Sunday, May 24, 2009

Fascinated By The Human Brain

Behavioral biology, race and sex differences and non-differences, religion/spirituality, intelligence, morals, sanity/insanity, normal/abnormal - all these are subjects of great interest to me. They all involve neurobiology.

I read several reviews of a book I've got from the library called The Geography of Thought by Richard Nisbett. Truly I should probably quit reading so many reviews before reading the work, it often feels as if I no longer need to read the book! So far I'm disappointed to see that there is likely no specific discussion of neurobiological findings that correlate or not to the culturally induced differences in perception and thought between Asians and Westerners studied in this book. The whole reason I wanted to read this book was to find out if there are such differences and if so, are they genetic or environmental? Do the cultures actually change the physical brain? Now it seems that the focus is simply that culture 'determines' perception to a great extent - wasn't that always obvious?
Still, the first chapter brings up the question of the concept of free will so now I have to read it anyway.

The reviews of this book referred to another book that I definitely want to read - Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. This one addresses the fears of many that acknowledging genetic differences give rise to a justification of discrimination. I believe it also considers the opposite, that these differences will be used to excuse behaviors by saying "he couldn't help it, he's just made that way."

These two books will tie in quite well with the lecture series Biology and Human Behavior: The Neurological Origins of Individuality that I just finished (watching, not writing, they're by Robert Sapolsky). Sapolsky teaches that the findings are showing experience literally changes the brain physically and chemically; then the behavioral outcome affects the environment of oneself and others which once again, changes or reinforces the brain's working. Fascinating!

I've wondered for a long time, since I've had children at least, how much one's innate traits can be directed. For example, a ... never mind, next post, it's late.

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