It is plausible that evolution could have created the human skeleton, but it is hard to believe that it created the human mind. Yet, in six or seven million years evolution came up with Homo sapiens, a creature unlike anything the world had ever known. The mental gap between man and ape is immense, and yet evolution bridged that gap in so short a space of time. Since the brain is the organ of the mind, it is natural to assume that during the evolution of our hominid ancestors there were changes in the brain that can account for this gap. What is Special About the Human Brain? is a search for those changes.
It is not enough to understand the universe, the world, or the animal kingdom: we need to understand ourselves. Humans are unlike any other animal in dominating the earth and adapting to any environment. What is Special About the Human Brain? searches for specializations in the human brain that make this possible. As well as considering the anatomical differences, it examines the contribution of different areas of the brain – reviewing studies in which functional brain imaging has been used to study the brain mechanisms that are involved in perception, manual skill, language, planning, reasoning, and social cognition. It considers a range of skills unique to us – for example our ability to learn a language and pass on cultural traditions in this way, and become aware of our own throughts through inner speech.
1: The mental gap
2: The anatomy of the brain
4: Manual skill
5: Speech and language
6: Cerebral dominance
7: Decision making and planning
9: Social cognition
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Professor Passingham was awarded a B.A in Psychology and Philosophy at the University of Oxford (1966), and an M.Sc in Abnormal Psychology at the Institute of Psychiatry (London) (1967). He did his Ph.D. in London under the supervision of Dr. George Ettlinger (1967-1970). He then returned to Oxford, initially on a programme grant to Professor Larry Weiskrantz and Dr Alan Cowey. In 1976 he was appointed to a University Lectureship in the Department of Experimental Psychology at Oxford, together with a Fellowship at Wadham College. He was made an ad hominem Reader in Cognitive Neuroscience in 1993 and a Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience in 1997. He has been an Honorary Principal at the Wellcome Centre for Neuroimaging (London) since 1994.