Thursday, July 22, 2004

Humankind: A Brief History

Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Humankind: A Brief History
A slender volume packed with big questions. What makes us human? Tool-making? Ratiocination? Language? If we cannot effectively distinguish a bright line separating humans from apes, should we expand rights to our near relatives? Although Fernandez-Armesto offers no clear answer (nor does he set out to), his work sets out the historical, cultural, and scientific paths such questions have taken. And in the end:
That humans are uniquely rational, intellectual, spiritual, creative, conscientious, moral, or godlike seems to be a myth--an article of faith to which we cling in defiance of the evidence. But we need myths to make our irresoluble dilemmas bearable.... For now, if we want to go on believing we are human, and justify the special status we accord ourselves--if, indeed, we want to stay human through the changes we face--we had better not discard the myth, but start trying to live up to it.
A great complement and challenge to the ebullience of Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate.


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