiences. I generally agree that methods of cultivating curiosity presented in this book are valid and do work, but I am afraid that their implementation is not realistic in settings of formal educational system that treats individuals as machine parts on conveyor to be filled with some knowledge and indoctrinate into some set of believes. The cultivating of curiosity and development of individual’s routine ability to use scientific method in knowledge acquisition could be achieved only outside of formal educational system. Some lucky individuals have time, ability, and supportive adults around so they are able to develop the precious ability to maintain lifelong curiosity, but great many others do not, the circumstance that makes some lives much more satisfactory than others. I believe that this complex process could be implemented only in one-on-one individual unstructured interactions between competent adult and child. It could not be achieved in factorylike settings of contemporary educational system. This could occur only after full completion of restructuring of society from industrial method of production to AI method, which would probably take a few decades.
The main idea of this book is to provide information on the latest research in behavioral science that demonstrated human need for support and nurturing throughout the life. Based on this information author provides suggestion of how this support should be provided, what results author expect from this support / nurturing, and how it should overcome deficiencies of contemporary society caused by poorly regulated capitalism.
Introduction: The Way Forward
Author begins introduction with the statement that he believes that:” we have the knowledge to achieve a healthier, happier, and more prosperous society than has ever been seen in human history.” He then presents his work history and qualifications as scientist to demonstrate that he knows what he is talking about. Author uses example of successful movement against smoking and expresses his believe that similar movement could be started:” This book is about how we can create such a movement. Nearly all problems of human behavior stem from our failure to ensure that people live in environments that nurture their well-being.” Author declares that evolution, even cultural evolution is too slow to notice change within lifetime, but behavioral sciences now developed knowledge and practical program that would allow create nurturing environment for everybody and everything. Author then provides overview of the book and graphic representation of various interventions that he believes are necessary:
Part 1: Science Equal to the Challenge of the Human Condition
In this part author discusses scientific principles developed over the last 50 years that if implemented would provide:” proven benefit in preventing multiple problems and nurturing successful development.”
- A Pragmatic Science of Human Behavior: Evolution and Pragmatism; Humans: The Cooperative Species; Nurturing Environments; Building a Nurturing Society
Here author discusses progress in understanding and treatment of mental disorders, something that was impossible in 1960s when author started, but is more or less reality now. Author them discusses evolution as model of causation when features selected by consequences. Here is author’s definition:” An evolutionary analysis starts by studying the phenomenon of interest and its context and seeks to explain the phenomenon as a function of its context. This is true for behavioral explanations as much as it is for the study of species and genes.” Author then proceeds to analyze humans as “the cooperative species” and describes various experiments supporting such ideas as “helpful babies”. The next stop is description of nurturing environments and requirements for interventions to achieve this:” All successful interventions make environments more nurturing in at least three of four ways:
- Promoting and reinforcing prosocial behavior
- Minimizing socially and biologically toxic conditions such as coercion
- Monitoring and setting limits on influences and opportunities to engage in problem behavior
- Promoting the mindful, flexible, and pragmatic pursuit of prosocial values
Part 2: A Wealth of Knowledge About How to Help People Thrive
In this part author describes how scientific principles:” helped in the development of interventions that assist families, schools, and peer groups to become environments that nurture human development and well-being.”
- Nurturing Families: Nurturing Development During Pregnancy and the first two Years of Life; Nurturing Young Children; Thriving in Childhood; Keeping Early Adolescents Out of Trouble; Helping Delinquent Adolescents; Action Implications
Here author provides a number of anecdotes describing effective and ineffective approach to raising children and discusses importance of this process to future behavior of individuals. The bottom line is developing ability for emotional regulation and habits of prosocial behavior. Author also expresses strong support for “evidence-based” and cost-effective programs.
- Nurturing Schools: Nurturing Prosocial Behavior; Teaching Children Well: The Importance of an Evidence-Based Approach; Action Implications
Here author stresses need to minimize coercion and use positive reinforcement of prosocial behavior in schools. As example author describes “good behavior game” that really improved behavioral patterns of students. Author also stresses need for close monitoring of behavior and progress.
- Peers and Problems: Deviancy Training; The Pathway to Deviance; Preventing Deviant Peer Influences; Action Implications
This chapter about causes of deviant behavior. Author points out that it is often result of peer pressure based around antisocial values instilled as result of nonnurturing environment. Author discusses variety of measures used to prevent peer influences, substitution of peers with others who could provide pro-social influence. Important point author makes is necessity to isolate deviant individuals in order to prevent them from congregating in self-referencing community. Closely monitor troubled individuals and provide strong positive feedback for pro-social behavior.
- The Behavioral Revolution in Clinical Psychology: My Own Journey; The Schism in Behavior Therapy; Psychological Flexibility and the Third Wave of Behavior Therapy; Implications of the Progress in Clinical Psychology; Action Implications
In this chapter author moves from behavior problems of children and adolescents to adults. He retells his own story of disappointment in social psychology and change of specialization to clinical psychology that eventually led him to establishing Behavior Change Center in middle 1970s treating anxiety and depression. He then narrates the history of development of behavioral treatments and provides reference to relevant several books:
Cultivate psychological flexibility, perhaps using one or more of the many recent ACT books for the general public:
To develop more psychological flexibility, The Happiness Trap (Harris 2007)
For overcoming psychological problems in general, Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life (Hayes 2005)
For depression, The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Depression (Robinson and Strosahl 2008)
For anxiety, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Anxiety Disorders (Eifert and Forsyth 2005)
For strengthening partner relationships, ACT on Love (Harris 2009b)
Part 3: The Larger Social Context Affecting Well-Being
In this part author:” explore how the public health framework can guide such efforts, describing the major, society-wide factors that undermine well-being and showing how we can understand most of these factors in terms of the influence of recent developments in the evolution of corporate capitalism.”
- From People to Populations: Targeting Incidence and Prevalence; Epidemiology; Good Surveillance; Programs, Policies, and Practices; Advocacy; Action Implications
In this chapter author discusses public health and suggests that there are five key practices that should be targeted to improve populations well-being:
Author provides recommendation on wide range of interventions and examples of research that show that doubling of tax on alcohol leads to great many wonderful things.
- Harmful Corporate Marketing Practices: Marketing; Free Speech and Corporate Marketing; Guidelines for Restrictions of Marketing Practices; Action Implications
In this chapter author shifts his attention to evil corporations that market all kinds of bad staff such as cigarettes to innocent people using behavior science to make this marketing more and more effective. As usual author’s action recommendations mainly come down to more government spending on research and increase in regulations. On interesting point that author makes here is suggestion that advertisement should be evaluated not merely on “literal truth”, but on “functional effects of ads on unhealthful behavior”
- Poverty and Economic Inequality: Imagining Being Poor; The Damage Done by Poverty; The Damage Done by Economic Inequality; The Benefits of Improving Families’ Economic Well-Being; Policies That Have Increased Poverty and Economic Inequality; Action Implications
This chapter is kind of funny because it is dedicated to explaining that poverty is bad and how all kinds of negative consequences for health and well-being comes from being poor. As usual for these discussions author provides comparison of USA with smaller, homogeneous, and rich countries:
Author provides graphs demonstrating how poverty levels changes in USA over years, but somehow fails to note that it demonstrates dramatic decrease of poverty before the beginning of war on poverty after which poverty levels stop falling and mainly stabilized. Author also fails to note that the only age group for which poverty raised a bit in 1980s were people under 18 – those who become victims of family destruction, minimal wage limitations on their entry level employment, and war on drugs that often make them into unemployable criminals. Author’s suggested actions pretty much the same: more taxes, more regulation, more limitation on business.
- The Recent Evolution of Corporate Capitalism: A Contextual Approach to Policy Making; The Powell Memo; Capitalism from an Evolutionary Perspective; Increasing Materialism; Changing the Consequences for Corporate Practices; The Critical Role of Advocacy Organizations; A Comprehensive Strategy; Action Implications
Author’s discussion of evolution of corporate capitalism brings in somewhat famous Powell memo, which called for capitalists fight back against attacks by intelligentsia and bureaucracy on free markets and capitalism. Interestingly author admits that Powell’s concerns were well justified and business did become more active in self-defense resulting in cultural and psychological change in late 1980s and 90s in support of capitalism. Author also noted that evolution of capitalism in USA moved away from market to lobbying. Here how he defines his overall position:” I want to stress that this is not a critique of capitalism per se. The benefits of the evolutionary process that is capitalism are evident in all of the products and services that have evolved in the last two hundred years, including the computer on which I am writing this book. However, we need to evolve a system that retains the benefits of capitalism while also restraining its worst excesses.” Author also discusses and even somewhat laments increasing prevalence of materialism that he perceives as negative and somehow links it to conservatives and market rather than to leftists and government. The Action Implications per author are needs for more and better regulated advocacy groups.
Part 4: Evolving the Nurturing Society
In the last part of the book author:” pull all of this together to describe how we can use our accumulated scientific knowledge about human behavior to produce improvements in human well-being that go beyond anything ever achieved in human history. If that seems like hyperbole, remember how long it took to communicate with someone on the other side of the world in 1850—before science created telephone networks and the Internet.”
- In Caring Relationships with Others: Coercion: The Main Obstacle to Caring; Cultivating Forbearance and Forgiveness; Action Implications
In this chapter author links nurturing with caring relationships and then discusses what prevents or impedes caring relationships. Obviously, the main obstacle is coercion that author defines as:” There is no shortage of types of conflict and coercion: war, genocide, murder, harassment, bullying, cheating, child abuse, marital conflict, discriminatory behavior; the list goes on.” Somehow the type of coercion that author constantly calls for – government regulation and taxation did not make the list, which is kind of funny. Author then discusses evolutionary reasons for coercion and cooperation as tools of interaction and looks at costs of coercion for health and overall well-being of people. At the end of chapter author suggest measures to decrease levels of coercion in society.
- Evolving the Society, We Want: A Compelling Vision; Creative Epidemiology; Disseminating Evidence-Based Programs, Policies, and Practices; Creating a New Breed of Advocacy Organizations; Evolving a More Beneficial Form of Capitalism; Changing Popular Culture; Empowering Dramatic Cultural Change;
Author begins this chapter with somewhat utopian vision of 2042 and statement that such future is not only possible, but inevitable. He then proceeds describe how it could happen. The key words each subchapter are “WE”, “SHOULD”, and “POLICY”.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is a very nice book by obviously a very nice person. It is also based on seemingly solid research in human behavior and dependency of individual behavior and well-being on surrounding environment, most importantly other humans and their attitudes to the individual. The book leaves no doubt that it would be much better if everybody were surrounded by nurturing environment from birth to death with no gaps in between. The only small problem that I have with all this is that it is kind of obvious. It is like saying that “Better to be healthy and wealthy than sick and poor”. To the author’s credit he is clearly trying to move beyond trivialities and provide recommendations as “Action implications” at the end of each chapter, but these implications mainly come down to similar points for everything:
- Coerce everybody to give us, scientists more money for research and experimentation(taxation)
- Coerce everybody to comply with our recommendations (regulation)
I just do not think that this is much helpful because there is no such thinking and feeling entity as government or corporations or businesses, but there are feeling and thinking human beings: politicians, bureaucrats, both governmental and corporate, seeking to maximize their material and psychological well-being, rich who are struggling to invest money for best returns and not to lose them in process, poor straggling to get more resources whether by working, getting benefits, stealing, or whatever. The mindset of putting all human individuals on one side and calling them “WE” is not productive and could not possibly lead to solution of any problem. The solution could come only from recognizing that all resource flows are between humans and all humans are self-interested, even if self-interest could be non-material feeling good about self. The simple example would be welfare bureaucrat. Would anybody think that giving magic wand to instantly eliminate all poverty a professional welfare bureaucrat would use it, making him/herself unemployed and pretty much unemployable since his/her decades of experience instantly devalued to null? I don’t think so. The solution could come only from restructuring system in such way that maximum of individuals would benefit from the change and minimum would be hurt, which pretty much exclude solutions based overwhelmingly on coercion, which actually means government regulations and interventions.
The main idea of this book is that traditional approach to history that includes accumulation of historical artifacts, their analysis, and consequential synthesis of the narrative of the past is not sufficient and should be supplemented, or maybe even supplanted by neurohistory that would be based on genetic, neurological, and biological analysis that would allow going back much deeper than any historical artifacts allow: not just a few thousand years, but millions of years, which would allow better understanding of humanity than ever before.
Introduction: Toward Reunion in History
In introduction author defines meaning of deep history as history of humanity going back not just a few thousand years of known civilization, but way further back:” A deep history of humankind is any history that straddles this buffer zone, bundling the Paleolithic and the Neolithic together with the Postlithic-that is, with everything that has happened since the emergence of metal technology, writing, and cities some 5,500 years ago. The result is a seamless narrative that acknowledges edges the full chronology of the human past.” Author stresses that unlike other histories it would be based not only on archeological artifacts and written documents, but on everything that could be used including human DNA, traces of human impact on environment, human neurophysiology, but not evolutionary psychology that author consider not useful for understanding history. Author also stresses that history should start in Africa where contemporary humans came from.
1. The Grip of Sacred History
This chapter is pretty much dedicated to rejection of traditional history that explicitly or more often implicitly driven by biblical narrative, compressing history to narrow timeframe of a few thousand years and author diligently narrate how this was slowly rejected by emerging scientific evidence incorporated into the new ways of thinking developed by Enlightenment. Nevertheless, author believes that remnants of “sacred history” still remain and limit amounts of resources allocated to research of Paleolithic, the period of real beginning of human history.
This chapter describes resistance to expansion of history deeper into the past and here is how author describes the problem of resistance:” What this genealogy indicates is that it was not the inertia of sacred history and the problems of plotting alone that have delayed the reception of humanity’s deep history. There was a certain degree of resistance, a lingering unwillingness to contemplate the dark abyss of time. Historians no longer think this way.’ But when resistance was active-when, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, some historians were alive to the implications of that abyss-the exclusion of the deep past was motivated by genuine intellectual doubts and uncertainties. Their resistance absolved solved historians of the need to read deeply in the paleoanthropological evidence. This resistance is now dormant, but its legacy-a few dutiful pages on the Paleolithic, a sense that this is not the province of history-continues to shape our texts and our curricula.” Author reviews discussion of deep past inclusion into history and how proceed about it when there are no traditional evidences such as texts or sufficient levels of artifacts going all the way back deep enough.
3. Between Darwin and Lamarck
Author starts here with another critic of “Whiggish histories” and its writers going back mainly to XIX century. He allocates quite a bit of space to metaphorical “seeds of civilization” then jumping from this to ontogeny and phylogeny, positing that “in the potential confusion between ontogeny and phylogeny, that a deep history has to take a stand in favor of phylogeny. An ontogeny necessarily begins at a point of conception or germination: in the narrative of sacred history, the Garden of Eden. In contrast, the deep history of humanity has no particular beginning and is certainly driving toward no particular end.” He then reviews history of Lamarck’s and Darwin’s ideas, noting that cultural evolution works pretty much on Lamarckian pattern and provides huge acceleration of human development. He then discusses literature on this subject and various theories of adaptation or maladaptation to environment resulting from interaction of random Darwinian change and directed Lamarckian change. Both these processes applied not only in human evolution, but also in evolution of animals that also have cultures. The huge difference, however, is that humans developed ability accumulate information outside of an individual brain via complex language and later variety of methods for information processing and accumulation from telling the stories, to using writing and computers with their infinite memory either in form of books or silicon chips. Author summarizes all this by saying that:” Examples discussed in this chapter suggest how some of the most important cultural achievements of the Postlithic era have been shaped by blind variation and selective retention.”
4. The New Neurohistory
Author begins this chapter by rejecting duality of mind and body often supported by argument that human mind is huge overkill for what is needed for relatively simple tasks of hunting and gathering. He makes very good point that there is no overkill if one considers complexity created by the need for survival in human group with its complex communications and relationships conducted using language and other complex signaling systems. Author then discusses emotions, their role and human interactions and their complex nature that combine universality of basic emotions with culture dependent specifics. Here how author applies idea of Neurohistory in this area:” A neurohistorical perspective on human history is built around the plasticity of the synapses that link a universal emotion, such as disgust, to a particular object or stimulus, a plasticity that allows culture to embed itself in physiology. By the same token, the universal capacity to feel disgust can be exploited in ways that are unique to a given culture.” Author also discusses here sociobiology and its use and/or misuse by many researchers that brought in their political attitude to support or reject ideas of combined evolutionary process with intertwining of genes and culture. Author completes this chapter by once again juxtaposing Neurohistory with traditional history:” Nevertheless, the perspectives of Neurohistory matter in the context of this book because they make it possible to see the brain as the narrative focus for a history that begins with early hominins and balances on the Neolithic era. This focus means we can construct a different historical narrative, one that does not have to depend on the framework of political organization, including the rise of the nation-state, that undergirds the grand narratives of general history. A neurohistory is a deep cultural history, offering a way out of the increasingly sterile presentism that constrains the historical imagination and contributes to the growing marginalization of early history in the curriculum. Our feet planted firmly in the deep past, we can look ahead with wonder at the ramifying cultural patterns, the wonderful life, that emerged as human neurophysiology interacted with the rapidly changing ecologies of the Postlithic era”.
5. Civilization and Psychotropy
Author begins this chapter by discussing neurochemicals, their functions, and how these functions could be impacting deep history. He then moves to cultural moderation of moods and behaviors referring to them as psychotropic mechanisms. He also expands it to consumer behavior. Author brings in dominance hierarchies, which he links to phylogeny based on their presence in behavior of our close relatives. Interestingly enough author discusses ideas of reverse hierarchy of hunter gathering societies when majority of weak easily suppressed a few strong. This was later turned around in agricultural societies and continues in form of variety of political dominance hierarchies to the present day. Author also discusses in details teletropic mechanisms used to influence behavior of people. These mechanisms include everything from drags to novels, gossip, and propaganda. He comes up with quite an interesting idea:” From the perspective of neurohistory, the progress of civilization is an illusion of Psychotropy. This argument is a deliberate rejoinder to other models of general or universal history that seek to offer explanations for history’s apparent direction.”
Epilogue: Looking Ahead
Author concludes this book by restating his believe that traditional history that he somewhat contemptuously refers as Western Civ is outdated and the new one should be developed. So here is the point:” I have suggested, in this book, that we add a neurohistorical perspective, with sets of tools and concepts that allow us to think about the historical implications of recent developments in neuroscience and human biology. This history is necessarily a deep one, since the genes responsible for building the autonomic nervous system are themselves of considerable antiquity. This history is also a world history, since the equipment is shared by all humans, though it is built, manipulated, and tweaked in different ways by different cultures. Finally, it is a history to which many of us can connect.”
MY TAKE ON IT:
I like idea of deep history a lot and I think that it already happening, but in forms quite different from what author presents in this book. I believe that recent developments in decoding DNA of fossils provides the great foundation for analysis of dynamic development of hominins and early humans as it was expressed in DNA changes over time and in different environments. DNA provides for understanding organism’s potential, but it is just a foundation. We now know that over lifetime of organism the process of living creates epigenetic changes, so it is not impossible that these changes also could be learned from the fossils. In short, I think that deep history probably has a great future, but we are at the very beginning of the road that may or may not lead to development of such deep history.