The human brain is astonishingly different from the brain of any other animal. Why? Have we somehow fooled Mother Nature and escaped from the laws of evolution? Written like a detective story, this book brings together a wealth of new research from paleontology, genetics, and neurobiology to explain the runaway evolution of the human brain. Evolutionists and human paleontologists have tended to assume that our intellect began to burgeon when our ancestors developed the ability to walk upright, to grasp and carry objects, or to form cooperative groups for hunting. While these and many other factors are important, this book shows that they are only some of the latest steps in a long evolutionary story that began a billion years ago. By now, the brains of many different animals are much larger than those of their predecessors and are superbly adapted to environments that have slowly become more complex. But our own distant ancestors were the only ones to enter a new evolutionary path, a feedback loop that involved their brains, their bodies, and an ever more complicated environment that they largely created themselves. The result, for better and sometimes for worse, is our own astonishing species. The author shows how this view of our evolution as a runaway process casts light on a number of major questions that recent discoveries have raised about our past. These include the identity and true role of the mitochondrial Eve, the origin of human diversity, and the confusion and controversy surrounding our fossil record. Two major views of recent human evolution hinge on the time at which people like ourselves first arose. Did they do so in several different parts of the Old World, theso-called "multiple origins" model, or did they appear suddenly and recently, perhaps driving all the more primitive hominids to extinction? The first model is favored by many anthropologists; the second, by many geneticists. While it is not yet possible to decide with certainty between the two, the book details how the driving force of runaway brain evolution is so great that it can easily account for multiple origins. Turning to the evolution of the brain itself, the author recounts the escape of our ancestors from the "stupidworlds" of the past. He shows how, as a result of this escape, our brains have evolved into sponges for knowledge. They are so versatile, and have been driven by such strong evolutionary pressures, that fundamental human capabilities such as language can be traced to many different parts of the brain that have simultaneously increased in complexity. Using a vivid series of examples, the book details scientists' growing knowledge of the kinds of genetic changes that have powered the runaway process. Written by a scientist whose previous books have explored the whole sweep of evolution and the complexities of the human genome, The Runaway Brain casts a brilliant light on human intellect and human nature.
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