3 out of 4 stars
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Why is our civilization experiencing an increase in stress-related disorders? What is the link between the technological and social evolution of humankind, chronic stress, and brain plasticity? Could these phenomena be elements of a new evolutionary path for our species? In Augmentation and Illnesses of Civilization, Dan M. Mrejeru fosters an in-depth, scholarly discussion of these complex questions.
The author’s core premise is that the human brain is going through a significant transformation that started about 30,000 years ago – a process he refers to as augmentation. He argues that this evolutive process is related to an increase in environmental complexity. This tendency is consistent with the thermodynamic concept of entropy – the propensity of systems to become disordered. Entropy implies growing uncertainty and a lack of control. These conditions generate a state of chronic stress that may cause adaptive changes in the structure of our brains.
I appreciated the way the author conveys complex science to a non-scientific audience. He uses thoughtful analogies and metaphors to make his points clear. "The Answers Are Blowing In The Wind" chapter is an example. At the same time, the many notable scientific references indicate thorough research. I particularly enjoyed the exploration of how language may be "the most important technology humans ever developed." Mrejeru explains the underpinnings of the brain's hemispheres and how chronic stress affects the left hemisphere, responsible for language and logic.
I could easily relate to most of the author’s points. It seems clear that current urban dwellers (like me) live in a very complex and artificial environment. I strongly agree that we live in a “climate of uncertainty and unsettledness about facts.” Also, we should seek to develop our “right-brain faculties” through artistic and meditative activities.
On the other hand, although I understand and agree with many hypotheses postulated by the author, some generalizations and simplifications made me uncomfortable. For instance, the claim that “all human diseases are the direct result of stress.” In my opinion, that is a bold assertion, especially if one considers the illnesses that affect low-income countries.
To sum things up, I thought this was a good read. It is a thought-provoking book in which the author abridges a great deal of scientific information. However, the text needs another round of proofreading, for there are several editing mishaps to be fixed. For this, I am rating this version of the book 3 out of 4 stars. I recommend it to readers who enjoy an accessible approach to science, provided that they don’t mind a few debatable generalizations and simplifications.
Augmentation and Illnesses of Civilization
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