The Tangled Wing

The Tangled Wing : Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit

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Why do we behave as we do, and how are we to judge this behaviour in terms of right and wrong, good and evil, natural and unnatural? On the answers to these questions, whole systems of religion, law and government have been founded. Now, science has begun to address these same questions, offering data that is both exciting and controversial. Specifically concerned with the biological bases of human behaviour and human emotions, this book is a treatment of materials that have often been misused and exploited for questionable more

Product details

  • Paperback | 576 pages
  • 128 x 198 x 23mm | 337g
  • Penguin Books Ltd
  • London, United Kingdom
  • New edition
  • index
  • 0140176063
  • 9780140176063

Table of contents

Part 1 Foundations of a science of human nature: the quest for the natural; adaptation; the crucible; the fabric of meaning; the several humours; the beast with two backs; the well of feeling; logos. Part 2 Of human frailty: rage; fear; joy; lust; love; grief; gluttony. Part 3 The modification of behaviour: change. Part 4 Human nature and the human future: the prospect. Part 5 The tangled wing: the dawn of more

Review Text

The "tangled wing" is Konner's baroque metaphor for the human condition - suggested by an expert's comment on the archaeopteryx, known only as a crushed tangle of bone and rock: "It's a piss-poor reptile and it's not very much of a bird." We too are in a tangle - neither genetically-determined nor free to break all biological constraints. Konner, a young Harvard behavioral anthropologist (now in medical school), deals with the constraints in such notorious areas as male/female differences, violence, love, nature-nurture, and intelligence. Undaunted, he takes on all comers - sometimes jousting with Skinnerians and other arch-environmentalists, sometimes scoring the sociobiologists, Jensenists, and other arch-believers in genetic-destiny. His own, eclectic point of view is informed by studies of human groups and Primates, by investigation of rodents, by ethological observations, and by a variety of human behavioral data drawn from the neurosciences, Psychiatry, psychoanalysis, and experimental psychology. The text, an undergraduate course in embryo, is especially rich in discussions of emotions: fear, aggression, joy, love, grief, and so on. Konner extols, in particular, the limbic system of the brain. Papez, in the Thirties, and MacLean and other younger neuroscientists have made the hypothalmus, the hippocampus, the amygdala, and other brain nuclei the subject of telling experiments revealing the circuits and chemicals involved in each emotion. These studies, says Konner, provide ample reason to believe that males are more aggressive, females more nurturant. (As a safeguard against war, we ought therefore to have more women in high political office - excepting today's ali-too-masculine incumbents.) He has much to say also about the development of attachment and love - following Bowlby, but also quoting the distinguished neuroanatomist Walle Nauta (who sees the maturation of the limbic system at around seven months as possibly explaining the separation anxiety that occurs around that time). Generally, Konner brings to each subject an absorbing amalgam Of lab-bench and behavioral-study data, achieving a synopsis of what is known. The potential for good and evil co-exist, he concludes, and to free our tangled wing, we need to restore spiritual values and a sense of wonder. Occasionally, his enthusiasms embarrass - but for the most part Konner covers complex ground with subtle humor and fine imagery. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

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154 ratings
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