5.0 out of 5 stars
Clearest account of the nature vs. nurture debate., April 21 2004
I very much enjoyed and learned from this new and innovative book, Birth of the Mind by Dr. Gary Marcus. Still, before I could write my own review I came across a professional review in one of Britain's most distinguished journals, Nature Neuroscience. I present it instead:
"About half of the estimated 30,000-odd genes in the human genome are expressed in the brain. Among these genes is hidden the explanation for our unique human cognitive abilities, and for many of the differences between individual people. Developmental neurobiology is the essential bridge for connecting genome to behavior, but despite its obvious importance, there has not yet been a popular book devoted to this subject.
"The Birth of the Mind is an ambitious attempt to fill this gap. The author, Gary Marcus, is a cognitive scientist, but he has learned a lot about developmental neurobiology and has written a concise and very readable introduction to the field. By drawing on related disciplines such as genetics, cognitive science and evolution, he provides an overview of how the interaction between genome and environment gives rise to the human brain and by extension the human mind.
"Marcus gives as clear an account as I have ever seen of the nature versus nurture 'debate' In fact, most biologists no longer regard this as a debate (genes and environment are both important), and the fact that it is still perceived as such by the public may reflect the lack of clear popular account, which this book now provides.
"He also dispels a more recent myth, namely that there is a ~gene shortage™ that precludes genes from encoding complex behaviors. It is admittedly surprising that we have only 30,000 genes but 100 billion neurons, particularly given that the nematode C. elegans has nearly as many genes yet only 302 neurons. But as Marcus makes clear, genes are complex individually and give rise to even greater complexity by acting in combination; moreover, the truth is that we have no basis for surprise, absent a theory to explain how many genes are needed for a given degree of biological complexity"
"Einstein famously advised that everything should be made as simple as
possible, but no simpler. Marcus takes this to heart, and his book contains
many simplifications but few misrepresentations.
"... enjoyable to read [and written] with a light touch .... I have no
hesitation recommending it to students, scientists from other disciplines, or lay readers wanting to learn something about this fascinating and fast-developing field."
[Nature Neuroscience, April 2004, at p. 117, by Charles Jennings, Executive
Editor of the Nature Research Journals.]