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Human Emotions Are Personal Narratives

For his next book, Joseph LeDoux knew he had to go deep. He had to go back in time, way back, 3.5 billion years ago. The author of the seminal The Emotional Brain, followed by Synaptic Self and Anxious, sensed a missing element in those books on how brain anatomy and function shape human behavior and emotions. That element was evolution. In his new book, The Deep History of Ourselves: The Four-Billion-Year Story of How We Got Our Conscious Brains, LeDoux takes readers back to the emergence of life on Earth to show what our protean brains today owe to the canny survival of Protozoa.

“I started asking, ‘How far back in evolution does the ability to detect and respond to danger go?’” he said to me in a recent interview at his home in New York City. LeDoux directs the Emotional Brain Institute at New York University. In his research and previous books, he has shown the human brain processes that detect and respond to danger differ from the conscious experiences of fear itself. “I felt I needed to understand more about this process,” he said. “I wanted to know what single-cell organisms teach us about emotion.”

QUESTION OF BALANCE: “We live in a biological equilibrium with animals and plants,” says Joseph LeDoux (above). “At the rate we’re destroying species of plants and animals, the equilibrium is going to shift, and every time the equilibrium shifts, new power structures take place.” Given we’re the species with the power to rebalance nature, the future is up to us. Diemut Strebe

takes readers from past to present along a wonderfully readable path, defined by short chapters, paved with insights. LeDoux’s argument is our

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