THE ROOTS OF THE SELF by Robert Ornstein

THE ROOTS OF THE SELF

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 From ebullient popular-science writer Ornstein (The Evolution of Consciousness, 1991, etc.): a theory of human nature, based on recent studies in child development, brain structure, personality, and genetics. There's no such thing as a ``true self,'' says Ornstein: We're a composite of influences and possibilities, directed--but not entirely ruled--by our genetic heritage. The broad outlines of Ornstein's patchwork human being will be old hat to readers with even a surface knowledge of the subject as the author runs through the influence of evolution and genes; the mystery of lefthandedness; the role of the family; and differences between the sexes (adventurous men, nurturing women). Sometimes his critical criteria seem contradictory: He rejects IQ as an indicator of race-based differences but accepts it as an indicator of birth-order differences (first-borns have higher IQs). Overall, Ornstein's view of human nature falls comfortably within neoliberal lines: We're a mix of genes and environment, about which we have some--but not too much--say; all the races and sexes are just about equal. More original is his explanation of human aberration. Ornstein divides behavior into three modes: ``gain'' (introverts vs. extroverts); ``deliberation-liberation'' (planners vs. free spirits); and ``approach-withdrawal'' (optimists vs. pessimists). Those who move to the extreme in any mode become psychotic--excessive ``deliberation-liberation'' melts into schizophrenia or obsessive-compulsive disorder, for instance, while excessive extroversion becomes criminality. Ornstein thus redefines psychosis as an excess of normal behavior rather than as an utter break from normality: This provocative thesis deserves investigation. Unusual roots, worth chewing on--but more weeding would have helped. (Illustrated with 40 cartoonish line drawings by Ted Dewan)

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-06-250788-5
Page count: 256pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1993




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by Robert Ornstein

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