Sunday, 22 January 2012

What does it mean to be human?

I've just splashed out  for another book I can't afford. This time it's Beyond Human Nature: How Culture and Experience Shape Our Live by Jesse J Prinz. New Scientist had an interview with Prinz in the 21 January 2012 issue. (There is a link to the interview, Humans Are Learning Machines, but you need to be a subscriber to access it). Also,  there was a favourable review of it in the London Times this morning. but it also requires a subscription to view.  If I were going to digress (which is of course exactly what  I am doing obviously),  I'd say something moody here about  the free dissemination of knowledge   disappearing and how  I guess soon only the rich will be able to afford the  luxury of information.

Prinz emphasizes  flexibility, nurture and cultural influences as the important ingredients in arriving at what we are and what we might become. He makes short work of evolutionary psychology's claims that our natures are largely the result of our evolutionary origins. He disagrees with their assertions that since we evolved from  higher simians--bonobos, gorillas and some of the higher apes-- we must still be like them in critical ways.

The section on the cultural roots of depression were enlightening. For example, he  claims that depression does not have its origins in genetics only. He discusses the alarming increase in depression rates among young Americans. He thinks they result in changes in culture. In 1955 only 2% of  twenty-five-year-old Americans were depressed. Now the number is closer to one in every four American in that age group have had a severe bout of depression.  Prinz says the increase is due in large part to peer interaction. That is that we're learning from each other how to be depressed.


  1. If you don't like paying for "information", try to find it free online first. Search for books at for example. Probably not legal, but given the fully legal but morally outrageous prices for tiny little books, well... Prinz's new book does not seem available but his older book "the emotional contruction of morals", is ( Although Prinz is monstrously confused about moral theory. specifically meta-ethics.

  2. Hey Karen,
    I was missing you on the toob, so I stopped by and glad I did! You've picked up your blog again and you're reading...which is what I've been up to also during these wintery evenings. Also I sympathize with obscure searchings for articles of some authors before they were "known". Also, I'm not so much on the toob because of some local, actual, real, relevant concerns over the fate of certain near farmlands and water quality of Floyds Fork, the preservation of which would fit quite well with Prinz's cultural influence. An ethos of respect for the necessity of undamaged natural habitat as a positive cultural influence. In any case, I wish you a big hello and good reading.