Me, Myself, and Why: Searching for the Science of Self

Jennifer Ouellette. Penguin, $16 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-14-312165-7
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From an author with a flair for making complex subjects simple comes a clear, direct tour of the biology of the self. Ouellette (The Calculus Diaries) begins by divulging her personal investment in the nature vs. nurture debate: she is adopted. In what she initially hoped “would be a lighthearted romp through genotyping, a brain scan, and a few personality tests,” she finds instead just how convoluted the interactions of genetics and environment really are. Eye color, dislike of cilantro, and Huntington’s disease are genetic. Addiction, shyness, and neuroticism are genetic and environmental. To geneticist Dean Hamer, “Genes do not determine exactly what music is played—or how well—but they do determine the range of what is possible.” Ouellette discovers that neural imaging can find false positives, like brain activity in a dead salmon. But it can also tell you if you are having an emotion, a tumor, or Parkinson’s disease. Citing psychologist Andrew Gerber, Ouellette concludes that “self” starts with the preexisting constraints of “nature,” the genes and synapses that impose limits, like rules distinguishing a haiku from a sonnet: “Self is the content of what one builds out of those constraints.” Agent: Mildred Marmur, Mildred Marmur Associates. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 11/18/2013
Release date: 01/28/2014
Genre: Nonfiction
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