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Thumbs, toes, and tears : and other traits that make us human / Chip Walter.

By: Walter, Chip.
Material type: materialTypeLabelBookPublisher: New York : Walker & Co., 2006Edition: First U.S. edition.Description: xiii, 256 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm.Content type: text Media type: unmediated Carrier type: volumeISBN: 9780802715272 (hbk.); 0802715273 (hbk.).Subject(s): Human evolution | Human beings -- Origin | Human beings -- Constitution | Emotions -- MiscellaneaDDC classification: 599.938 Review: "Among the countless traits and behaviors that separate us from the rest of the animal kingdom, six stand out - our big toe, opposable thumb, oddly shaped pharynx, and our abilities to laugh, kiss, and cry. Though seemingly unconnected, they are actually closely linked; each marks a fork in the evolutionary road where we went one way and the rest of the animal kingdom went another." "Science journalist Chip Walter tells the story of how these six unique human traits evolved, and his book provides insights into how we became the remarkable species we are. Drawing on complexity theory, the latest brain scanning techniques, and new insights from fields as diverse as anthropology, neurobiology, and artificial intelligence, Thumbs, Toes, and Tears reveals a creature whose social relationships, sexual behavior, and internal self-image were shaped by its ability to walk upright, make tools, use language, and bond deeply in a dangerous world." "As the story of each trait unfolds, Walter explains why our brains grew so large and complex, why we find one another sexually attractive, how toolmaking laid the mental groundwork for language, why we care about what others think, and how we became the creature that laughs and cries and falls in love."--BOOK JACKET.
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Enhanced descriptions from Syndetics:

The fascinating evolutionary links between six seemingly unremarkable traits that make us the very remarkable creatures we are.

Countless behaviors separate us from the rest of the animal kingdom, but all of them can be traced one way or another to six traits that are unique to the human race--our big toe, our opposable thumb, our oddly shaped pharynx, and our ability to laugh, kiss, and cry. At first glance these may not seem to be connected but they are. Each marks a fork in the evolutionary road where we went one way and the rest of the animal kingdom went another. Each opens small passageways on the peculiar geography of the human heart and mind.

Walter weaves together fascinating insights from complexity theory, the latest brain scanning techniques, anthropology, artificial intelligence, cognitive psychology, and robotics to explore how the smallest of changes over the past six million years - all shaped by the forces of evolution -- have enabled a primate once on the brink of extinction to evolve into a creature that would one day create all of the grand and exuberant edifices of human culture.

As the story of each trait unfolds, Walter explains why our brains grew so large and complex, why we find one another sexually attractive, how toolmaking laid the mental groundwork for language, why we care about what others think, and how we became the creature that laughs and cries and falls in love. Thumbs, Toes and Tears is original, informative, and delightfully thought-provoking.

Includes bibliographical references (p. 217-244) and index.

Includes bibliography (p. 217-244) and index.

"Among the countless traits and behaviors that separate us from the rest of the animal kingdom, six stand out - our big toe, opposable thumb, oddly shaped pharynx, and our abilities to laugh, kiss, and cry. Though seemingly unconnected, they are actually closely linked; each marks a fork in the evolutionary road where we went one way and the rest of the animal kingdom went another." "Science journalist Chip Walter tells the story of how these six unique human traits evolved, and his book provides insights into how we became the remarkable species we are. Drawing on complexity theory, the latest brain scanning techniques, and new insights from fields as diverse as anthropology, neurobiology, and artificial intelligence, Thumbs, Toes, and Tears reveals a creature whose social relationships, sexual behavior, and internal self-image were shaped by its ability to walk upright, make tools, use language, and bond deeply in a dangerous world." "As the story of each trait unfolds, Walter explains why our brains grew so large and complex, why we find one another sexually attractive, how toolmaking laid the mental groundwork for language, why we care about what others think, and how we became the creature that laughs and cries and falls in love."--BOOK JACKET.

COPYRIGHT OCLC 1978-2007.

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Reviews provided by Syndetics

Publishers Weekly Review

Humans are the only creatures that cry for both grief and happiness, although many animals shed tears that help protect their eyes. As science journalist and former CNN bureau chief Walter tells readers in this fascinating and superbly written book, there are a handful of characteristics (like crying) that distinguish us from the rest of the animal kingdom and can be explained in evolutionary terms as having been advantageous for our distant ancestors. Laughter is one: dogs may bark happily when they get to go for a ride or play with their canine neighbors, but only humans break into chortles and guffaws. Walter (who coauthored I'm Working on That with William Shatner) says that laughter helps us bond with our friends and co-workers. He points out that we give our big toe little thought until we stub it, but its evolution allowed Homo erectus to stand upright millions of years ago and led to other helpful evolutionary features, like the pharynx which in turn made speech possible. Readers also learn why we tousle our children's hair, why kissing is so much fun and what may lie ahead as we near the end of our current evolutionary reel. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

CHOICE Review

The emergence of humans in their present form is an appealing scientific topic due to the incomplete evidence relating humans to their nonhuman ancestors. Walter (Carnegie Mellon) brings forth several new/previously ignored perspectives of human evolution. In the book's early chapters, he presents the development of humans based on traditional fossil evidence. He uses this traditional evidence to explain some unique characteristics separating humans from their ancestors, such as standing upright (a result of the development of uncurled toes) and developing thumbs capable of making tools. The book's most intriguing chapters describe the evolutionary development of traits distinctive to humans. These include the evolution of a highly specialized brain leading to complex speech patterns, along with the abilities to kiss, cry, and laugh. In discussing the development of the latter three traits, Walter uses experimental data in a highly thought-provoking style to support the possible functions and evolutionary advantages of these three unique human attributes. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-level undergraduates through faculty/researchers; general readers. L. Brancaccio Taras CUNY Kingsborough Community College

Booklist Review

A science journalist tours a suite of characteristics, both anatomical and behavioral, that typify human beings. Such excursions often concentrate on a single trait (e.g., Craig Stanford's Upright, 2003), so Walter is gathering many topics under one roof. Two of them his readers can consult directly: the big toe and the thumb. His discussion covers their functions, considered against the evolutionary advantages they might have conferred on the African savanna. In that vein, Walter presents paleoanthropology and famous fossils such as Lucy. He also directs attention to the applicability of genetics and neurobiology to unique human qualities, especially brain size. Its increase through the series of hominid species guides Walter's exploration of the ramifications of humans' large brain, such as self-awareness, language, and emotion. For those who wonder if talking and crying have evolutionary origins and survival benefits, Walter points to scientists active in researching such questions. A fluid introduction to the development of the human species. --Gilbert Taylor Copyright 2006 Booklist

Kirkus Book Review

Walter (Science Writing/Carnegie Mellon Univ.) celebrates Vive la diffrence--not so much between the sexes as between us and other primates. The author recaps early hominid history on African savannas, detailing how a change in the position of the big toe (facing forward and not sideways) enabled not only upright posture but facility in movement. The opposable thumb in turn was the nifty mutation that led to a tool-making tradition. Now add neoteny, the delay in development so that adult forms of a species retain some infantile characteristics. In the case of Homo sapiens, neoteny means that babies are born highly immature, a painful compromise made necessary to allow the baby's head to pass through a birth canal narrowed by the change to upright posture. These are twice-told tales, which Walter narrates with flair and enthusiasm, often relating the anatomical change to behavior. In the case of babies, there is a need for extended periods of parental care and nurturing, with all that implies about social bonding, securing a helpful mate and so on. For the rest of the book, Walter embarks on less familiar, more speculative ground. Clearly, language is a distinguishing human characteristic, which depends anatomically on a unique change in the position of the larynx in relation to the pharynx and the tongue, but whether gestures or grunts or both were precursors is not clear. Then it's on to laughter, self-consciousness, tears and kissing: Here, Walter trots out numerous behavioral studies, brain imagings, evolutionary psychology research and anthropological lore to illustrate theories of why the behaviors developed. In general, Walter sees these activities as means of strengthening communication in a species dependent on social interaction. Alas, by the end, he is all too ready to spout arguments on sex differences that parrot ex-Harvard president Lawrence Summers, as well as the bits about males sowing their seed whenever they can, while choosy women look for male power and support. Lively writing throughout--just take some of it with a grain of salt. Copyright ┬ęKirkus Reviews, used with permission.