<h3>Excerpt</h3> <div><div> <h2>CHAPTER 1</h2> <p>Brainworks</p> <br> <p>My job was to alert the driver to the wood-flamed carts pulled by one or two bullocks, usually one. None of the carts had tail lights, or for that matter, any lights! It was raining—monsoon time. We had been driving for about ten hours to New Delhi from the foothills of the Indian Himalaya, where we had walked for a month from one monastery to another, photographing Tibetan wall paintings. The wipers were oscillating, but the windshield was greasy. On the short section of "high-speed highway," dusk was falling and the carts were becoming invisible. Sandwiched between the Tata trucks belching black exhaust fumes and intercity buses hurtling past with horns blaring were examples of Indian ingenuity—moving installations that could have been at home either in the Whitney Biennial for contemporary art or in a junkyard. The strangest was a huge tricycle. A massive steel I-beam, probably scavenged from a bridge, connected a giant front wheel to two small rear wheels. At the front, the driver straddled the beam about eight feet above the road. Behind him a metal box, attached to the beam, slanted downward, crammed with men, women, and children. The engine hanging below the steel looked as though it might have once been connected to a village water pump. The operating design principle was simple: use anything you can find to make it work.</p> <p>The design principles that guided the evolution of the human brain are similar. Ernst Mayr, who shaped twentieth-century evolutionary and genetic research, repeatedly pointed out the "proximate logic of evolution." Existing structures and systems are modified sometimes elegantly, sometime weirdly, to carry out new tasks. Our capacity for innovation, which distinguishes human behavior from that of any other species, living or extinct, is a product of this minimal-cost design logic.</p> <p>The path of human evolution diverged from chimpanzees, our closest living relatives, five to seven million years ago. The brains of our distant ancestors had started to enlarge a million years ago, but big brains alone don't account for why we act and think in a manner that differs so radically from chimpanzees. We are far from a definitive answer, but converging evidence from recent genetic, anatomical, and archaeological studies shows that neural structures, which have an evolutionary history dating back to when dinosaurs roamed the planet, were modified ever so slightly to create the cognitive flexibility that makes us human. Apart from our ability to acquire a vast store of knowledge, we have a brain that is supremely capable of adapting to change and inducing change. We continually craft patterns of behavior, concepts, and cultures that no one could have predicted.</p> <p>The archaeological record and genetic evidence suggest that people who had the same cognitive capabilities as you or me probably lived as far back as as 250,000 years ago. However, we don't live the way our distant ancestors did 50,000 years ago. Nor do we live as our ancestors did in the eighteenth century, or five decades ago. Nor, for that matter, does everyone throughout the world today act in the same manner or share the same values. Unlike ants, frogs, sheep, dogs, monkeys or apes—pick any other species other than <i>Homo sapiens</i>—our actions and thoughts are unpredictable. We are the unpredictable species.</p> <p>The opposite view, popularized by proponents of what has come be known as "evolutionary psychology," such as Noam Chomsky, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Marc Hauser, and Steven Pinker, is that we are governed by genes that evolved in prehistoric times and never changed thereafter. The evidence presented to support their theories often involves colorful stories about life 50,000 or 100,000 years ago, sometimes supplemented by colorful blobs that are the end-products of expensive functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines can monitor brain activity. The red or yellow blobs are supposed to reveal "faculties" —specialized "centers" of the brain that confer language, altruism, religious convictions, morality, fear, pornography, art, and virtually everything else. I shall show that no one is religious because a gene is directing her or his beliefs and thoughts. Moral conduct doesn't entail having a morality gene. Language doesn't entail having a language gene.</p> <p>The current popular model of the brain is a digital computer. It used to be a telephone exchange; at one time, it was a clock or steam engine. The most complex machine of the day usually serves to illustrate the complexity of the human brain. No one can tell you how the brain of even a fly, frog, or a mouse works, but the research that I will review shows that the software, computational architecture, and operations of a digital computer have no bearing on how real brains work. Your brain doesn't have a discrete "finger-moving" module that conceptually is similar to the electronics and switches that control your computer's keyboard. Nor do computer programs bear any resemblance to the motor control "instructions" coded in your brain that ultimately move your finger.</p> <p>As Charles Darwin pointed out, in the course of evolution structures that originally had one purpose took on new roles and were modified to serve both old and new tasks. It has become evident that different neural structures, linked together in "circuits," constitute the brain bases for virtually every motor act and every thought process that we perform. We have adapted neural circuits that don't differ to any great extent from those found in monkeys and apes to perform feats such as talking, dancing, and changing the way that we act to one another, or to the world about us. The whole story isn't in. However, the studies that I will review have identified some of the genes and processes that tweaked these circuits, to yield the cognitive flexibility that is the key to innovation and human unpredictability.</p> <br> <p><b>The Functional Architecture of the Brain</b></p> <p>Your car's shop manual provides a better guide to understanding how your brain works than books such as Steven Pinker's 1998 <i>How the Mind Works</i>. If your car doesn't start, the shop manual won't tell you to replace its "starting organ" or "starting module"—a part or set of parts dedicated solely to starting the car. The shop manual instead will tell you to check a set of linked parts: the battery, starter relay, starter motor, starter switch, perhaps the transmission lock. Working together, the "local" operations performed in each part start the car. Your car doesn't have a "center" of starting. Nor will you find a localized electric power "module." The battery might seem to be the ticket, but the alternator, powered by the engine, controlled by a voltage regulator, charges the battery. And if you're driving a gas-electric hybrid, the brakes also charge the battery when you slow down or stop. The brakes, in turn, depend on the electrical system because they're controlled by a computer that monitors road conditions, and the computer needs electric power. The engine is controlled by an electrically powered computer that senses the outside temperature and engine temperature to control fuel injectors and the timing of the electrical ignition of the fuel injected into each cylinder.</p> <p>Each component—the battery, voltage regulator, fuel pump, ignition system—performs a "local" operation. The linked local operations form a "circuit" that regulates an observable aspect of your car's "behavior"—whether it starts and how it accelerates, brakes, and steers. And the local operation performed in a given part can also play a critical role in different circuits. The battery obviously powers the headlights and the sound system, as well as the fuel pump, ignition system, starting circuit, and the computer that controls the engine. The individual components often carry out multiple "local" operations. The engine can propel or brake. The car manual advises downshifting and using the engine to brake when descending long, steep roads. Some circuits include components that play a critical role in other circuits. In short, your car wasn't designed following current "modular" theories that supposedly account for how brains work and how we think.</p> <br> <p><b>Modularity</b></p> <p>In contrast, according to practitioners of evolutionary psychology, various aspects of human behavior, such as language, mathematical capability, musical capability, and social skills, are each regulated by "domain-specific" modules. Domain-specificity boils down to the claim that each particular part of the brain does its own thing, independent of other neural structures that each carry out a different task or thought-process. Steven Pinker, who adopted the framework proposed in earlier books by Jerome Fodor (1983) and Noam Chomsky (1957, 1972, 1975, 1980a, 1980b, 1986, 1995), claims that language, especially syntax, derives from brain mechanisms that are independent from those involved in other aspects of cognition and, most certainly, motor control. Further refinements of modular theor/partition complex behaviors such as language into a series of independent modules, a phonology module that produces and perceives speech, a syntax module that in English orders words or interprets word order, and a semantics module that takes into account the meaning of each word, allowing us to comprehend the meaning of a sentence. These modules can be subdivided into submodules. W.J.M. Levelt (1989), for example, subdivided the process by which we understand the meaning of a sentence into a set of modules. Each hypothetical module did its work and sent the product on to another module. Levelt started with a "phonetic" module that converted the acoustic signal that reaches our ears to segments that are roughly equivalent to the letters of the alphabet. The stream of alphabetic letters then was grouped into words by a second module that has no access to the sounds going into the initial phonetic module, the words then fed into a syntax module, and so on.</p> <p>We don't have to read academic exercises to understand modular architecture. Henry Ford's first assembly line is a perfect example of modular organization. One workstation put the hood on, another the doors, another the wheels and tires, and so on. Each workstation was "domain-specific." The workers and equipment that put doors on the car frame put on doors, nothing else. Another crew and equipment put hoods onto the car frame. The assembly line as a whole was a module devoted to building a specific type of car. In Henry Ford's first factory, the Model T was available in any color, so long as it was black. As the Ford Motor Company prospered, independent "domain-specific" assembly lines were opened that each built a particular type of car or truck. But the roots of modular theory date back long before, to what neuroscientists generally think of as quack science, "phrenology."</p> <br> <p><b>Phrenology</b></p> <p>Phrenology, when it's mentioned at all in psychology or neuroscience texts, usually is placed in the same category as believing in little green people on Mars. But in the early decades of the nineteenth century, phrenology was at the cutting edge of science. Phrenology attempted to explain why some people are more capable than others when it comes to mathematics. Why are some people pious? Why are some people greedy? Why do some people act morally? The answer was that some particular part of our brain is the "faculty" of mathematics, morality—whatever— and is responsible for what we can do or how we behave.</p> <p>Whereas present-day pop science links these neural structures to genes that ostensibly result in specialized neural "faculties" located in different modules in discrete parts of your brain, phrenologists had a simpler answer—your abilities and disposition could be determined by measuring bumps on your skull. Phrenologists thought that they could demonstrate that a particular bump was the "seat" of the faculty of mathematics, which conferred mathematical ability; a different bump was the seat of the language faculty; another bump was the seat of the moral faculty; and so on. The size of each bump determined the power of the faculty. A larger bump would correlate with increased capability in language if it was the seat of the faculty of language. A larger bump for the seat of the faculty of piety would presumably be found on the skulls of clerics known for piety. A larger seat of mathematics would characterize learned mathematicians, and so on. The proposed faculties were all domain-specific—independent of each other. The bump signaling piety, for example, had no relevance to language. This theory may sound familiar when transmuted into current modular theory, which pushed to its limits claims that you can be a mathematical genius but can't find your way home from work.</p> <p>The labeled "map" in figure 1.1, from Johann Spurzheim's (1815) phrenological treatise, shows the seats of various abilities and personality traits. In the 1970s, I found skulls that had been carefully engraved with phrenological maps in the storage areas of the Musée de l'Homme in Paris. Phrenology collapsed because it was open to test. The skulls of clerics, leading mathematicians, musicians, homicidal maniacs, and so on, were measured. There was no correlation between the size of the bumps on a person's skull and what she or he could do or how she or he behaved. Some homicidal maniacs had bigger moral bumps than worthy clerics. And so phrenology was declared dead.</p> <br> <p><b>Pop Neuroscience</b></p> <p>But phrenology lives on today in studies that purport to identify the brain's center of religious belief, pornography, and everything in between. The research paradigm is similar to that used by phrenologists 200 years ago, except for the high-tech veneer. Typically, the brains of a group of subjects are imaged using complex neuroimaging systems (described later) that monitor activity in a person's brain while he or she reads written material, answers questions, or looks at pictures. The response seen in some particular part of the brain is then taken to be <i>the</i> neural basis of the activity in question.</p> <p>In one such study published in 2009, "The Neural Correlates of Religious and Nonreligious Belief," Sam Harris and his colleagues monitored the brain activity of 15 committed Christians and 15 nonbelievers who were asked to answer "true" or "false" to "religious" statements, such as "Jesus Christ really performed the miracles attributed to him in the Bible," and "nonreligious" statements such as "Alexander the Great was a very famous military leader." Activity in an area in the front of the brain, medial ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, was greater for everyone when the answer was "true." This finding is hardly surprising since, as we will see, ventromedial prefrontal cortex is active in many cognitive tasks, including pulling information out of memory (Hazy et al., 2006; Postle, 2006). Deciding that something is true also takes more effort when the task is pushing a button when you think that a word is a real English word, for example, "bad," than not pushing the button when you hear "vad" (Rissman et al., 2003). In fact, ventromedial prefrontal cortex is active in practically every task that entails thinking about anything (Duncan and Owen, 2000).</p> <p>But the neural structures that Sam Harris and his colleagues claimed were responsible for religious beliefs included the anterior insula, a region of the brain that the authors themselves noted is also associated with pain perception and disgust; the basal ganglia, which I'll discuss in some detail because it is a key component of neural circuits involved in motor control, thinking, and emotion; and a brain structure that all mammals possess—the anterior cingulate cortex (AGC). The ACC supposedly was the key to religious belief because it was more active when the committed Christians pushed the "true" button about their religious beliefs. The ACC is arguably the oldest part of the brain that differentiates mammals from reptiles, and dates back 258 million years ago to the age of dinosaurs. As we'll see, its initial role probably was mother-infant care and communication (MacLean, 1986; MacLean and Newman, 1988). Sam Harris's agenda is scientific atheism—religious belief supposedly derives from the way that our brains are wired. All mammals have an ACG. If Harris and colleagues are right, mice may be religious!</p> <p>Increased ACC activity often signifies increased attention. The ACC activity observed by Harris et al. (2009) in the committed Christians may have reflected the subjects' paying more attention to the emotionally loaded questions probing their faith or lack thereof. An obvious control condition would have monitored the subjects' responses to questions about their tax returns.</p> <p>Another recent exercise in pop neuroscience "explains" why young men are more interested in pornography than women. In a study published in a first-line journal, <i>Nature Neuroscience</i>, Hamann et al. (2004) showed erotic photographs to 28 Emory University male and female undergraduates. The neuroimaging apparatus, which costs several million dollars, showed that the men had more activity in two closely connected brain structures, the amygdala and hypothalamus. The authors, unsurprisingly, conclude that male undergraduates may be more interested in erotic photographs than women. A glance at a magazine stand near Emory would have reached the same conclusion, saving several thousand dollars spent on the experiment. The main finding of the study is that increased amygdala activity, in itself, accounts for "why men respond more to erotica." The conclusion is weird; dozens of independent studies show that activity in the amygdala increases in fearful situations. Amygdala activity increases, for example, when people look at angry faces. Were the men afraid of sex? However, other experiments show that the amygdala also is activated by stimuli associated with reward (Blair, 2008), so the pictures may have reflected wishful thinking. What would the amygdala responses have been if the men had been imaged while they looked at expensive sports cars or alternatively at fearful faces? What would have happened if the erotic pictures had been shown to the "committed Christians" studied by Sam Harris and his colleagues? </div></div><br/> <i>(Continues...)</i> <!-- Copyright Notice --> <div><blockquote><hr noshade size="1"><font size="-2">Excerpted from <b>The Unpredictable Species</b> by <b>Philip Lieberman</b>. Copyright © 2013 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of Princeton University Press.<br/>All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br/>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.</font><hr noshade size="1"></blockquote></div>