Book Review: The Social Animal

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The Social AnimalNew York Times columnist David Brooks uses his book, The Social Animal, to assemble his evidence for the causes of success and failure in life, and to draw implications for social policy.

Brooks shares some insight in the way we learn and communicate, which I found interesting:

Automaticity is achieved through repetition, or “reach and reciprocity.” You start with the core knowledge in a field, for example, then venture out and learn something new. Then come back again and reintegrate the new morsel with what you already know. Then venture out again. Then return. Too much reciprocity and you end up in an insular rut. Too much reach and your efforts are scattershot and fruitless. Learning is not merely about accumulating facts. It is internalizing the relationships between pieces of information. (p. 87, 89)

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Comments (0) Aug 06 2011

Traditional Marriage: An Outmoded Institution

Posted under: philosophy, psychology.
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Adapted for Cogitations from a paper I wrote as part of my sociology coursework.

Human beings almost never have to be cajoled into pairing. Instead, we do this naturally. We flirt. We feel infatuation. We fall in love. We marry. And the vast majority of us marry only one person at a time. Pair-bonding is a trademark of the human animal (Fisher, 1992). In our pair bonding society we find our other half, become dependent, and walk off into the sunset of the nuclear family.

Men and women depended on each other from the beginning. Evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin suggested that on average men are more aggressive, and that they excel at higher mathematical problems, and at completing several visual-spatial-quantitative tasks. Women, on average, do more nurturing and exhibit more verbal skills and memory ability than men (Fisher, 1992). These gender differences make evolutionary sense. Aggression would have served men well as they confronted their predators and enemies, and nurturing capabilities of women caused them to show interest in their infants and tolerance of their needs. As ancestral males began to scout, track, and surround animals millennia ago, those males who were good at maps and mazes would have prevailed. Ancestral women needed to locate vegetable foods within an elaborate matrix of vegetation, so they developed a superior ability to remember the locations of stationary objects (Fisher, 1992).

In preindustrial Europe farming couples still needed each other to survive. A woman living on a farm depended on her husband to move the rocks, fell the trees, and plow the land. Her husband needed her to sow, weed, pick, prepare, and store the vegetables. Together they worked the land. More important, whoever left the marriage left empty-handed. Women and men were tied to the soil, to each other, and to a network of stationary kin (Fisher, 1992).
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Comments (7) May 05 2009