What Makes Us Human? Book Summary - What Makes Us Human? Book explained in key points
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What Makes Us Human? summary

Charles Pasternak, editor

The Reasons Why We are So Different

4.1 (24 ratings)
31 mins

Brief summary

What Makes Us Human? edited by Charles Pasternak explores the nature of humanity from scientific and philosophical perspectives. The book investigates the origins of human consciousness, the potential for artificial intelligence, and ethical questions surrounding human genetic engineering.

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    What Makes Us Human?
    Summary of 13 key ideas

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    Key idea 1 of 13

    Genetics might explain the root of our unique cognitive abilities, but there’s more to the story.

    There are plenty of ways in which humans differ from other living creatures. After all, we cook our food, use language and even contemplate the meaning of life, while other animals do not.

    But all these differences share a common thread: they all have to do with our superior cognitive ability. So, where does our greater capacity for cognition come from?

    Geneticist Walter Bodmer says that it boils down to the specific genetic sequences that humans have. He believes that genetic differences distinguish Homo sapiens from other species, namely chimpanzees, who are our closest evolutionary ancestor and from whom we evolved.

    Human and chimpanzee DNA is very similar, possibly sharing up to 99 percent of our genetic material. That one percent translates to a 250-gene difference between people and monkeys.

    It’s possible that from those genes, humans gained the ability to think.

    The problem is, it’s difficult to determine exactly which genetic sequences account for this cognitive difference. Yet biostatician K.S. Pollard in 2006 showed that science is close to figuring this out.

    The work of Pollard and her colleagues led to the identification of 49 areas of mammalian DNA that had remained largely unchanged over millions of years – that is, until Homo sapiens split from chimpanzees. At this point, these DNA areas in humans evolved at a rapid pace.

    It stands to reason that these areas could be the genetic key to our unique cognitive abilities.

    So while a human’s capacity for cognition is likely a result of genetics, we can’t assume that genes alone are responsible. Our cognitive prowess has many by-products, such as musical and mathematical abilities, which can’t be explained genetically, because they aren’t a direct result of natural selection, the prime engine of evolution.

    Culture can shape cognitive characteristics, too. For instance, a baby born to an isolated tribe in the Amazonian jungle would think and act like a Westerner, if raised in a typical British home.

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    What is What Makes Us Human? about?

    In What Makes Us Human (2007), a group of experts shares ideas on this centuries-long question. These blinks plumb the depths of the mystery of our species, to discover why humans alone cook food to eat, think creatively and understand cause and effect.

    What Makes Us Human? Review

    What Makes Us Human? (2022) by Charles Pasternak, editor, explores the complex nature of humanity and offers thought-provoking ideas that compel readers to reflect on their existence. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • It dives deep into the fundamental questions regarding our origins, consciousness, and purpose, challenging readers to ponder their own existence.
    • With a multidisciplinary approach that draws on the fields of biology, psychology, anthropology, and philosophy, the book presents a comprehensive and diverse exploration of what it means to be human.
    • Through compelling anecdotes and scientific discoveries, the book provides valuable insights into the complexities of human emotions, relationships, and the quest for meaning.

    Best quote from What Makes Us Human?

    To be human is to imitate. – Susan Blackmore

    —Charles Pasternak, editor
    example alt text

    Who should read What Makes Us Human??

    • Scientists, philosophers and theologists
    • People who want to explore questions about human life

    About the Author

    Biochemist and author Charles Pasternak previously taught at Oxford University, where he founded the Oxford International Biomedical Center. His grandfather is Leonid Pasternak, the post-impressionist painter, and his uncle is Boris Pasternak, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist and author of Doctor Zhivago.

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    What Makes Us Human? FAQs 

    What is the main message of What Makes Us Human?

    The main message of What Makes Us Human? is to understand the essence of being human by exploring the biology and psychology that define us.

    How long does it take to read What Makes Us Human?

    The estimated reading time for What Makes Us Human? varies depending on your reading speed. But fear not! You can read the Blinkist summary in just a few minutes.

    Is What Makes Us Human? a good book? Is it worth reading?

    What Makes Us Human? is definitely worth reading. It offers a thought-provoking exploration of what truly makes us unique as individuals and as a species.

    Who is the author of What Makes Us Human?

    The author of What Makes Us Human? is Charles Pasternak.

    What to read after What Makes Us Human??

    If you're wondering what to read next after What Makes Us Human?, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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