Donald W Pfaff

  • 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 to obey, 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. The only 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 a revolution 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 embody our 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 first instance, 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 worlds most eminent scientists, Dr. Pfaff puts together well-established brain mechanisms 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 brains natural, altruistic inclinations. This is the first book not only to explain why we are naturally 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.

  • 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 to obey, 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. The only 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 a revolution 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 embody our 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 first instance, 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 worlds most eminent scientists, Dr. Pfaff puts together well-established brain mechanisms 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 brains natural, altruistic inclinations. This is the first book not only to explain why we are naturally 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.

  • The saga of sex differences in brain and behavior begins with a tiny sperm swimming toward a huge egg, to contribute its tiny Y chromosome plus its copies of the other chromosomes. Genetic, anatomic and physiologic alterations in the male ensue, making his brain and behavior different in specific respects from his sister. Brain-wise, specific cell groups develop differently in males compared to females, in some cases right after birth and in other cases at puberty. But genetics and neuroanatomy do not dominate the scene. Prenatal stress, postnatal stress and lousy treatment at puberty all can affect males and females in different ways. The upshot of all these genetic and environmental factors produces small sex differences in certain abilities and huge sex differences in feelings, in pain and in suffering. Put this all together and the reader will see that biological and cultural influences on gender roles operate at so many different levels to influence behavioral mechanisms that gender role choices are flexible, reversible and non-dichotomous, especially in modern societies.

  • The saga of sex differences in brain and behavior begins with a tiny sperm swimming toward a huge egg, to contribute its tiny Y chromosome plus its copies of the other chromosomes. Genetic, anatomic and physiologic alterations in the male ensue, making his brain and behavior different in specific respects from his sister. Brain-wise, specific cell groups develop differently in males compared to females, in some cases right after birth and in other cases at puberty. But genetics and neuroanatomy do not dominate the scene. Prenatal stress, postnatal stress and lousy treatment at puberty all can affect males and females in different ways. The upshot of all these genetic and environmental factors produces small sex differences in certain abilities and huge sex differences in feelings, in pain and in suffering. Put this all together and the reader will see that biological and cultural influences on gender roles operate at so many different levels to influence behavioral mechanisms that gender role choices are flexible, reversible and non-dichotomous, especially in modern societies.

  • In theoretical terms, sex differences in brains and behaviors of laboratory animals offer the possibility of fascinating scientific studies on a range of molecular phenomena such as genomic imprinting, DNA methylation, chromatin protein modification, non-coding DNA, potentially resulting in important neuroanatomical and neurochemical sex differences in the brain. Such sex differences could arise consequent to exposures to testosterone early in development, or to other effects deriving from the Y chromosome. However, this general subject has been treated with much hyperbole. Historically, sex differences were assumed to be present where they did not really exist, e.g. with respect to mathematics, executive leadership, etc. etc. Under what circumstances do we really care about sex differences in brain and behavior? These circumstances concern human maladies whose diagnoses are much different between boys and girls, or between women and men. Prominent examples discussed in this volume include autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorders and congenital adrenal hyperplasia. In fact, infant boys are more susceptible than infant girls to a variety of disorders that arise early in development. This volume then ends with a consideration of effects of estrogenic hormones on the injured brain, and their roles as protective agents.

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