Nature's Mind, The Biological Roots of Thinking, Emotions, Sexuality, Language, and Intelligence Michael S. Gazzaniga Basic Books, 1992.

Reviewed by Louis Andrews Mankind Quarterly, Vol. XXXIII, No. 2, Winter 1992. [Image]

Michael S. Gazzaniga has written a blockbuster. The premise of Nature's Mind is that we are born "pre-wired," that selection, not adaptation, is the fundamental factor of our existence and of our development as individuals. He argues that the tabula rasa concept of Locke and others is not partially, but totally false. This is not a book which takes a moderate position. Gazzaniga writes "For the selectionist, the absolute truth is that all we do in life is discover what is already built into our brains."

Gazzaniga is perhaps best known as co-discoverer of the "split-brain" phenomenon. His earlier works include The Social Brain and Mind Matters. Neither work has brought the onslaught of indignation from the social engineers that I fully expect Nature's Mind will provoke.

The book resulted from a meeting held in Venice, Italy, attended by twelve leading thinkers in various areas of human development. They included, Gazzaniga, Steven Gould, Wolf Singer, Steven Pinker, David Premack and others. Gazzaniga explains many of their beliefs in some detail, even when he profoundly disagrees.

Using a curious juxtaposition of the great minds in human evolution and related fields, such as Darwin and Lemarck, he proceeds to compliment both of each pair on their real contributions and brilliance. Marshaling a wealth of data, beinning with the most recent evidence from immunology, that "antibodies are chosen from a preexisting library of anti-bodies . . .," Gazzaniga builds a strong case for the absolute primacy of selection across the spectrum, from language and intelligence to emotions and thought itself.

In terms of the developing mind of children, Gazzaniga reviews the work of David Rowe and Robert Plomin on "shared" and "non-shared" environments. He argues that environmental factors are of significance only in terms of selecting for some preexisting capacity, and as such, their importance is "random and can never be deciphered." He states that the studies "leave us with the conclusion that parents have little influence on their children, and that genetic factors ought to be considered to explain the variation" between siblings. He goes on to say, "The economic hypothesis is not valid. Ideally, as we come to a deeper understanding of why people do what they do, we will have a far richer, more biologically based, theory of personality."

Gazzaniga believes that the ways in which we attempt to solve social problems, sway opinions and interact with our environment are "doomed to fail" because they ignore the big picture of who we are and how we work. His discussion of social dependency and perceived control is fascinating. He argues that many of our social programs for education, poverty, crime, drugs and delinquency are not only ineffectual, but quite possibly contribute to our problems through the learned helplessness response. Societies work when "they allow each individual to discover what millions of years of evolution have already bestowed upon mind and body."

Even though he believes that people generally evaluate any new evidence in a fashion designed to maintain their current beliefs, he does leave room for hope believing that "the quintessential human property of mind - rational processes - can occasionally override our more primitive beliefs. It isn't easy, but when it occurs, it represents our finest achievement."

This is a slightly altered version of the Webmaster's published review which appeared in the Mankind Quarterly, Vol. XXXIII, No. 2, Winter 1992.




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