The Human Instinct Book Summary - The Human Instinct Book explained in key points
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The Human Instinct summary

Kenneth R. Miller

How We Evolved to Have Reason, Consciousness, and Free Will

4 (235 ratings)
27 mins

Brief summary

"The Human Instinct" by Kenneth R. Miller explores the evolution of human consciousness and the nature vs. nurture debate, arguing that genes and culture both play important roles in shaping who we are.

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    The Human Instinct
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    Natural selection explains a lot, but not all, of our evolution.

    Charles Darwin gets top billing as the founding father of the theory of evolution by natural selection, but another British naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace, actually beat him to it.

    Wallace and Darwin were colleagues, penpals, and a source of support to one another. In fact, a letter from Wallace prompted Darwin to publish his groundbreaking work, On the Origin of Species in 1859.

    But, as time passed, Wallace began to have doubts. The theory wasn’t enough.

    How could it be, he wondered, that a mind adapted for mere survival could paint a portrait, construct a cathedral, or compose a symphony? How could such a mind uncover the scientific truths of the universe?

    The answer may lie in a truth that both Darwin and Wallace understood: not all evolution is directly attributable to natural selection. In other words, evolution leaves room for accidental and fortuitous outcomes.

    The strange abilities of the human brain may result from one such happy accident.

    About three million years ago the human brain began to grow, and within what amounts to a geological instant, it tripled in size.

    We’re still exploring why this happened, but we know this much: our new, big brains not only helped us walk, talk, forage, and hunt, they also gave us abilities that had no immediate bearing on survival. That’s the “accidental and fortuitous” part.

    For example, our big brains made it possible for us to contemplate ourselves, the earth, and the stars. They made it possible to find answers by creating myths, religion, art, literature, math, and science. They made it possible for us to understand evolution itself.

    In 1979, the evolutionary biologists Steven Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin coined a term for the happy accidents of evolution: spandrels.

    They borrowed the term from architecture, and it describes the triangular forms that allow an arch to support a dome in, for example, a cathedral. In their essay “The Spandrels of San Marco” Gould and Lewontin use the architectural features as a metaphor for the occasionally beautiful and often powerful byproducts of evolution.

    As we move through the next few blinks, keep spandrels in the back of your mind. We’ll learn more about how spandrels of the brain made us what we are. But first, we have to come to terms with some of the potentially dispiriting implications of our natural origins.

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    What is The Human Instinct about?

    The Human Instinct (2018) is a celebration of humanity’s development of reason, consciousness, and free will through the process of evolution. It shows that our remarkable capacities are all the more unique for having arising from natural origins.

    The Human Instinct Review

    The Human Instinct (2018) explores the fundamental question: what makes us uniquely human? Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • With in-depth research and compelling arguments, it challenges the notion that our instincts are predetermined, highlighting the complex interplay between nature and nurture.
    • Examining various aspects of human behavior, from language to morality, the book offers insights that challenge our preconceived notions and expand our understanding of ourselves.
    • The author's engrossing storytelling keeps readers captivated, making it a fascinating exploration of what makes us who we are, and ensuring that this book is definitely not boring.

    Who should read The Human Instinct?

    • Theologians, philosophers, scientists, and anyone else interested in the condition of our peculiar species
    • Anyone curious about evolution and what it means for humanity
    • Humans who enjoy contemplating our place in creation

    About the Author

    Kenneth R. Miller is a professor of biology at Brown University and the acclaimed author of Only a Theory and Finding Darwin's God. Miller testified as an expert witness in support of evolution in Kitzmiller v. Dover in 2005, a modern-day Scopes Monkey Trial.

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    The Human Instinct FAQs 

    What is the main message of The Human Instinct?

    The main message of The Human Instinct is to explore the origins and nature of human behavior, revealing our unique ability to cooperate and shape our world.

    How long does it take to read The Human Instinct?

    The reading time for The Human Instinct varies depending on the reader's speed, but it typically takes several hours. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is The Human Instinct a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The Human Instinct is a thought-provoking and fascinating book that offers valuable insights into human nature. It's definitely worth reading for anyone interested in understanding what makes us human.

    Who is the author of The Human Instinct?

    The author of The Human Instinct is Kenneth R. Miller.