The Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit

The Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit

Melvin Konner

Language: English

Pages: 560

ISBN: 0805072799

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

A vital updating of a seminal work of science
First published to great acclaim twenty years ago, The Tangled Wing has become required reading for anyone interested in the biological roots of human behavior. Since then, revolutions have taken place in genetics, molecular biology, and neuroscience. All of these innovations have been brought into account in this greatly expanded edition of a book originally called an "overwhelming achievement" by The Times Literary Supplement.
A masterful synthesis of biology, psychology, anthropology, and philosophy, The Tangled Wing reveals human identity and activity to be an intricately woven fabric of innumerable factors. Melvin Konner's sensitive and straightforward discussion ranges across topics such as the roots of aggression, the basis of attachment and desire, the differences between the sexes, and the foundations of mental illness.

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retarda­ tion in other abilities. Refinements in the study of William's syndrome children, along with the usual controversy, have left this basic generalization intact. Critics challenge the idea that language has its own special circuitry in the growing brain by rightly pointing to hemispherectomy. If an infant has her left cerebral hemi­ sphere removed, she will develop circuitry in her remaining right hemisphere that will handle language functions. While this tells us that there is great

permanence of the change. The error was,, to quote biologist Julian Huxley, to “forget that even the capacity to learn, to learn at all, to learn only at a definite stage of development, to learn one thing rather than another, to learn more or less quickly, must have some genetic basis." And through this error some were led to believe that the genes have receded into the distant background of behavior, while in fact they are too much with us, even now. An example from the laboratory rat shows

large population. They had access to excellent Danish records for the whole adoptive population twenty to forty-five years old in greater Copenhagen—more than 5,000 people. O f these, 33 were diagnosed as schizophrenic (a typical incidence); 28 of these had been adopted away from their biological parents before the age of six months. The 33 were carefully matched with 33 normal adoptees for demographic and economic characteristics. Several hundred relatives (adoptive and biological) of the two

what an integration might look like. Nearly two decades later, that integration looks reasonable, and shows signs of looking better in the future. I don't take credit for it; now, as then, I'm mainly summariz­ ing and reporting on it. But in some form this integration is bearing down like a bulldozer on theology, philosophy, and much of psychology, and it has under­ mined key theoretical pillars of social science. Yet the bulldozer is no set of simple neodarwinian ideas. Rather, it is behavioral

scientists in attendance, all reporting new discoveries each year about the workings of this least understood, most marvelous organ. We know a lot now, but it is only a fraction of what we need to know to encourage the brain to work consistently for us—instead of sometimes for, sometimes against. Among the facts established more strongly in the 1990s is that the brain's structure responds to experience, sometimes dramatically. Also, at the right age and in the right locations, you can lose large

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