The Human Advantage: A New Understanding of How Our Brain Became Remarkable (MIT Press), by Suzana Herculano-Houzel

Free PDF The Human Advantage: A New Understanding of How Our Brain Became Remarkable (MIT Press), by Suzana Herculano-Houzel

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The Human Advantage: A New Understanding of How Our Brain Became Remarkable (MIT Press), by Suzana Herculano-Houzel

The Human Advantage: A New Understanding of How Our Brain Became Remarkable (MIT Press), by Suzana Herculano-Houzel

The Human Advantage: A New Understanding of How Our Brain Became Remarkable (MIT Press), by Suzana Herculano-Houzel

Free PDF The Human Advantage: A New Understanding of How Our Brain Became Remarkable (MIT Press), by Suzana Herculano-Houzel

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The Human Advantage: A New Understanding of How Our Brain Became Remarkable (MIT Press), by Suzana Herculano-Houzel

Humans are awesome. Our brains are gigantic, seven times larger than they should be for the size of our bodies. The human brain uses 25% of all the energy the body requires each day. And it became enormous in a very short amount of time in evolution, allowing us to leave our cousins, the great apes, behind. So the human brain is special, right? Wrong, according to Suzana Herculano-Houzel. Humans have developed cognitive abilities that outstrip those of all other animals, but not because we are evolutionary outliers. The human brain was not singled out to become amazing in its own exclusive way, and it never stopped being a primate brain. If we are not an exception to the rules of evolution, then what is the source of the human advantage?

Herculano-Houzel shows that it is not the size of our brain that matters but the fact that we have more neurons in the cerebral cortex than any other animal, thanks to our ancestors’ invention, some 1.5 million years ago, of a more efficient way to obtain calories: cooking. Because we are primates, ingesting more calories in less time made possible the rapid acquisition of a huge number of neurons in the still fairly small cerebral cortex — the part of the brain responsible for finding patterns, reasoning, developing technology, and passing it on through culture.

Herculano-Houzel shows us how she came to these conclusions — making “brain soup” to determine the number of neurons in the brain, for example, and bringing animal brains in a suitcase through customs. The Human Advantage is an engaging and original look at how we became remarkable without ever being special.

  • Sales Rank: #633575 in Books
  • Published on: 2016-03-18
  • Original language: English
  • Number of items: 1
  • Dimensions: 9.00″ h x .69″ w x 6.00″ l, .0 pounds
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • 272 pages

Review

Elephants have bigger brains than humans. So why are we more intelligent? Suzana Herculano-Houzel tells how her ability to count neurons gives us a radical new understanding of brain biology. Her science is convincing, fun, and inspiring. The Human Advantage is a game-changer.

(Richard Wrangham, author of Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human)

In this highly readable and entertaining book, Herculano-Houzel summarizes her unique and important body of work. Her numerous discoveries regarding the number of neurons in animal and human brains lead her to conclude that human brains are fairly typical primate brains, though they are unusually large. As fascinating as the science is her vivid account of both her research adventures and her challenges.

(Georg Striedter, Professor of Neurobiology and Behavior, University of California, Irvine; author of Principles of Brain Evolution and Neurobiology: A Functional Approach)

Beginning 1.5 million years ago with Homo erectus, Suzana Herculano-Houzel convincingly concludes that the human brain, a primate brain, owes its cognitive abilities to the number of neurons in the cerebral cortex. Engagingly and accessibly, she expands upon Wrangham’s and Aiello’s┬áhypotheses that the brain was ‘fed’ by calories from cooked foods.

(Frances Burton, Professor Emerita, Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto; author of Fire: The Spark that Ignited Human Evolution)

About the Author
Suzana Herculano-Houzel is Associate Professor at Vanderbilt University in the Departments of Psychology and Biological Sciences at Vanderbilt University.

Most helpful customer reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful.
In keeping with the great neuroanatomist, Santiago Ramon y Cajal
By Kelly Lambert
Suzana Herculano-Houzel has revolutionized the field of evolutionary neurobiology and her engaging story is told in her new book The Human Advantage. Being a neuroscientist myself for three decades, I can think of no other contemporary neuroscientist who has transformed the field as much as Dr. Herculano-Houzel—and she is just getting started! In keeping with the great neuroanatomist, Santiago Ramon y Cajal, she has redefined our thoughts about the neuroarchitecture of the human brain and its position among other mammalian (and non-mammalian!) brains. By devising innovative histological techniques to systematically quantify neural cells, her work confirms that neurons DO count and, as described in this book, they make humans stand out among the earth’s inhabitants. Point in case, Dr. Herculano-Houzel reminds us that humans are the only species trying to understand their own brains! In her informal, conversational tone, she takes the reader on her own fascinating professional journey—reminding us that it doesn’t always require the most expensive, sophisticated equipment to provide clues about some of natures’ greatest mysteries—but it does require sophisticated brains! There’s no doubt that Dr. Herculano-Houzel has the neural sophistication to continue to make significant contributions to the field of neuroscience. Welcome to the U.S., Suzana! You are now one of our country’s scientific treasures.

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful.
A big change for a neglected topic
By Peter McCluskey
I used to be uneasy about claims that the human brain was special because it is large for our body size: relative size just didn’t seem like it could be the best measure of whatever enabled intelligence.

At last, Herculano-Houzel has invented a replacement for that measure. Her impressive technique for measuring the number of neurons in a brain has revolutionized this area of science.

We can now see an important connection between the number of cortical neurons and cognitive ability. I’m glad that the book reports on research that compares the cognitive abilities of enough species to enable moderately objective tests of the relevant hypotheses (although the research still has much room for improvement).

We can also see that the primate brain is special, in a way that enables large primates to be smarter than similarly sized nonprimates. And that humans are not very special for a primate of our size, although energy constraints make it tricky for primates to reach our size.

I was able to read the book quite quickly. Much of it is arranged in an occasionally suspenseful story about how the research was done. It doesn’t have lots of information, but the information it does have seems very new (except for the last two chapters, where Herculano-Houzel gets farther from her area of expertise).

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful.
Challenging Brain Science Dogma! Herculano-Houzel, provides compelling evidence …
By jamie phillip hale
Challenging Brain Science Dogma!

Herculano-Houzel, provides compelling evidence that the human brain is remarkable, but yet not special. That is, not special when considered in the light of evolution. The human brain has a larger number of neurons in the cerebral cortex than any other species. The author argues we are primates and our brains have evolved in accordance with primate scaling rules that make it possible for a large number of neurons to fit into a relatively small volume as compared with other mammals. Thanks to the technological innovation, cooking, introduced by our ancestors we were able to escape the energy constraints of a raw food diet. Our neurons needed a larger number of calories that were only possible via cooking of food. This book challenges central tenets often promoted by authors, and instructors in neuroscience. Does the human brain consist of 100 billion neurons? Does the human brain consist of 10 x more glia than neurons? The answer is no to both of these questions.

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