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The Symbolic Species: The Co-Evolution of Language and the Brain (edition 1998)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0393317544, Paperback)Terrence Deacon's The Symbolic Species begins with a question posed by a 7-year-old child: Why can't animals talk? Or, as Deacon puts it, if animals have simpler brains, why can't they develop a simpler form of language to go with them? Thus begins the basic line of inquiry for this breathtakingly ambitious work, which attempts to describe the origins of human language and consciousness.
What separates humans from animals, Deacon writes, is our capacity for symbolic representation. Animals can easily learn to link a sound with an object or an effect with a cause. But symbolic thinking assumes the ability to associate things that might only rarely have a physical correlation; think of the word "unicorn," for instance, or the idea of the future. Language is only the outward expression of this symbolic ability, which lays the foundation for everything from human laughter to our compulsive search for meaning.
The final section of The Symbolic Species posits that human brains and human language have coevolved over millions of years, leading Deacon to the remarkable conclusion that many modern human traits were actually caused by ideas. Deacon's background in biological anthropology and neuroscience makes him a reliable companion through this complicated multidisciplinary turf. Rigorously researched and argued in dense but lively prose, The Symbolic Species is that rare animal, a book of serious science that's accessible to layman and scientist alike.
(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:25:12 -0400)
This revolutionary book offers fresh answers to longstanding questions of human origins and consciousness. In contrast to much contemporary neuroscience that treats the brain as no more or less than a computer, Deacon leads us on a carefully grounded neurobiological expedition into a view of mind that does not reduce to soulless, clockwork mechanism, but is instead an emergent feature of a universe that is "nascent heart and mind." His book not only provides a new clarity of vision into the mechanism of mind. It injects a renewed sense of adventure into the experience of being human.
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