The Deep History of Ourselves - Joseph LeDoux
The eons-long development of the mechanics of thought and other aspects of life are covered in this sprawling, sometimes indigestible treatise from NYU neuroscientist Le Doux (The Emotional Brain). Surveying the rise and evolution of life-forms out of the primordial soup, he highlights such milestones as the acquisition of neurons by jellyfish and the arrival of mammals with their structured brains. Le Doux then focuses on the neuroscience of how brains process information and control behavior, elaborating on two themes: that, contrary to conventional wisdom, one's emotions do not cause one's behaviors and that, contrary to anthropomorphism, nonprimate animals may not have emotions, or even consciousness. The book contains provocative, sometimes unsettling descriptions of experiments, by Le Doux and others, that demonstrate how much seemingly conscious, willed behavior is actually unconscious and automatic, along with detailed discussions of the complex interactions of perception, memory, emotions, and cognition that underlie consciousness. However, Le Doux's writing tends to bog down in impenetrably dense terminology: "The dorsal and ventral lateral prefrontal cortex regions also receive inputs from the multimodal convergence zone in the neocortical pareital and temporal lobes." Though this exhaustive study brings up some fascinating concepts, the often arcane presentation will deter all but the most devoted of lay readers.