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The Birth Of The Mind: How A Tiny Number Of Genes Creates The Complexities Of Human Thought

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  188 Ratings  ·  19 Reviews
In The Birth of the Mind , award-winning cognitive scientist Gary Marcus irrevocably alters the nature vs. nurture debate by linking the findings of the Human Genome project to the development of the brain.Startling findings have recently revealed that the genome is much smaller than we once thought, containing no more than 30,000-40,000 genes. Since this discovery, scient ...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published December 15th 2003 by Basic Books (first published January 28th 1963)
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Mark Longo
Aug 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
How can a paltry 30,000 genes code for the production of a human being with its trillions of cells, each cell itself an exquisitely complex assembly of interacting organelles, microstructures and molecules? It would seem there wouldn't be enough information contained in such a small number of instructions. Marcus does a masterful job explaining how this so called "gene deficit" is simply a result of thinking of genes the wrong way. The genome is not a blueprint or otherwise static list of instru ...more
Nov 20, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book explores brain development, using examples from neuroscience, behavioral psychology, and genetics. There are some interesting case studies involving babies and their flawed perception of the world at early ages. Also, there were surprisingly barbaric neuroscience experiments investigating the development of the visual cortex in kittens. If you're interested in brain development, this is worth reading. It's a smooth and easy read, which highlights various research efforts on the subject ...more
Jimmy Ele
Very interesting book that lightly touches on (redundancy alert) how a tiny number of genes creates the complexities of human thought. I give it 3.5 stars which is half a star more than liked it. The reason for it losing 1.5 stars IMO is because the author has not familiarized himself with the teachings of Harun Yahya, and therefore has fallen prey to believing that evolution could create by itself (through random mutations) organisms as complex as human beings. The chapter entitled "The Evoluti ...more
Jan 20, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: white
Gary Marcus gives us a thoroughly readable and enjoyable survey of what is known and surmised about how our genetics affects our brain, and what it does. The illustrations are pertinent, the mix of technical terms and memorable anecdotes is just about right, and a wide range of great thinkers (Pinker and Dawkins, Crick and Mendel) are called upon to help illustrate the problems and their purported solutions.

But, does it really give us anything we didn't already have, this book?

In some sense, the
Aug 11, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Lots of fluff without much new information.

Some gross errors that diminish the book,
like talking about "the genes for gender",
pardon me, but while some languages may have "gender"
people and other animals have sex.

I'm not surprised that errors like this are made,
but rather there seems to be no fact checker or editor to clean up the messes the author makes.

The author talks a lot about "identical twins",
and how they're not really identical.

True, that's because they are not really identical,
they ar
Colin Mckenna
Mar 22, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, psychology
This is the first time I have read a nuanced, enlightened explanation of the nature/nurture debate. Usually the writer on this topic is in one camp or the other, or the explanation is very reductive. Marcus covers many shades of gray, and though there is no satisfyingly clean answer, he never insults the reader by pandering to oversimplified theories. It almost seems like there is a waltz between the environment and our DNA, with one partner leading and then the other, to suit the moment. I can ...more
Aug 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Lots of fluff and not a lot of new information? Huh, one of the things I liked about this book is that it DID NOT add in a bunch of fluff. At less than 200 pages for the main part of the book, it's quite concise.

He looks at lot of the claims that because we have so few genes or that because the brain is so plastic that there can't be anything innate. He shows how genes play a developmental role in the brain and how they are necessary for every day brain functioning.

He also shows how the capaci
Mei Yue
Mar 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
Learning is a prenatal inaugurated ability that is so mysterious to our understanding. According to the contant of this book, it stated that even a four days new born could have its recognition ability in a module of an adult's congnitive ability.
A paltry of restricted number of genome is responsible for the developement of the nervous system and in the view of a shifted module of systematic calculation in maths, the genome is rather small in munber, so meagre to have the whole brain controlled
Sam Chittenden
Oct 19, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was the first scientific book I read that I actually enjoyed. I read it for a 9th grade book report (you’re reading it now), and it wasn't just some professor rambling on for hours. It is a relatively short read at 189 pages (not including glossary and references), and is very informative.

The first couple of chapters explain how genes work and doesn't talk much about the mind. After Marcus finishes explaining genes, he starts explaining how the brain itself works (with a chapter-long e
Theo Coffman
Feb 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is truly a book of wisdom. It opens door that no one would ever expect to be opened in your mind. It was a bit of a tough read but getting through expanded my knowledge on how the brain is made. When it explained how the brain works it made me suddenly realize why I feel in certain ways and when. It explains that 30,000 genetics it takes to create a human however only no more than 20 genes is what it takes to create the brain. It is truly fascinating. Books like these are what can help ...more
Dec 08, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Un buon saggio sul cervello come organo prodotto dall'evoluzione e dal prodotto di un piccolo numero di geni.
Di difficoltà abbastanza alta, non è consigliato ai non specialisti, o comunque a chiunque non abbia già più di una infarinatura in neurologia, genetica, biologia molecolare, cibernetica.
CR Reading
Nov 26, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although focused on the gene expression side, the latter part in particular has a rather well balanced nature/nurture discussion, copiously researched and accessible for the "non-neuroscientist" reader.
Abdulla Al-shammari
Perfect introduction to genes for the non specialist. The flow of the book is smooth and it keeps you engaged. Will read more books by this author for sure as he has that rare gift of simplifying complex ideas.
Sep 08, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The title is an exaggeration. The book discusses some recent research of how brain and mind develops, but the truth is that we still do not know much about this complex process. If you want to find a coherent picture of mind development or a grand theory, you will be disappointed.
Nov 15, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
This is my introduction to genes. I think I made a good choice with this author.
m. soria
Aug 03, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
surprisingly quick read for such a big topic, but a great primer for venturing into evolution and the mind.
Dec 17, 2008 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Started it a while ago but had to drop it, I had too many things to do at my lab. However, I hope to pick it up again soon!
Jan 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
my PI asked me to read this for my neuroscience job this summer. easy to read, interesting science
May 09, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Scientific but the concepts are easily understood even if the detailed science is better if you have a biology background.
audie k richardson
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Gary Marcus is an award-wining Professor of Psychology at New York University and director of the NYU Center for Child Language. He has written three books about the origins and nature of the human mind, including Kluge (2008, Houghton Mifflin/Faber), and The Birth of the Mind (Basic Books, 2004, translated into 6 languages). He is also the editor of The Norton Psychology Reader, and the author of ...more
More about Gary F. Marcus...
“A major push is under way to figure out the molecular basis of those "critical" or "sensitive" periods, to figure out how the brain changes as certain learning abilities come and go. In some, if not all, of those mammals that have the alternating stripes in the visual cortex known as ocular dominance columns, those columns can be adjusted early in development, but not in adulthood. A juvenile monkey that has one eye covered for an extended period of time can gradually readjust its brain wiring to favor the open eye; an adult monkey cannot adjust its wiring. At the end of a critical period, a set of sticky sugar-protein hybrids known as proteoglycans condenses into a tight net around the dendrites and cell bodies of some of the relevant neurons, and in so doing those proteoglycans appear to impede axons that would otherwise be wriggling around as part of the process of readjusting the ocular dominance columns; no wriggling, no learning. In a 2002 study with rats, Italian neuroscientist Tommaso Pizzorusso and his colleagues dissolved the excess proteoglycans with an antiproteoglycan enzyme known as "chABC," and in so doing managed to reopen the critical period. After the chABC treatment, even adult rats could recalibrate their ocular dominance columns. ChABC probably won't help us learn second languages anytime soon, but its antiproteoglycan function may have important medical implications in the not-too-distant future. Another 2002 study, also with rats, showed that chABC can also promote functional recovery after spinal cord injury.” 2 likes
“Honey bees, too, use a highly specialized learning mechanism to help them figure out where they are going: the difference is that their system works based on the trajectory of a single star, our very own sun. Once again, part of the system is prewired, but part of it requires learning. The prewired bit is a mathematical function that relates the sun's position on the horizon to to a bee's orientation-but some of the values of the equation must be set, which is where learning comes in. What the bee learns is a highly specific bit of information about the sun's trajectory at the bee's particular latitude at a particular time of year. A five o'clock winter sun in Boston means something very different from a five o'clock summer sun in California, and a highly focused learning mechanism allows honeybees to take advantage of that information. We know that bees don't simply memorize a correspondence between particular places on the horizon and particular headings, because bees that have been raised in conditions in which they are exposed only to morning light can accurately use the sun as a guide during evening light.” 0 likes
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