Human beings can be so compassionate - and yet they can also be shockingly cruel. What if there was a hidden master control for human behavior? Switch it on and people are loving and generous. Switch it off and they revert to violence and greed. Pioneering neuroeconomist Paul J. Zak has discovered just such a master switch, a molecule in the human brain. The Moral Molecule is a firsthand account of this discovery, revealing how evolution built the Golden Rule into our biology.
From his laboratory in California to the jungles of Papua New Guinea, Zak takes you on an amazing and exciting journey to what it means to be human. Zak’s experiments - what science writer Matt Ridley called “the most revealing in the history of economics” - measure a brain chemical called oxytocin found in the bloodstream. His colleagues sometimes call him the vampire economist. His research team has taken blood from thousands of people as they made decisions with money in the lab, played football out on the field, jumped from an airplane, attended a wedding, and many other situations in which human interactions take place. Ascending from molecules to families to entire societies, Zak’s findings reveal how oxytocin can produce a virtuous cycle of love and prosperity.
The Moral Molecule is a journey well beyond common theories about why we make the decisions we do. Zak explains what underlies the great mysteries of human behavior - why some husbands are more faithful than others; why women tend to be more generous than men; why we are sometimes rational and other times irrational. He explores the role of religion in moral behavior, how the moral molecule operates in the marketplace, and - most important, once we understand the moral molecule - how we can consciously use it to make our own lives better.
©2012 Paul J. Zak (P)2012 Brilliance Audio, Inc.
College English professor who loves classic literature, psychology, neurology and hates pop trash like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey.
Even though I am giving this book four stars, there has to be a qualification. There has, in fact, been a lot of research done lately about the "hard-wired" facet of morality and moral behavior and its evolution in the human brain: everything from the frontal orbital cortex to mirroring cells to the insular cortex--to oxytocin. Oxytocin is a neurohypophysial hormone that is always present in our brains but which is released in larger doses during birth and breastfeeding in women and after orgasm in both sexes. Physical contact, positive group dynamics, a warm personal interaction--all contribute to the release of oxytocin--and oxytocin (often oversimplified--as Zak is wont--as "the cuddle hormone) makes us want more of these interactions. Thus the thinking goes, and mostly rightly, that oxytocin is part of the system that helps us to get along and behave in a more or less civil way to one another. Now the qualification: while all of what Zak proclaims is true, he does leave out some important aspects of oxytocin, that is to say, its darker side: like, for instance, that it can also be traced to things like individual and group favoritism and prejudice (feelings of warmth toward the people closest to you and who look and act like you can make others seem more distant and strange, if even on the subconscious level); thus, one could implicate it in some of the less wonderful events in human history. Zak likes to go around squirting oxytocin up people's noses,noting the warm and fuzzies they get from it and then singing its praises on lecture tours--and yes, its functions are interesting and study of what is does is important, but in the interest of science, do a bit more reading beyond this book to get the full picture on this complex, but not magic or mystical (and not by itself "moral") hormone.
An enjoyable science read. Just enough science to be intellectual, just enough anecdotal human interest to be fun. The basics are that oxytocin, the cuddle hormone, makes for pro-social behavior. The author examines what behavior releases oxytocin and how it effects behavior after it is released. In addition, he comments on how it interacts with testosterone, a rather anti-social hormone, and cortisol, the stress hormone. The author closes with how we can create a more oxytocin-filled, trusting, and happier world one oxytocin-inducing act after another. If you like a good pop-science read, you'll enjoy The Moral Molecule by Paul J. Zak. However, the author read the book himself and he is no professional reader. It's rather like if your not-so-into-reading-aloud spouse read the book to you. Rhythms are off, emphasis is little. It's just not pro-level, even for an author. For the sake of the enjoyable information, you can get through it, but they really should have hired a profession reader to showcase the information to best effect.
Non-fiction marathon. No signs of stopping.
The single most fascinating book I've read in years. Science, psychology, religion, philosophy, morality. This book has it all.
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