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The Tangled Wing

Melvin Konner

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Evolution happens, people evolved from apes, women behave differently than men. Probably these conclusions will surprise few in the audience, however this book presents a considerable amount of striking evidence. This is the second edition of a book that was first published in 1983. It seems that the evidence has been updated with recent research supporting these conclusions, but the aim of the argument has remained the same. Such conclusions were more controversial back then.

There is some wonderful evidence of the non-puzzling sort. We were struck by the experiments that investigated the genetic nature of behavior differences between breeds of dogs (Basset hounds and Basenji.) Using classic Mendelian breeding and statistics (rather than any modern DNA technology) they showed that differences in how much a dog feared humans and ??? were caused by one or two genes each. This example is particularly compelling because of its use of a dogs rather than some less familiar animal, and because the idea of “breed personality” is fairly well accepted.

Another strength of this book is the use of anthropological evidence about “those tribes” that people are always talking about. The description of the circle trance-dance used by the Kalahari San for faith healing evokes vivid images and a real feeling of warmth and familiarity toward these people. And he goes on to describe that there is quite old rock art attributed to the San near where they currently live, and a dance circle is worn into the stone around a fire-pit. He suggests that this circle-dance is a thousand years old.

He also talks about the importance of talk around the firepit. When there is social conflict these discussions can last all night, for weeks.

These stories give a feeling for what it might have been like to be a prehistoric hunter-gatherer, both the day-to-day life and also what is (to a modern audience) an astounding lack of cultural change over time. This is the dreamtime.

This book also has a nice humility and balance lacking in the more one-sided “high-school debate team” feel of smarty-pants works such as The Blank Slate, though the content is quite similar. However a feeling of frustration comes through at times, which gives the discussions of gene/environment interaction a somewhat perfunctory feel.

books/tangled_wing.txt · Last modified: 2010/12/12 20:33 by ram