Book Reviews - Winter 2021

Thought Experiment

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Exploring the evolutionary origins of our brains

By Elizabeth Marshall Thomas | December 7, 2020

Metazoa: Animal Life and the Birth of the Mind by Peter Godfrey-Smith; Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 352 pp., $28

I’ve written several books about the natural world and read countless others, but never have I encountered anything like Metazoa. In it, Peter Godfrey-Smith, a professor of history and philosophy of science at the University of Sydney, focuses on the evolutionary developments that shaped our brains, and no matter how much you think you know about these developments, his book will deepen your understanding.

Subjects such as the evolution of the mind are usually discussed by scientists in papers intended for other scientists. Are these papers interesting? Not really, because so many scientists don’t seem to care whether or not nonspecialists understand them. As science journalist Dalmeet Singh Chawla recently commented, “Science is becoming more difficult to understand due to the sheer number of acronyms, long sentences, and impenetrable jargon in academic writing.” How true.

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