The Throwing Madonna: Essays on the Brain (William H. Calvin Book 2)

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Playing on human psychological propensities rather than physical appearances? The evolution of Felis domesticus also known as Felis catus tells us something about the evolution of human reinforcers, about what we find sweet and pleasurable, and why. Although "sweet" has a specific meaning when looking at the neurophysiology of the tongue's taste buds, the concept of sweetness extends to other areas beyond food. There is a symbiotic relation between parent and offspring: Genes which reinforce this symbiosis are to the benefit of both parties and hence propagate the genes. Parents who respond to the sight of an infant by picking it up and cradling it are more likely to propagate their genes for doing so.

Sweet is more than quick-energy food related to our ancestors' fondness for for trees: After all, nurturing an infant is not a universal trait: They just try for large numbers and leave them to fend for themselves e. Other species invest a lot in a few offspring, the so-called "K selection.

A gene leading to cooing can interact with a gene leading to cradling, to the benefit of both.


Indeed, all of our elementary human pleasures probably have such a background. Anything that is sweet today is a clue to what was go for the species a long time ago. But the features which trigger such responses Konrad Lorenz called them "innate releasing factors" need not be perfect imitation of the original object. While the selection process may have involved a human baby, the trigger feature may simply be anything about the right size which combined cradling and cooing like the predatory birds and their snake nothing may have made us more discriminating in whom or wh we cuddle.

If the cat's purr can substitute for the coo, the cat has lucked in to a good deal. Because it can become the recipient some of the affection usually reserved for babies, it will stand much better chance of receiving food and shelter. Cats with purring genes, or genes leading them to seek being cradled, will survive much better than those without.

Over a long period time, wild cats in contact with humans will slowly develop some of those attributes which we humans find sweet, simply because we don't feel as compelled to feed and shelter the ones that are aloof. It probably started with orphaned kittens of Felis lybica being raised by some children playing house. This "lap-first" theory says that the cat was domesticated b mimicry of a trigger feature of the parent-infant symbiotic relationship. And what are those trigger features? But the ethologists studying ducks haven't had to use stuffed ducks -- something the right size and color, and maybe a little fuzzy, will work just fine to set off many behaviors in a real duck indeed, for some ducks, Konrad Lorenz himself sufficed.

For humans, one way to find out would be to use a stuffed animal and then subtract features until the cuddling response is lost. A do-it-yourself ethology assignment: Borrow some well-used stuffed animals with missing eyes, ears, or legs. Get some new versions, so that you have a full range of physical features. Now get a stopwatch and see how long people will hold each stuffed animal before laying it back down and selecting another.

Soon you'll have a reasonable idea of the essential trigger features for this kind of sweetness.

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Alternatively, consult the doll manufacturers. Lorenz noted in that the animals for which humans feel affection have large eyes, bulging foreheads, chins that tuck in rather than jut out, and a springy elastic consistency -- all characteristic of human infants. They say travel is broadening, and this comfortable cuddly? The first involved a feral cat, a domestic cat gone wild.

The apartments for the researchers are in a sylvan setting: It's really a wonderland, where deer graze outside your window, where the rabbits don't even bother to interrupt mowing the grass when you walk past. At night, there is a parade of raccoons making the rounds of doors where they are likely to get handouts. Some are quite aggressive and will march indoors and stridently demand the food off your dinner table: Others will hang back timidly. One night in the midst of this parade came a most impressive cat. It had the kind of large, bright, all-seeing eyes that one tends to associate with human geniuses.

It was quite wild, in the sense that it would not approach humans. There was clearly a working understanding between this feral cat and the raccoons; the cat may have been outnumbered, but one sensed that it had won a few arguments. Now they shared the bounty. But unlike the aggressive raccoons, the cat wouldn't come anywhere near the door.

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Timid may have described the raccoons that held back, but one would hardly label this cat timid: Calvin is a science essayist who writes with clarity and charm, making the mysteries of his subject accessible to all readers. In this collection of essays, Calvin presents an innovative explanation of how the brain works. Paperback , pages. Published June 1st by Bantam first published July Washington State Book Award To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

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This book reminds me of Goldy Locks and the Three Bears, because the first part is too cold, the second part is too hot, while the third part is Just Right. Well, substituting "simplistic" for "cold" and "complex and technical" for "hot," it works, anyway. The book is a series of essays written for general readers by a noted neurophysiologist, which is a somewhat bold move, and is perhaps understandably uneven. What is This book reminds me of Goldy Locks and the Three Bears, because the first part is too cold, the second part is too hot, while the third part is Just Right.

What is a throwing Madonna, you may well ask at least two people asked me, when they saw the cover. Basically, he suggests that handedness could have developed because mothers tend to cradle their infants on the left side nearer the heartbeat and that mothers, developing the skill of throwing rocks to kill game, might have thrived or died based on their ability to throw with the right hand, which led to people with more complex and stratified brain function surviving and producing more such mostly right-handed offspring.

The Throwing Madonna

Basically, in the essays in this section he dumbs things down more than he needed to for me at least. The journal articles at the back of the book were better organized and more convincing, and included much clearer evidence.

But this was far from the worst essay in the section. To my surprise, I found a few scientific articles that actually cited this general-audience book, not just his research. Apparently his idea about throwing being the trigger that developed handedness and possibly linguistic skills is still being seriously researched today.

At least one of his assertions, that humans are the only animals that throw one-handed has been discounted as anyone who has seen monkeys in the zoo fling poo knows , but this just means that studies of chimpanzees throwing things has become a new area of neurological research.

May 19, Honza Prchal rated it it was amazing. This books makes both neurology and evolutionary biology fun again for moderns, and the speculation has held up admirably over the succeeding decades. Feb 19, Jim Razinha rated it really liked it. Interesting essay collection from