The subtitle of The Birth of the Mind by Gary Marcus, Ph.D., tells the basic story: how a tiny number of genes creates the complexities of human thought. Once you delve into this fascinating book, you will be amazed at just how powerful those tiny number of genes really are. Powerful enough to shape our realities, and create our experiences. Powerful enough to make body parts do what they are supposed to do, and to adapt accordingly when our environment demands we do so. Powerful enough to make us think, and to drive us to behave in the ways we do as human beings.
Marcus, who is an associate professor of Psychology at NYU and an award-winning cognitive scientist, writes in a down-to-earth style about an out-of-this-world subject matter – namely, the world of the genome, and the constructive abilities of genes that literally create the brain. Using plenty of cutting-edge research as a backdrop, as well as his own studies with child development, the author leads us on a journey into the brain and into the deepest realms of the biology that shapes our mental thought processes.
Marcus first takes on the nature-versus-nurture debate, showing how the Human Genome Project is drastically altering our sense of how the brain works with the most recent discoveries of just how much our genes influence human intelligence. The author then, in language completely accessible to the lay reader and science novice, tells us what these things called genes really are, what they do, and how they come to effect the mighty brain and all its infinite abilities and complexities. Starting with research into childhood development, and covering decades of animal research up to the most current human brain studies, this awe-inspiring book shows the intricate relationship between our genes and our thinking patterns and learning styles. It also shows what is in control, and clearly, the genes win hands down.
In fact, we come to understand that our brain’s origin is genetically mapped, and that all we perceive is directly related to the genes operating like thousands of busy little computer programmers in our bodies. We learn that mental evolution is tied directly into the world of geneticly programmed codes that influence how we think and how we view our world. We also learn about the amazing adaptability of the brain and body, and how our genes help us to survive in a constantly changing world. We also realize, through the remarkable research being done today, that our ability to learn and grow and experience new things is connected to our genetic makeup, but that we still have the tools to trigger greater mental capacity. Destiny may be in our genes, but we still have some say in the matter of how we use our grey matter. In fact, this book shows that the more we use our brains, the more brains we seem to have to use.
Although I did get bogged down in some of the heavy research and technical talk about the various parts of the brain and which does what, and I was occasionally put off by the emotionless descriptions of brutal animal experiments (we do some pretty awful things to other sentient beings in the name of “learning” more about ourselves), I found The Birth of the Mind totally mind-boggling, pardon the pun. It is a page-turner that is all nonfiction, based upon the growing body of factual evidence that points to a human brain so complex and intelligently designed, it is breathtaking.