Basic Instinct: The Genesis of Behavior

Mark S. Blumberg, Author
Mark S. Blumberg, Author , Thunder's Mouth $24 (261p) ISBN 978-1-56025-659-5
Reviewed on: 06/20/2005
Release date: 08/01/2005

This is a passionate (and at times polemical) survey of what contemporary neuroscience has to say about the nature of instinct. Actually, as it turns out, it might be more accurate to say the "nurture" of instinct, since Blumberg firmly argues against the perspective that what we think of as instincts are innate—he reframes "instincts," ranging from a baby's tendency to mimic faces to monkeys' fear of snakes, as a consequence of reflexes rather than innate knowledge. Though initially a bit dense with scientific jargon, the book picks up midway through, and the then generally accessible prose skillfully unpacks behaviors that seem instinctive, ranging from the mundane (getting thirsty) to the astonishing (androgenital licking in newborn rats). The writing is as persuasive as it is rich in intriguing detail, and a reader may well find that, by the end of the book, the word "nativism" (the perspective that animals and humans are born with cognitive instincts in place, which Blumberg at one point calls "an intellectual and experimental red herring") has become a dirty word. (Sept.)

The Best Books, Emailed Every Week
Tip Sheet!