The Birth of the Mind: How a Tiny Number of Genes Creates The Complexities of Human Thought

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9780465044061: The Birth of the Mind: How a Tiny Number of Genes Creates The Complexities of Human Thought

In The Birth of the Mind, award-winning cognitive scientist Gary Marcus irrevocably alters the nature vs. nurture debate by linking the findings of the Human Genome Project to the development of the brain. Scientists have long struggled to understand how a tiny number of genes could contain the instructions for building the human brain, arguably the most complex device in the known universe. Synthesizing up-to-the-minute research with his own original findings on child development, Marcus is the first to resolve this apparent contradiction. Vibrantly written and completely accessible to the lay reader, The Birth of the Mind will forever change the way we think about our origins and ourselves.

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Review:

The Human Genome Project has revealed that we possess a surprisingly small number of genes, especially in light of our fairly complex bodies. In The Birth of the Mind, NYU psychology professor Gary Marcus brings together current research on how our genetic code assembles that most mysterious physiological structure, the brain. Readers fascinated by the works of Steven Pinker and other mind theorists will be fascinated by Marcus' descriptions of strange--and sometimes disturbing--sensory experiments carried out on chimps, ferrets, and kittens that show how the brain organizes itself in the presence or absence of external stimuli. Further, Marcus writes that there's nothing particularly special about how the brain is built and maintained.

What's amazing is how little of the overall scheme for embryonic development is special to the brain. Although thousands of genes are involved in brain development, a large number of them are shared with (or have close counterparts in) genes that guide the development of the rest of the body.

With plenty of evidence supporting the notion of multi-function "housekeeping genes," Marcus concludes that our hopes for finding single genes responsible for various brain disorders are likely unfounded. The Birth of the Mind offers an engaging and often witty look at how our genetic code can be simple enough to make basic proteins and complicated enough to help us learn languages. --Therese Littleton

About the Author:

Gary Marcus is Associate Professor of Psychology at New York University. Author of The Algebraic Mind, Marcus received his Ph.D. from MIT at the age of twenty-three. In 2002-2003, he is a Fellow of the Stanford Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences. He lives in New York City. To learn more about Marcus' work, please visit http://www.psych.nyu.edu/gary/birth.html

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