The Altruistic Brain: How We Are Naturally Good

Hardcover | December 2, 2014

byDonald W. Pfaff

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Since the beginning of recorded history, law and religion have provided "rules" that define good behavior. When we obey such rules, we assign to some external authority the capacity to determine how we should act. Even anarchists recognize the existence of a choice as to whether or not toobey, since no one has seriously doubted that the source of social order resides in our vast ethical systems. Debate has focused only on whose system is best, never for an instant imagining that law, religion, or some philosophical permutation of either was not the basis of prosocial action. Theonly divergence from this uniform understanding of human society has come from the behavioral sciences, which cite various biological bases for human goodness. Putting aside both ancient and relatively modern ethical systems, neuroscientists, psychologists, and evolutionary biologists have started arevolution more profound than any anarchist ever dreamed of. In essence, these researchers argue that the source of good human behavior - of the benevolence that we associate with the highest religious teachings - emanates from our physical make-up. Our brains, hormones, and genes literally embodyour social compasses. In The Altruistic Brain, renowned neuroscientist Donald Pfaff provides the latest, most far-reaching argument in support of this revolution, explaining in exquisite detail how our neuroanatomical structure favors kindness towards others.Unlike any other study in its field, The Altruistic Brain synthesizes all the most important research into how and why - at a purely physical level - humans empathize with one another and respond altruistically. It demonstrates that human beings are "wired" to behave altruistically in the firstinstance, such that unprompted, spontaneous kindness is our default behavior; such behavior comes naturally, irrespective of religious or cultural determinants. Based on his own research and that of some of the world's most eminent scientists, Dr. Pfaff puts together well-established brainmechanisms into a theory that is at once novel but also easily demonstrable. He further explains how, using psycho-social approaches that are now well understood, we can clear away obstacles to the brain's natural, altruistic inclinations. This is the first book not only to explain why we arenaturally good, but to suggest means of making us behave as well as we can.The Altruistic Brain is required reading for anyone who wants to understand the behavioral revolution in science and the promise that it holds for reorienting society towards greater cooperation.

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Since the beginning of recorded history, law and religion have provided "rules" that define good behavior. When we obey such rules, we assign to some external authority the capacity to determine how we should act. Even anarchists recognize the existence of a choice as to whether or not toobey, since no one has seriously doubted that th...

Donald W. Pfaff is Professor of Neurobiology and Behavior at The Rockefeller University in New York, New York.

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:312 pages, 8.5 × 5.5 × 0.98 inPublished:December 2, 2014Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0199377464

ISBN - 13:9780199377466

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Table of Contents

PART 1 - EVIDENCE FOR ALTRUISTIC BRAIN THEORY1. The Biological/Evolutionary Role of Altruism2. Altruistic Brain Theory Introduced3. Primary Neuroscience Research Underlying Each Step of Altruistic Brain Theory4. Neural and Hormonal Mechanisms that Promote Prosocial Behaviors Once the Moral Decision is Made5. New Neuroscience Research: the Theory's Link to An Ethical UniversalPART 2 - IMPROVING PERFORMANCE OF THE MORAL BRAIN - REMOVING OBSTACLES TO GOOD BEHAVIOR6. How Altruistic Brain Theory Changes Our Perceptions of Ourselves and of Altruism7. Why the Altruistic Brain Matters: Its Significance to Addressing Individuals' Bad Behavior8. Multiplier Effect: from Bad to Worse in a Social Setting9. No Easy Answers . . . But No Pessimism Either

Editorial Reviews

"Pfaff convincingly shows the science of altruism..." --Publisher's Weekly