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Noteworthy Books

Southeastern Naturalist, Volume 15, Issue 4 (2016)

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Southeastern Naturalist B5 Noteworthy Books 2016 Vol. 15, No. 2 The Ancient Origins of Consciousness: How the Brain Created Experience. Todd Feinberg and Jon Mallatt. 2016. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA. 366 pp. $35, hardcover. ISBN 9780262034333. How is consciousness created? When did it first appear on Earth, and how did it evolve? What constitutes consciousness, and which animals can be said to be sentient? In this book, Todd Feinberg and Jon Mallatt draw on recent scientific findings to answer these questions—and to tackle the most fundamental question about the nature of consciousness: how does the material brain create subjective experience? After assembling a list of the biological and neurobiological features that seem responsible for consciousness, and considering the fossil record of evolution, Feinberg and Mallatt argue that consciousness appeared much earlier in evolutionary history than is commonly assumed. About 520 to 560 million years ago, they explain, the great “Cambrian explosion” of animal diversity produced the first complex brains, which were accompanied by the first appearance of consciousness; simple reflexive behaviors evolved into a unified inner world of subjective experiences. From this they deduce that all vertebrates are and have always been conscious—not just humans and other mammals, but also every fish, reptile, amphibian, and bird. Considering invertebrates, they find that arthropods (including insects and probably crustaceans) and cephalopods (including the octopus) meet many of the criteria for consciousness. The obvious and conventional wisdom–shattering implication is that consciousness evolved simultaneously but independently in the first vertebrates and possibly arthropods more than half a billion years ago. Combining evolutionary, neurobiological, and philosophical approaches allows Feinberg and Mallatt to offer an original solution to the “hard problem” of consciousness. Birdsong, Speech, and Language: Exploring the Evolution of Mind and Brain. Bolhuis and Everaert (Editors). 2016. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA. 542 pp. $34, softcover. ISBN 9780262528849. Scholars have long been captivated by the parallels between birdsong and human speech and language. In this book, leading scholars draw on the latest research to explore what birdsong can tell us about the biology of human speech and language and the consequences for evolutionary biology. After outlining the basic issues involved in the study of both language and evolution, the contributors compare birdsong and language in terms of acquisition, recursion, and core structural properties, and then examine the neurobiology of song and speech, genomic factors, and the emergence and evolution of language. Ecotoxicology Essentials: Environmental Contaminants and Their Biological Effects on Animals and Plants. Donald W. Sparling. 2016. Elsevier, Maryland Heights, MO. 500 pp. $79.95, softcover. ISBN 9780128019474. Written with the regulatory framework in mind, this book provides a fundamental understanding of ecotoxicology for students and professionals in ecology, conservation, chemistry, public health, wildlife management, fisheries, and many other disciplines. Although new chemicals and potential problems are developed every year, a basic education is essential to address these new challenges, and this work gives such training. The material guides readers on modeling, how to conduct assessments, and human and wildlife risk, and focusing on effects on animals rather than transport of chemicals. Environment and Development: Basic Principles, Human Activities, and Environmental Implications. Stavros G. Poulopoulos and Vassilis J. Inglezakis (Editors). 2016. Elsevier, Maryland Heights, MO. 580 pp. $185, hardcover. ISBN 9780444627339. The focus for this book is the adverse impact that human activities, development, and economic growth have on both natural and inhabited environments. It presents the associated problems, along with solutions that can be used to achieve a harmonic, sustainable development that provides for the co-existence of man and natural life. Chapters provide detailed information on a range of environments including: atmospheric, aquatic, soil, natural, urban, energy, and extraterrestrial, as well as the relationship between the environment and development and the latest research findings and trends in global environmental policy for each issue. Noteworthy Books Received by the Southeastern Naturalist, Issue 15/4, 2016 The Southeastern Naturalist welcomes submissions of review copies of books that publishers or authors would like to recommend to the journal’s readership and are relevant to the journal’s mission of publishing information about the natural history of the southeastern US. Accompanying short, descriptive summaries of the text are also welcome.