DENIAL by Ajit Varki


Self-Deception, False Beliefs, and the Origins of the Human Mind
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A new answer to the question of why Homo sapiens are the only species to have developed a brain with complex mental abilities.

Varki (Cellular and Molecular Medicine/Univ. of California, San Diego; co-editor: Essentials of Glycobiology, 2002) and Brower, former professor of molecular and cellular biology at the University of Arizona, shared their ideas about the origin of Homo sapiens in 2005, but Brower died in 2007 before completing his manuscript on the subject. This book is a version of Brower’s draft that Varki has adapted and expanded. They propose that when humans gained not just self-awareness but an understanding that other individuals are also self-aware and have independent minds, they thus became aware of their own mortality. The overwhelming fear that such knowledge produced would have presented an evolutionary barrier had our species not simultaneously developed a neural mechanism for denying reality. According to Varki and Brower, this convergence of self-awareness and self-delusion was a highly unlikely event that has happened only once in the evolution of life on our planet. While some other species demonstrate features of self-awareness, the authors argue that humans are unique in the mental ability to deny reality, which has led to the development of religiosity, death rituals and theories of an afterlife. Reality denial, they write, has both positive and negative consequences on the personal, societal and global level. For example, on the personal level, Varki, a practicing oncologist, cites its positive value in the experience of patients being treated for cancer; however, on the global level, he discusses the negative impact of reality denial on the issue of human-induced climate change. The final chapter presents a number of arguments likely to be offered by those unconvinced by or opposed to the theory of reality denial.

A novel idea about the origins of the human mind but long-winded and repetitious in its development.




Pub Date: June 4th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-4555-1191-4
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Twelve
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2013


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