A wise old psychologist collects a lifetime of neurological pearls.
Corballis (Psychology, Emeritus/Univ. of Auckland; The Recursive Mind: The Origins of Human Language, Thought, and Civilization, 2011) writes a column for New Zealand Geographic: short, ingenious, four to five page essays on his specialty. Is our brain the largest? No; larger animals have larger brains. Is it the largest in relation to body size? No; mice and small birds do better. Corballis turns up measurements that place the human brain at No. 1 but admits that the most impressive fact is that we are the only species investigating the problem. The usual myths fall by the wayside. No one knows who first claimed that we use only 10 percent of our brain, but no imaging study detects areas that remain silent as if waiting to perform. The belief that our right brain governs creativity while the left sticks to boring rationality is not likely to disappear, despite Corballis’ skepticism. He explains why humans are skilled at recognizing faces but not shoulders, feet or names. As for our vaunted memory, the author points out that nature designed it to plan future actions, not to record the past (which has no evolutionary value). As a result, accuracy has a low priority, and human memory is wildly unreliable. Swearing is more common in extroverts and the uneducated, less so in introverts and religious people. Often a mark of coolness today, religious, excretory and sexual obscenities have lost their impact; racial epithets remain the only major taboo.
A thoroughly enjoyable exploration of questions even astute readers may not have thought worth asking.