A leading neuroscientist explains why your personal traits are more innate than you think
What makes you the way you are – and what makes each of us different from everyone else? In Innate, leading neuroscientist and popular science blogger Kevin Mitchell traces human diversity and individual differences to their deepest level: in the wiring of our brains. Deftly guiding us through important new research, including his own groundbreaking work, he explains how variations in the way our brains develop before birth strongly influence our psychology and behaviour throughout our lives, shaping our personality, intelligence, sexuality, and even the way we perceive the world.
We all share a genetic program for making a human brain, and the program for making a brain like yours is specifically encoded in your DNA. But, as Mitchell explains, the way that program plays out is affected by random processes of development that manifest uniquely in each person, even identical twins. The key insight of Innate is that the combination of these developmental and genetic variations creates innate differences in how our brains are wired – differences that impact all aspects of our psychology – and this insight promises to transform the way we see the interplay of nature and nurture.
Innate also explores the genetic and neural underpinnings of disorders such as autism, schizophrenia, and epilepsy, and how our understanding of these conditions is being revolutionized. In addition, the book examines the social and ethical implications of these ideas and of new technologies that may soon offer the means to predict or manipulate human traits.
Compelling and original, Innate will change the way you think about why and how we are who we are.
Kevin J. Mitchell is associate professor at the Smurfit Institute of Genetics and the Institute of Neuroscience at Trinity College Dublin. He contributed to The Future of the Brain: Essays by the World's Leading Neuroscientists (Princeton) and runs a popular blog called Wiring the Brain. He lives in Portmarnock, Ireland.
"A powerful antidote to genetic determinism."
– Barbara Kiser, Nature
"A lucid, up-to-the-minute account of the human mind [...] In considering the social, ethical, and philosophical implications of the accumulation of scientific discoveries, Mitchell changes the paradigm of what truly defines human nature."
– Tiffany Jeung, Inverse
"Innate is the best guide to the intersection of neuroscience, psychology, and genetics that I've found in recent years [...] If there's any question you have about how our brains make us who we are, chances are you'll find an enlightening answer in Innate."
– Carl Zimmer, Publishers Weekly
"A good read for anyone at any age interested in how we get to be who we are [...] Let us get books like Innate into the hands and minds of students as early as possible so that informed public discussion of ethical, social, and political issues surrounding genetic knowledge keeps pace with the inexorable growth of that knowledge."
– Richard Haier, Quillette
"An engaging science book."
– Anthony King, Irish Times
"Nature versus nurture is a centuries' old distinction, but neuroscience and genetics are taking us to a new level of sophistication in understanding it. We are going beyond the realization that nature and nurture are inextricable, and are now gaining insights about what nature contributes and how it makes nurture possible. Mitchell's book is a new landmark in this debate, with clear and substantive explanations of the new light that biology is shedding on an old question."
– Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of The Blank Slate and Enlightenment Now
"What makes you you? Are there genes for intelligence or sexuality? How much is your personality determined by genes and how much by environment? In Innate, leading geneticist Kevin Mitchell takes us on a fascinating journey into the science of nature and nurture, in health as well as in neurodevelopmental conditions such as autism and schizophrenia. It is a captivating read, and relevant to all of us."
– Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, author of Inventing Ourselves: The Secret Life of the Teenage Brain
"What makes people differ from one another, and how much does biology have to do with it? Kevin Mitchell bravely wades into some of the most politically fraught questions in science and delivers a clear, level-headed, up-to-the-minute account of what we do and don't know."
– Gary Marcus, author of Guitar Zero and The Birth of the Mind
"Innate is outstanding in every respect – timely, important, and unlike any other book. Kevin Mitchell is at the very top of his field, and he writes with exceptional clarity, using compelling and memorable examples. His stellar contribution on 'noise' during embryonic and later development will utterly change how many people think about individual differences and the role of genes. Innate is a flat-out winner."
– Patricia S. Churchland, author of Touching a Nerve: Our Brains, Our Selves
"Lucid and refreshing, Innate cuts through the Gordian knot of confusion about nature and nurture and heralds a sea change in psychology and neuroscience research and in the public's engagement with it. Kevin Mitchell explains the fundamental role of genetic factors in brain and mind development in a clear and compelling way. This is a truly important book."
– Uta Frith, author of Autism: A Very Short Introduction