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On Deep History and the Brain

On Deep History and the Brain

Daniel Lord Smail
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Pages: 286
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  • Book Info
    On Deep History and the Brain
    Book Description:

    When does history begin? What characterizes it? This brilliant and beautifully written book dissolves the logic of a beginning based on writing, civilization, or historical consciousness and offers a model for a history that escapes the continuing grip of the Judeo-Christian time frame. Daniel Lord Smail argues that in the wake of the Decade of the Brain and the best-selling historical work of scientists like Jared Diamond, the time has come for fundamentally new ways of thinking about our past. He shows how recent work in evolution and paleohistory makes it possible to join the deep past with the recent past and abandon, once and for all, the idea of prehistory. Making an enormous literature accessible to the general reader, he lays out a bold new case for bringing neuroscience and neurobiology into the realm of history.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93416-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Toward Reunion in History
    (pp. 1-11)

    I have written this book for people who are interested in origins and believe that history should begin at the beginning. For centuries, in Europe, that beginning lay in the not-too-distant past, with the creation of man in the Garden of Eden. This was the story told by sacred history, and it was the platform on which history’s chronology was erected. Then, with the sudden and widespread acceptance of geological time in the 1860s, western Europe’s chronological certainties came crashing down. Stephen Jay Gould has called the discovery of deep time a cosmological revolution of Galilean proportions.¹ Over the course...

  5. ONE The Grip of Sacred History
    (pp. 12-39)

    Like any author engaged in the task of building a plot, the historian must grapple with the question of where to begin the story. For historians of the particular, the problem of origins is not especially acute. We choose some reasonably datable event and have that mark the beginning of our particular histories. General historians face a slightly different problem. General history, as defined by Herbert Butterfield, is a rational account of man on earth that explains “how mankind had come from primitive conditions to its existing state.”¹ I use the term to embrace the universal histories of the ancient...

  6. TWO Resistance
    (pp. 40-73)

    In the well-known critique of a historical anthropology offered in hisPeople of the Mediterranean(1977), John Davis commented wryly on how the anthropologies of his day were prefaced, almost obligatorily, with a few pages of history, often no more than three or four.¹ Because the past provided no informants, it was a world unknowable to the anthropologist, and so it could be safely left to the historians. He could have said much the same about how some of the general histories written in the 1960s and still in print in the 1970s contemplated the deep past of paleoanthropology. The...

  7. THREE Between Darwin and Lamarck
    (pp. 74-111)

    The Whiggish histories discussed in the first chapter were, with few exceptions, providential and triumphal accounts of man’s elevation from some primitive condition.¹ Their authors commonly gave ultimate credit to God or divinity but were also prone to give praise and blame to leaders and innovators. In either case, historians believed that the course of human progress was directed by a thinking mind, a style of reasoning that Daniel Dennett has characterized as “John Locke’s Mind-first model.”² A particularly vivid expression of this belief can be found in George Fisher’sOutlines:“There are laws of historical progress which have their...

  8. FOUR The New Neurohistory
    (pp. 112-156)

    Humans, as animals, are part of the natural world and subject to natural selection. Our genus has been around for more than two million years, and our particular species for more than a hundred thousand. Until the Neolithic revolution, natural selection acted primarily on foragers, gatherers, and hunters who lived in relatively small and widely dispersed bands on the African savanna, later throughout the world. Many of the things characteristic of our bodies and brains—upright posture, gut size, speech—emerged as adaptations for this ancestral ecology and lifestyle. Still others reflect a deeper primate or vertebrate legacy. Yet as...

  9. FIVE Civilization and Psychotropy
    (pp. 157-189)

    In everyday life, we do many things that alter our moods and feelings on a regular basis. These alterations are reflected in constantly changing levels of chemical messengers in our tissues and in our brains. In principle, an omniscient observer of human moods should be able to track these changes, like a technician in a recording studio facing an array of dancing meters. Each meter on the board would register a different neurochemical: serotonin, dopamine, all the androgens and estrogens, and dozens of others besides. Most bars, as they rise and fall, would follow a fairly slow rhythm, measured on...

  10. EPILOGUE: Looking Ahead
    (pp. 190-202)

    Around 1.7 million years ago, an early member of our genus,Homo,emerged in East Africa in the form ofHomo ergaster.For all intents and purposes, ergasters were of much the same height and weight as modern humans, and if their braincases were slightly smaller it was not by much, for the upper end of the ergaster range, around 1,100 cubic centimeters, nearly touched the lower end of the modern range, beginning around 1,200 cubic centimeters. The men and women were closer in size, unlike australopiths, among whom males could be as much as half again as large as...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 203-228)
    (pp. 229-246)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 247-271)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 272-272)