cover image The Human Instinct: How We Evolved to Have Reason, Consciousness, and Free Will

The Human Instinct: How We Evolved to Have Reason, Consciousness, and Free Will

Kenneth R. Miller. Simon & Schuster, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4767-9026-8

Miller (Only a Theory), professor of biology at Brown University, confronts both lay and professional misconceptions about evolution from both scientific and philosophical perspectives. He begins his fascinating work with a brief but cogent summary of the basics of human evolution, focusing on current data detailing highlights in the fossil record, genomic patterns attesting to the similarities found across a wide array of species, and the chromosomal relationships between humans and other primates. The conclusion he draws is clear and firm: “The intellectual burden of denying human evolution in the face of so many lines of evidence would be far too great for any fair-minded person to sustain.” Miller builds on this perspective as he addresses three controversial topics: evolutionary psychology, the nature and evolution of consciousness, and the existence of free will. He finds a middle ground between those who believe that evolution should explain every individual behavior and those who criticize evolution for not providing ready-made answers to vexing problems. Miller succeeds in his aims to correct misconceptions while showing that, instead of fostering a sense of pointlessness, learning about human evolution can produce a sense of “joy that we are approaching a genuine understanding of the world in which we live.” Agent: Barney Karpfinger, Karpfinger Agency. (Apr.)