The Deep History of Ourselves: The Four-Billion-Year Story of How We Got Conscious Brains

Viking. Aug. 2019. 432p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780735223837. $30; ebk. ISBN 9780735223844. SCI
Neuroscientist LeDoux (neural science, psychology & psychiatry, New York Univ.; Anxious) draws a hard line in the sand between the human mind and that of all other species. In the first part of this two-part volume he takes readers on a long journey through the evolutionary tree of life, emphasizing the physical features and behaviors that connect all life forms. The second part focuses on those mental faculties that separate Homo sapiens from other animals: cognition, consciousness, memory, and the capacity of the human brain for language, reasoning, and culture. In his view animal brains lack this functionality, and he takes issue with scientists such as Frans de Waal, Marc Bekoff, and Jane Goodall, whose research shows that animals have emotions and other states of consciousness comparable to those of humans. Chapters are short, easily digested essays, but the sections on theories of consciousness and memory are highly technical and, despite helpful illustrations, may cause the general science reader to glaze over.
VERDICT Recommended for those with a strong background in evolutionary cognition who enjoyed Daniel Dennett’s From Bacteria to Bach and Back. For an alternate viewpoint on animal cognition turn to de Waal’s Are We Smart Enough To Know How Smart Animals Are?

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