Evolutionary Psychology: The Ultimate Origins of Human Behavior by Jack Palmer, PhD and Linda Palmer, MS

Evolutionary Psychology: The Ultimate Origins of Human Behavior comes from two very big minds, thinking about big things, in a big way, and at a high level of abstraction. The authors stride quickly through the maze of ideas about the adaptive origins of human behavior, and they do it with a grasp of the big picture that few authors in this area are able to match. All the while it’s as if they’re holding the reader’s hand saying, “There’s more, let’s keep going. It’s all connected.”

With just ten chapters, Ultimate Origins is a “short, broad introduction to evolutionary psychology.” The authors cover every conceivable topic in this complex, fascinating and emerging field, all in 275 pages. They include “Encephalization and the Emergence of Mind,” “Mating and Reproduction,” “Ontogeny,” and “Social Order and Disorder.” Themes tie into current psychological theory with “Personality and Psychopathology,” and flow into Dr. Jack Palmer’s interest in Positive Psychology in “The Creative Impulse,” and “Ancient Mammal in a Brave New World.” The highlights and boxes, called, “Through a Glass Darwinian,” are wonderful.

Readers see how broad the viewfinder is when the authors address our place in the universe, with “From Big Bang to Big Brain.” Jack said, “There are many good books on evolutionary psychology today, but one thing that still makes our book unique is the broad and holistic view that Linda and I take. The study of the evolution of human behavior begins with the “Big Bang,” so we feel that having at least a rudimentary understanding of cosmology and evolutionary biology is enormously helpful for understanding the human mind, behavior, consciousness and our place in the universe. Culture and environment play an essential and significant role, but these can only be completely understood in relation to the greater whole.”

Linda Palmer is Jack’s “beloved wife and best friend of 32 years.” She has a master’s in Experimental Psychology from ULM, is a talented writer, and managing editor for several small publishers. The Palmers have a daughter who works in news and documentary production on the West Coast.

Jack noted his early interest in human origins, reading Desmond Morris’ The Naked Ape, at age 15. He completed an undergraduate in zoology at Clemson University, with an emphasis on ethnology, and entered University of Georgia’s biopsychology doctoral program to study primatology. “So,” he noted, “although my Ph.D. is in psychology, my training is grounded in physical anthropology, biology, and psychology. Evolutionary psychology was a natural outgrowth of those interests.”

He decided to write Ultimate Origins when he saw that “Huge strides and discoveries in neuroscience, genetics and evolutionary biology were providing great hope for unlocking the mysteries of human behavior.” After he began teaching physiological psychology and neuropsychology at ULM, he felt the need to “make more of this exciting information available.” So, he designed and began teaching a course on evolutionary psychology. “I wanted to help students understand how the combined effect of genes and environment shape us into what we become. And, how important a positive environment is for the development of children because of how it impacts on the way in which one’s genes express themselves. Human behavior is not the product of just genetics or just environment or a simple combination. The two interact in very complex ways to produce an enormous range and depth of human behavior.”

“It is to ULM’s great credit,” he told me, “that our psychology department has had a strong scientific foundation, more so than most state universities of this size. We have a great faculty and excellent department head, Dr. David Williamson. Both our Psychology Department and our College of Education and Human Development have provided a supportive atmosphere for the science of psychology.”

“At the time I began writing the book, Linda was teaching Physiological Psychology at Louisiana Tech University, and we were enjoying discussing these topics, so that was another motivating factor. The book evolved from our many discussions.” Dr. Palmer is currently working on a new book, Science, Wisdom and the Future: Humanity’s Quest for a Flourishing Earth, due out in 2010. He is both a contributor and the technical editor for the text, with chapters from leaders in physics, business, philosophy, psychology, history, cosmology, religion, and the arts.

Evolutionary Psychology: The Ultimate Origins of Human Behavior is available at Barnes & Noble online.

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