The Altruistic Brain: How We Are Naturally Good

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9780199377466: The Altruistic Brain: How We Are Naturally Good

Since the beginning of recorded history, law and religion have provided "rules" that define good behavior. When we obey such rules, we assign to some external authority the capacity to determine how we should act. Even anarchists recognize the existence of a choice as to whether or not to obey, since no one has seriously doubted that the source of social order resides in our vast ethical systems. Debate has focused only on whose system is best, never for an instant imagining that law, religion, or some philosophical permutation of either was not the basis of prosocial action. The only divergence from this uniform understanding of human society has come from the behavioral sciences, which cite various biological bases for human goodness. Putting aside both ancient and relatively modern ethical systems, neuroscientists, psychologists, and evolutionary biologists have started a revolution more profound than any anarchist ever dreamed of. In essence, these researchers argue that the source of good human behavior - of the benevolence that we associate with the highest religious teachings - emanates from our physical make-up. Our brains, hormones, and genes literally embody our social compasses. In The Altruistic Brain, renowned neuroscientist Donald Pfaff provides the latest, most far-reaching argument in support of this revolution, explaining in exquisite detail how our neuroanatomical structure favors kindness towards others.
Unlike any other study in its field, The Altruistic Brain synthesizes all the most important research into how and why - at a purely physical level - humans empathize with one another and respond altruistically. It demonstrates that human beings are "wired" to behave altruistically in the first instance, such that unprompted, spontaneous kindness is our default behavior; such behavior comes naturally, irrespective of religious or cultural determinants. Based on his own research and that of some of the world's most eminent scientists, Dr. Pfaff puts together well-established brain mechanisms into a theory that is at once novel but also easily demonstrable. He further explains how, using psycho-social approaches that are now well understood, we can clear away obstacles to the brain's natural, altruistic inclinations. This is the first book not only to explain why we are naturally good, but to suggest means of making us behave as well as we can.
The Altruistic Brain is required reading for anyone who wants to understand the behavioral revolution in science and the promise that it holds for reorienting society towards greater cooperation.

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About the Author:


Professor of Neurobiology and Behavior,
The Rockefeller University
New York, New York

Review:


"Pfaff convincingly shows the science of altruism..." --Publisher's Weekly


"Written in a highly readable style, The Altruistic Brain summarizes the current state of knowledge in the field and offers an excellent starting point for readers who are interested in learning more about the biology and neuroscience of human prosociality." --Science


"[A]ccessible to nonscientists." --The Scientist


Recommended as a summer read by the Ames Tribune.


"The book is most useful as a scientific refutation of the idea that human beings are innately selfish or innately cruel. Pfaff musters a great deal of evidence to show that the Christian notion of original sin -- and the capitalist notion of human self-interest as a sole motivating force -- are both unsustainable, at least in their more simplistic forms." --Pacific Standard


"In combination with the accessibility to the general reader, Pfaff has done a magnificent job in compiling, reinterpreting, and presenting the neuroscientific evidence available as of today. ... Due to the breadth and range of consequences that the idea of humans having a predisposition for altruistic behavior implicates, the book should be obligatory reading not just for (cognitive) scientists and (moral) philosophers interested in the subject matter but everyone who is involved in decision-making processes in regard to social and legal policy." --Frontiers in Psychology


"In sections worth reading twice, Pfaff posits the neural and hormonal mechanisms that promote prosocial behavior while in another, he takes a hard look at ways in which the altruistic brain deals with individuals' bad behavior. In the process he sets aside the traditional Christian idea of original sin as well as the capitalist notion that greed is good." --Spirituality and Practice


"On solid scientific ground, [Pfaff] builds a five-step theory of how altruism occurs..." --New Scientist


"This is the first book not only to explain why we are naturally good, but to suggest means of making us behave as well as we can. The Altruistic Brain is required reading for anyone who wants to understand the behavioral revolution in science and the promise that it holds for reorienting society towards greater cooperation." --BookRiot


Featured in the Financial Times.


"[A]n impressive compendium of research from evolutionary biology, neuroscience, developmental and social psychology, the biochemistry of hormones, and comparative religion as the basis for the argument that altruism is innate in humans and the Golden Rule is an ethical universal principle. Intended for readers without a science background, The Altruistic Brain is written in a style similar to Malcolm Gladwell's books (e.g., David and Goliath, 2013). Pfaff presents a wealth of interesting information that would appeal to a wide readership including undergraduate and graduate students." --PsycCRITIQUES


"Accessible to a lay audience, this is the only title to treat this topic. It will interest students in neuroscience and psychology in addition to educators and policy makers. Highly recommended." --CHOICE


"A splendid read and a real tour de force of brain science, this book proves that altruistic behaviour has the power to shape our brains and, consequently, our destiny -- a revolutionary insight that continues to provide debate among those who care about the future of man's role in the human society. Anyone seeking to learn about the amazing altruistic mechanisms of the human brain should read this book, which excels at spreading enthusiasm for altruistic behaviour by forging scintillating concepts out of difficult ideas." --The Tribune India


Featured in -Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith


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