From Aristotle to Darwin to present day scientists, one of the most basic and perplexing questions tackled by thinkers throughout human history has been the mystery of who we are and how we get the sense of being someone unique. The answer, of course, lies in the most complex of our organs, the brain. Reading through Liars, Lovers and Heroes, one is filled with awe at this three-pound organ, faster than a supercomputer, its complicated and tangled circuitry generating more than a hundred powerful chemicals or neurotransmitters that make us what we are: liars, lovers or heroes.
Cognitive neuroscience, a new discipline, that attempts to look into human behavior under controlled conditions with the aid of brain imaging and computational models is now making rapid strides in understanding the workings of the brain. Neuroscientists are beginning to recognize the learning, motivational and emotional centers of the brain. And the role biology and culture have in shaping who we are.
In Liars, Lovers and Heroes, renowned neuroscientists Dr. Steven Quartz and Dr. Terrence Sejnowski weave together our brain chemistry with social behavior. With detailed information on nerve cells or neurons, how they function and the connections through which they communicate, the authors explain how both our genes and environmental factors interact to develop our complex sensory, learning and thinking skills. They also delve into how much our brains differ in size and neural networks from those of our predecessors, the hominids or our cousins, the apes.
The key difference lies in an area of our brain called prefrontal cortex that controls learning and understanding and is much smaller in these species. How did we evolve into a species with the large and smart brains? For this Drs. Quartz and Sejnowski take us on a journey though evolution to show how navigating the challenges of the environment helped spur our brainís development. However, the relatively larger and more developed brain that required time to build thought and information processes also necessitated an extended childhood. Thus the evolutionary changes in brain size had to be accompanied by a change in our social configuration as it was with greater parental and clan involvement in homo sapiens. Thus from time immemorial our biological and social origins seem to have been intertwined
What is most interesting is that the authors have touched on various aspects of human behavior-love, violence, compassion and curiosity and attempted to explain how and why our responses differ from those other species.
Liars, Lover, and Heroes is an excellent read which offers an insight into how special we are and how much we should appreciate that which makes us human.