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Evolving Brains

Allman, John Morgan (1999) Evolving Brains. Scientific American Library. No.68. Scientific American Library , New York, NY. ISBN 0-7167-5076-7.

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Given that all organisms share a common ancestry, why is it that they differ so greatly in their capacities to sense, remember, and respond to the world about them? How did we gain our ability to think and to feel? How do we differ from other organisms in these capacities? Our brain endows us with the faculties and the drive to ask these fundamental questions. The answers depend crucially on understanding how brains have evolved. This inquiry into brain evolution is interdisciplinary and multifaceted, based on converging evidence obtained from the study of the genetic regulation of development, the geological history of the earth, and the behavioral ecology of animals, as well as from direct anatomical and physiological studies of brains of animals of different species. From this investigation three themes will emerge: that the essential role of brains is to serve as a buffer against environmental variation; that every evolutionary advance in the nervous system has a cost; and that the development of the brain to the level of complexity we enjoy -- and that makes our lives so rich -- depended on the establishment of the human family as a social and reproductive unit. I will begin by considering one of the basic problems faced by all organisms: how to find food and avoid hazards in a constantly changing world. This leads to the question of how nervous systems detect and integrate the vast array of information available to them and derive from this flood of data adaptive behavioral responses. The evolution of nervous systems depended on a unique mechanism for communication, the action potential, a self-renewing electrical signal that moves along specialized neural fibers called axons that serve as the wires connecting nerve cells. By permitting the development of large nervous systems, this mechanism for neuronal communication made possible the emergence of complex and diverse forms of animal life.

Item Type:Book
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Subject Keywords:Biology
Series Name:Scientific American Library
Issue or Number:68
Record Number:CaltechBOOK:1999.001
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Usage Policy:You are granted permission for individual, educational, research and non-commercial reproduction, distribution, display and performance of this work in any format.
ID Code:25078
Deposited By: Imported from CaltechBOOK
Deposited On:16 Dec 2009 23:16
Last Modified:03 Oct 2019 03:02

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