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Publisher's Summary

A radical, optimistic exploration of how humans evolved to develop reason, consciousness, and free will.
Lately, the most passionate advocates of the theory of evolution seem to present it as bad news. Scientists such as Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, and Sam Harris tell us that our most intimate actions, thoughts, and values are mere byproducts of thousands of generations of mindless adaptation. We are just one species among multitudes and therefore no more significant than any other living creature.
Now comes Brown University biologist Kenneth R. Miller to make the case that this view betrays a gross misunderstanding of evolution. Natural selection surely explains how our bodies and brains were shaped, but Miller argues that it’s not a social or cultural theory of everything. In The Human Instinct, he rejects the idea that our biological heritage means that human thought, action, and imagination are predetermined, describing instead the trajectory that ultimately gave us reason, consciousness, and free will. A proper understanding of evolution, he says, reveals humankind in its glorious uniqueness - one foot planted firmly among all of the creatures we’ve evolved alongside and the other in the special place of self-awareness and understanding that we alone occupy in the universe.
Equal parts natural science and philosophy, The Human Instinct is a moving and powerful celebration of what it means to be human.
©2018 Kenneth R. Miller. All rights reserved. (P)2018 Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
2 out of 5 stars
By Gary on 07-01-18

Special pleading does not make you special

Man is special, creationist will say because God (Jehovah) created him in His Own image and thus allows man to stand apart from nature. The author will say that evolution through natural selection makes us significant, meaningful and special from and within nature and that we are more than just form and matter in motion. The author will say there is specialness for humans and while the universe was not teleologically driven to create us as an end point we are special beyond ourselves because of our conscious self awareness, reason and free will.

Humans as individuals take a stand on their own understanding. That makes us different but not necessarily special beyond ourselves. The meaning we have comes from our own search of the true, the good and the useful. (The author did quote from Kant and that is what Kant thought all philosophy should be about).

The author showed little depth on philosophical matters. He rightly mocked evolutionary psychologist when they extrapolated beyond the data. The author does mention Titus Lucretius and his ‘On the Nature of Things’. As the preacher said to Tom Joad in ‘The Grapes of Wrath’, ‘there ain’t no virtue, there ain’t no sin. There are just people doing things’. That is definitely an Epicurean sentiment and this author’s whole book is meant to disagree with that point of view. He thinks people are special beyond themselves, and our conscious self awareness, reason, and free will makes us special. I would say: logic preserves truth, it never creates truth; our reason is the label we put on things to justify ourselves to ourselves or others. Proust will say that ‘humans are the only animal that doubts their own reason’ in Volume II of ‘Swans Way’. It is our ability to doubt ourselves that make us human but not special, significant or meaningful beyond ourselves.

I can’t really say the author told me anything I didn’t already know. I’ve read or am at least very familiar with most of the people he talks about (Pinker, Harris, Dennett, Gould, Dawkins, Penrose, Nagel, Descartes, Kant and so on). His free will arguments lacked substance, and I don’t even want to bother refuting them.

We only have so much time to learn about our place in the universe. The author takes a perspective that is different from mine. I usually appreciate different perspectives, and the author impressed me with his biology knowledge. He was not impressive with his knowledge on Philosophy of Mind, neuroscience, reason, free will or philosophy or whenever he dropped a dead philosopher’s name all topics that he tried to talk about but only managed a superficial telling. I would recommend ‘Strange Order of Things’ by Damasio or ‘The Enigma of Reason’ by Hugo Mercier instead of this book. They cover most of the topics in this book but they at least provided depth for the topics under consideration and neither book fell into the trap of making humans special, significant or meaningful beyond themselves.

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