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Friday, November 02, 2007

A slam dunk victory in a game that wasn't played?

Book reviews are interesting to read, because they can tell us a good deal about popular assumptions - how reviewers think and how they think their readers think.

In a generally favourable review of The Evolving Brain: The Known and The Unknown by R. Grant Steen (Prometheus Books, 2007), Columbia U's Lewis A. Opler writes,
Paradoxically, given its title, the only area that I felt was not handled expertly was in its handling of how and why evolution had chosen us—Homo sapiens, with our large prefrontal cortex and our increased plasticity and capacity for learning and communicating—to be the rulers of planet Earth. Possible answers include intelligence, language, communication, theory of the mind, and activation of pleasure circuitry because of affiliative behavior—all lead to collaboration and sociality of our species.

But what external changes emerged 50,000 years ago allowing this to give us a selective advantage?

What indeed? I guess that's the unknown. Opler goes on,
Steen unequivocally delivers a slam-dunk victory for evolution over intelligent design. But I kept waiting for cutting-edge neurobiology and psychology to meet cutting-edge evolutionary theory, and this did not occur.

But, other than this, I found this book a tour de force.

So ... in what sense, exactly, is the book a slam dunk victory or a tour de force?

Ah, I see ... in the sense that it provides reassurance for materialists. If it does that, it need not effectively address (as it evidently didn't) the questions that cause people to doubt materialism.

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