Longlisted for the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award. A leading neuroscientist offers a history of the evolution of the brain from unicellular organisms to the complexity of animals and human beings today
Renowned neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux digs into the natural history of life on earth to provide a new perspective on the similarities between us and our ancestors in deep time. This page-turning survey of the whole of terrestrial evolution sheds new light on how nervous systems evolved in animals, how the brain developed, and what it means to be human.
In The Deep History of Ourselves LeDoux argues that the key to understanding all human behaviour lies in viewing evolution through the prism of the first living organisms. By tracking the chain of the evolutionary timeline he shows how even the earliest single-celled organisms had to solve the same problems we and our cells have to solve today in order to survive and thrive. Along the way, LeDoux explores our place in nature, how conscious brain function climbed the tree of life, and how the brain managed to transcend its early concern with survival to reach towards what we humans understand as consciousness.
Joseph LeDoux is the Henry and Lucy Moses Professor of Science at New York University, where he is a member of the Center for Neural Science and Department of Psychology. He directs the Emotional Brain Institute at New York University and at the Nathan Kline Institute, and is the author of the books Anxious, Synaptic Self, and The Emotional Brain. A member of the National Academy of Sciences, LeDoux lives in Brooklyn, New York
"Readers have good reason to ponder LeDoux's concluding challenge. [A] refreshingly lucid treatment of profound questions."
– Booklist (starred review)
"Plenty of popular authors describe the history of life, but LeDoux wants readers to remember as well as enjoy, so he divides his book into short, pithy chapters, each explaining a single evolutionary advance [...] Like all good educators, the author begins simply [...] [An] expert history of human behavior beginning at the beginning."
– Kirkus Reviews
"Joseph LeDoux deepens our understanding of a profound question as old as Aristotle: how does our mind set us apart from other species? We could not have a better guide: LeDoux is a world-leading neuroscientist whose research has taken him to the frontiers of behavior, emotions, and consciousness. With brilliance, wit, and wisdom, LeDoux traces four billion years of life, showing how humans share basic behaviors with one-celled organisms yet soar to a reflective self-awareness that may be unique in the universe. Utterly fascinating and a thrill to read."
– Jeffrey D. Sachs, University Professor at Columbia University
"Joseph LeDoux is the major scientist leading the current important effort to delineate the brain mechanisms of emotional states. In his most recent book, The Deep History of Ourselves, LeDoux attempts to connect the survival capacity of single-celled micro-organisms to the unique human capacity for survival. This capacity is importantly mediated by our ability to think, feel, and to contemplate not only our own past and future but the past and future of humankind. This is an extraordinary book. Indeed, as LeDoux points out, it is a deep history of ourselves."
– Eric R. Kandel, Kavli Professor and University Professor, Columbia University; Senior Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute; author of In Search of Memory and The Age of Insight; recipient of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
"LeDoux begins his new book with the biology of simple life forms but ends it, at the peak of biological complexity, with a closely argued defense of human feeling and consciousness as higher order cognitive processes. One does not need to agree with all of his positions – and I, for one, agree with many – to admire the quality of his achievement and to congratulate him on it."
– Antonio Damasio, Dornsife Professor of Neuroscience, University of Southern California, and author of The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling and the Making of Cultures
"Joseph LeDoux has provided a remarkable, personalized synthesis of zoology, neuroscience, psychology and philosophy: His main theme is the emergence of consciousness through the evolution of nervous systems and the behaviors they control: Not the tree of life, but the tree of consciousness, and where it may lead us. An amazing, mind-expanding read."
– Trevor Robbins, University of Cambridge, Recipient of the 2014 Brain Prize