Quartz, Steven R.

views updated

QUARTZ, Steven R.


Male. Education: University of Western Ontario, B.A., 1986, M.A., 1988; University of California, San Diego, Ph.D., 1993.


Office—Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences, 228-77, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91125. E-mail—[email protected].


California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, associate professor, director of Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory; Salk Institute, Sloan Center for Theoretical Neurobiology, fellow.


National Science Foundation, CAREER award.


(Coauthor with Terrence J. Sejnowski) Liars, Lovers, and Heroes: What the New Brain Science Reveals about How We Become Who We Are, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.


As director of California Institute of Technology's Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, Steven R. Quartz studies the development of human thought processes. Together with Terrence J. Sejnowksi, director of the Salk Institute's Computational Neurobiology Laboratory, he sets forth in Liars, Lovers, and Heroes: What the New Brain Science Reveals about How We Become Who We Are his theories of how human emotions develop through a combination of biological hardwiring and social interaction. Challenging the purely evolutionary explanations of some behaviorists, the authors present a theory they call "cultural biology" to illustrate the ways in which an individual's experiences actually help to reshape his or her brain, even as biological inheritances shape life experience.

"Starting each chapter with an intriguing case history and spinning off into fascinating, if sometimes sketchily developed presentations of related material," in the words of a Publishers Weekly reviewer, the authors attempt to penetrate the mysteries of love, violence, creativity, and other human motivations that sometimes seem to come from nowhere. The authors reject the old notion that we are still wired for hunter-gatherer societies, strangely unfit for the world as it is, drawing attention to the internal flexibility that allowed humanity to survive sometimes rapid climate changes. They also emphasize the slow development of the prefrontal cortex, and other areas linked to both decision-making and emotions, which are heavily influenced by family and society. At the same time, they acknowledge the often dramatic effects of neurochemicals. Nor do they reject the ancient, pre-human roots of many of humanity's most basic urges and instincts, from the noblest to the darkest.

Some reviewers expressed a note of caution about the book's ambitions. "While they admit that the brain is more complex than we can fathom, they are ready to discourse on learning, love, intelligence, personality, and happiness," noted a Kirkus Reviews contributor. Human Nature Review contributor Sue McHale drew attention to the possible biases of the authors, both U.S. residents in California, "one of the richest few thousand square miles in the world.… Their scientific views are shaped and moulded by the culture they find themselves in, and that is U.S. culture." While commending the authors for providing "good definitions of biology that draw on several biological perspectives," McHale questioned some of the author's cultural conclusions in regard to religion and other aspects of society that differ markedly across cultures. At the same time, reviewers appreciated the effort Quartz and Sejnowski make to present a complex science and controversial new theory in a manner that the average reader, the subject of many of these speculations, can grasp. The authors pepper their accounts with popular images and figures, such as Tony Robbins, Woody Allen, and Star Trek, and include a chapter on the challenges of globalization and post-modern culture. Booklist reviewer Gilbert Taylor concluded of Liars, Lovers, and Heroes that, "In accessible conversational language, the authors offer an intriguing investigation of personality."



Booklist, October 1, 2002, review of Liars, Lovers, and Heroes: What the New Brain Science Reveals about How We Become Who We Are, p. 294.

Human Nature Review, November 28, 2002, Sue McHale, review of Liars, Lovers, and Heroes, pp. 531-533.

Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2002, review of Liars, Lovers, and Heroes, p. 1203.

Publishers Weekly, October 7, 2002, review of Liars, Lovers, and Heroes, p. 62.*