We have reached the end of our journey. This is perhaps a good time to elucidate the ‘interconnectedness’ of our evolutionary origin. After all, ‘interconnectedness’ is one of the fundamental notions emphasised in this volume.
Attempts towards a complete classification of living and inanimate matter began with Aristotle’s Ladder Naturae. Later, a comprehensive compendium was presented by Carl Linnaeus, one of Darwin’s ‘heroes’. His Systema Natura, published in 1735, consisted of an ‘atlas’ of the “three basic kingdoms of nature”; plants, animals, and minerals. In 1866, the highly influential zoologist and strong advocate of Darwin’s theory, Ernst Haeckel, published ‘The Tree of Organisms’, which contained three major branches: Plantae, Protista, and Animalia. Moreover, in 1874, he published ‘The Great Oak’, presenting the ‘Development History of Man’. This began with monera and amaebae and ended with gorilla and man. Haeckel also attempted to supplement Darwin’s theory of evolution with concrete ‘developmental rules’. The American biologist Robert Whittaker added fungi to the triptych of Plantae, Protista, and Animalia. This was a consequence of his use of ecology, in addition to morphology. Protista were characterized by morphology, and plants, animals and fungi, by ecology. According to Whitaker, plants are ‘producers’, animals are ‘consumers’, and fungi are ‘absorbers’. Later, Robert Whitaker and Lyn Margulis, aware of the limitations of this classification, added a fifth one, called polyphyletic taxa, to these four categories. This category consists of elements which have more than one evolutionary origin. In emphasizing the role of morphology, Whitaker was highly influenced by the botanist and microbiologist, Ferdinand Julius Cohn. Among the latter’s many contributions was his decisive role in discrediting the theory of ‘spontaneous creation’, along with Pasteur. Responding to the erroneous postulate of this theory, espoused by many distinguished scholars from Aristotle to Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, Cohn noted that if something ‘appeared from nowhere’ it was simply the result of contamination.
By the early 1930s, it was assumed that the category of protista consisted merely of bacteria. A widely accepted classification of bacteria was proposed in the book (Bergey 1932). This manual was criticized by C.B. van Niel and Roger Stanier, who, as discussed in chapter 9, attempted to provide a rigorous definition of a bacterium. The introduction of molecular phylogenetics (reviewed in chapter 9) revolutionised our understanding of the evolutionary processes dictating the origin of organisms.
Despite the efforts of van Niel and Stanier of the early 1960s, the occurrence of endosymbiosis exemplified the difficulties of attempting to define a ‘pure’ classification scheme. This task is further complicated by the ubiquitous occurrence of horizontal gene transfer. Early on, it was thought that this mechanism was important only for bacteria. For example, it was shown that 18% of the genes of E. coli entered via horizontal gene transfer. However, it was later understood that complex eukaryote organisms are significantly affected by horizontal gene transfer. For example, it was shown in 2008 that 22 genes in the genome of bdelloid rotifers have bacterial, fungal, and even plant origin (Gladyshev, Meselson and Arkhipova 2008). Similar considerations are valid for the human genome. This implies, as clearly stated in an influential article by Ford Doolittle, published in Science in 1999, that the universal tree of life is actually a “reticulate tree” (Doolittle 1999). In other words, we are connected with an infinity number of evolutionary predecessors, in far more complicated ways that envisioned by Darwin and his followers. In this sense, ‘the web of life’ provides a better metaphor than ‘the tree of life’ (Quammen 2019, 287).
A CONCLUDING NOTE TO THE READER
As stated repeatedly in this volume, consciousness works towards presenting a ‘complete’ and ‘unified’ picture of reality. This tendency is clearly reflected both in the sciences and the humanities. Examples include, respectively, the ‘theory of evolution’ and various ideologies, such as Marxism, Existentialism, and several other ‘isms’. However, in my opinion, formulating such ‘complete’ theories and ideologies is at best utopic and at worst detrimental to society. Indeed, taking into consideration the infinite complexity of physical and biological processes, it follows that even comprehensive theories, such as the ‘theory of everything’, which aims to present a unified formalism of the laws dictating physical reality, cannot be ‘complete’. There will always exist ‘local’ fundamental physical mechanisms that remain elusive. As a result of the dynamic character of biological processes, the situation with biological theories is far more complicated. Regarding the impossibility of any ideology fully capturing reality, it is sufficient to note that a comprehensive ideology, in addition to providing a complete framework for the understanding of physical and biological processes, should also decipher the laws dictating social interactions.
In what follows, I will provide support for my position that every theory is incomplete, and every philosophy highly limited, by criticising representative examples of well-known theories and influential philosophies. For this purpose, I have chosen the ‘theory of evolution’, and Platonism, respectively.
According to Darwin and Wallace, biological evolution takes place within a framework of hereditary stability, where only small random variations occur (over long stretches of time), dictated by natural selection. However, in response to their environmental changes, bacteria acquire new genetic traits not only via mutations and the modification of gene function within their cell, but also by employing horizontal gene transfer. Actually, the latter mechanism, which results in the acquisition of new genes from other bacteria, is the preferred mode of response in cases of extraordinary evolutionary pressure. For example, with respect to antibiotics, bacteria can survive only if they employ horizontal gene transfer. In general, this powerful mechanism, completely unsuspected by Darwin and Wallace, provides a faster way of creating heritable variations in the genome of all forms of life (i.e. archaea, bacteria, and eukaryotes), than the traditional mechanisms of mutation and vertical inheritance. In addition to creating completely new genetic possibilities, horizontal gene transfer also allows organisms to adapt quickly to new ecological niches without the danger of going through several phases of slow adaptation with potentially dangerous implications. The tremendous impact of this mechanism, which was widely accepted only in the early 2000s, is evident by the fact that there exist many genes whose ‘history’ cannot be explained in the traditional way of following the evolution of related species. For example, after analysing 66 fundamental proteins, James Brown and Ford Doolittle concluded in 1997, that “each gene has its own history” (Brown and Doolittle 1997). Following this new understanding, Nigel Goldenfeld and Carl Woese claimed (in an essay published in Nature (Goldenfeld and Woese 2007)):
“The emerging picture of microbes as gene-swapping collectives, demands a revision of such concepts as organism, species and evolution itself”.
These authors noted that, since microbes absorb and discard genes as needed (depending on their environment), the concept of ‘species’ is useless, and the notion of ‘an organism’ difficult to define. In the same paper, they also wrote: “Thus, we regard as regrettable the conventional concatenation of Darwin’s name with evolution because other modalities must be considered”.
These developments clearly show that the Darwinian theory of evolution must be replaced by a new, much more dynamic framework. Furthermore, in my opinion, the importance of any discovery is not only measured by the significance of the questions it answers, but also by the multitude of the questions it raises. This implies that even this new dynamic framework remains, and will always remain, incomplete. For example, the discovery of endosymbiosis certainly elucidated the origin of two fundamental organelles of eukaryotes, namely, mitochondria and chloroplasts. However, this fundamental discovery raises a new key question: identifying the first recipient cells of mitochondria and chloroplasts, as well as the possible impact of these organelles on the genesis of a nucleus in the recipient cells. In this connection, it is noted that phylogenomic analyses suggest that archaea, and in particular the Asgard superphylum, are the closest prokaryotic relatives of eukaryotes (Eme, et al. 2017). These developments are truly remarkable, taking into consideration that archaea were only discovered in 1977. In the paper (Eme, et al. 2017) the following statement is made, which is consistent with my position regarding the limitless nature of deep research activities:
“Fully understanding the process of eukaryogenesis requires finding answers to several challenging and intertwined questions. Although we have seemingly answered some of these questions, others remain fiercely debated, and new questions continue to arise”.
Regarding the limitations of philosophical theories and ideologies, it is straightforward to argue that as a result of the brain’s capacity for plasticity, analogical thinking, unification and generalisation, any philosophical theory or ideology, will finally give rise to a highly restrictive cognitive framework. The brain becomes trained to interpret any phenomenon within this rigid structure. This leads at best to distorted and highly biased views, and at worst to inhumane positions and actions.
As an example of the limitations of any philosophical theory, it is noted that Platonism is based on the apotheosis of reason and the permanence (time invariance) that characterises mathematical rules. The brain’s ability for analogical thinking and generalization led Plato to the erroneous conclusion that everything important can be expressed via infallible rules. Hence, an ideal society should be governed according to a set of strict statutes. Indeed, specific mandates were presented in the Platonic dialogue Laws, which, if implemented, would have given rise to a joyless, authoritarian state. For example, in Plato’s ideal city, all poets were expelled. The banning of poetry and tragedies, from Homer to Aeschylus, is in my opinion consistent with the cognitive restrictions imposed to Plato by his own ideology. Indeed, first, according to Plato the ‘sensible reality’ is nothing but an inferior representation of the ‘true reality’ contained in his Forms. Hence, since poetry constructs ‘fake representations of the sensible reality’, poetry is highly inauthentic. Second, for Plato,idealizations (the mimetic eidola)and fake representations of the sensible reality created by poets, further to their lack of authenticity, also have the ability to arouse emotions, empathies, and terrors. This ill effect, together with the claim that poetry is best suited for depicting repulsive subjects, led Plato to accuse poetry of corrupting the souls of even “the best among us”. Thus, the ‘narcotics of phantasms’ had to be banned! Interestingly, in the book III of the Republic, Plato does accept the educational value of poetry for the future guardians of the city. However, after reviewing the need to protect the republic from a variety of dangers in books IIX and IX, he announces in book X that all poets have been expelled.
As discussed in chapter 8, artistic creations are re-representations expressing mental images and mental representations. Thus, high quality art provides examples per excellence of originality. Furthermore, the genesis of metaphors and the employment of ambiguity illustrate the astounding capacity of the brain for creativity. The restrictions imposed to the brain of Plato by his philosophical framework, and in particular by his idealization of the notion of precision, did not allow him to accept that the beauty of poetry is precisely its ability to express ambivalence and metaphors in a highly economical manner. Instead, Plato concentrated on the fact that metaphors, by definition, lack precision. Thus, he criticized poetry for presented a distorted ‘representation of reality’: “[…] all poets from Homer on give [only] representations […] art is something that has no serious value”.
It is worth noting that there are similarities between some of Plato’s general ideas and the Christian doctrine This is clearly shown, for example, in his theory of souls. In addition, Plato’s adherence to strict rules and the priority of the intellect over the flesh provides the theoretical foundation of asceticism. Christianity, for different reasons, also arrived at asceticism, emphasizing the priority of the soul over flesh. Thus, ascetism provides another similarity between Platonism and Christianity. Another connection of Platonism with religious movements is established by Iain McGilchrist in his highly erudite book (McGilchrist 2010). The iconoclastic movement was due to the inability of its followers to appreciate the metaphoric significance of icons as merely symbols of the divine.
The catastrophic effects of various ideologies, including those inspired by religious beliefs, are of course well documented. At an individual level, an illustrative example is provided by the ‘scientific racism’ advocated by the polymath Ernest Haeckel (who was mentioned earlier in this chapter): his apotheosis of Darwin’s dogma of ‘the survival of the fittest’, together with the brain’s capacity for analogical thinking and generalization, compelled Haeckel to propose that this dogma is also applicable in societies, thereby advocating for the killing of 200,000 mentally and congenitally ill people.
Perhaps no one understood deeper the contradiction between the need of the consciousness to paint a ‘complete picture’ of reality, and the impossibility of this endeavour, than the writer Albert Camus (Nobel Prize in Literature in 1957). Actually, this contradiction provided the foundation of Camus’ philosophy of ‘Absurdism’, which is elaborated on in his book The Myth of Sisyphus (Camus 1955). In the same way that the mythological hero was condemned to a meaningless life carrying out an “absurd task” (of having to push a rock up to the top of a mountain, where upon reaching the top the rock would roll down again, forcing Sisyphus to start over), humans also face the following “absurd condition”: how to resolve the conflict between the innate human need “for the absolute and for unity” and “the impossibility of reducing this world to a rational and reasonable principle”. For the Nobel Laureate, this absurdity was so overwhelming that it led him to pose what he considered to be the only basic question in philosophy: “There is but a serious philosophical problem, that of suicide”. Several other writers and philosophers also identified this contradiction. Some of these philosophers were criticised by Camus himself, including Martin Heidegger, Karl Jaspers, Søren Kierkegaard, and Edmund Husserl. According to Camus, these deep thinkers committed “philosophical suicide” because they reached conclusions that contradicted their starting point of the ‘absurd position’. In particular, Kierkegaard abandoned rationality and embraced God, whilst Husserl erred in the opposite direction; following Plato based his arguments on the apotheosis of rationality.
In my opinion, none of the philosophers resolved the fundamental question posed by Camus satisfactorily. Perhaps this was the result of limited understanding of science, and especially of neuroscience. For Camus, the main origin of the absurdity of life (in addition to the obvious depressing fact that every day bring us closer to our only invincible enemy, namely death), is that ‘true knowledge is impossible and that science (which is based on rationality) cannot explain the world’. Ironically, Camus’ analysis was biased by the tendency of consciousness for “the absolute and the unity”, which he correctly criticised himself. It is, of course, true that ultimate knowledge and full understanding cannot be achieved. However, the human brain can approach these goals via a limiting process, tending ever closer to an unattainable limit. Furthermore, during this journey, the human brain experiences inexhaustible eudemonia, which more than compensates for the knowledge that the ultimate limit will never be reached.
Does there exist a framework capable of filling the huge intellectual gap arising from the apparent inadequacy of any ideological approach to answer fundamental questions arising in nature and society? The material presented in this volume suggests an affirmative answer. Be guided by the processes used by the brain, continuously attempting to employ the variety of concrete notions that reflect fundamental brain mechanisms. Some of these concepts, including associations, continuity, local versus global processes, simplicity versus complexity, reduction versus unification, generalization, analogical thinking, plasticity, and interconnectedness, have been articulated and employed throughout this volume. Others remain to be discovered. Also, it should be re-stated yet again that unconscious and conscious processes form a continuum, and that the unconscious is less biased by the existence of pre-conceptions and the need for ‘completion’ than consciousness. Therefore, it is more capable to reach the essence of things than consciousness. This implies that there is no better motto expressing the anti-ideological position proposed here, than
search for ways to submerge yourself in your unconscious.
It is my hope that the employment of the basic concepts mentioned above and elaborated on throughout this volume, along with the firm foundation provided by scientific knowledge, will be instrumental in eliminating various misconceptions, unacceptable predispositions, and inhumane attitudes. These include homophobia and racism. In this connection the principles of interconnectedness and continuity become indispensable. In particular, the impossibility of defining a ‘pure’ organism mentioned earlier and the crucial role of symbiosis, imply that interconnectedness is not a vague philosophical notion, but the only mode with which life can exist.
Regarding homosexuality, it should be noted that there exist in the brain several anatomical differences between men and women. For example, in men the right hemisphere is slightly larger than the left, whereas in women the two hemispheres are more symmetrical. Also, the corpus callosum is proportionally larger in women. In addition, there are several subtle differences. For example, a particular nucleus, located in hypothalamus, called nucleus INAH3, which affects the regulation of typical sexual behaviour, is on the average 2.5 times larger in men than in women. A study published in 1991, using data obtained from autopsies of homosexual men who died of AIDS, documented that the nucleus INAH3 is more than twice as large in heterosexual men than in homosexual men (LeVay 1991). Furthermore, an MRI study of 25 heterosexual men, 25 heterosexual women, 20 homosexual men and 20 homosexual women, showed that heterosexual men and homosexual women had a rightward cerebral asymmetry, whereas the cerebral hemispheres of homosexual men and heterosexual women were symmetrical (Savic and Lindsrom 2008). Other MRI studies have shown that the corpus callosum of homosexual men is larger than that of heterosexual men (particularly in the so-called isthmus area, which is the posterior part of the corpus callosum connecting the parietotemporal cortical regions). The neuroscientist Dick Swaab, whose early studies regarding the biological basis of homosexuality were viciously attacked by various prejudiced groups, discusses homosexuality extensively in his book We Are our Brains (Swaab 2014). There, he also states that studies in identical twins show that homosexuality is 50% genetically determined. These and other similar studies strongly suggest that homosexuality has a biological basis. In this connection, it should be noted that the notion of evolutionary continuity implies that Nature usually explores the full range of values in a given interval. The fact that the values of the above anatomical structures for homosexuals are between the values for heterosexual men and women, provides strong evidence that homosexuality is a normal gender variation.
Regarding racism, it was noted in chapter 9 that the works of Svante Pääbo and his team suggests that cultural evolution allowed Neanderthals, our ancestors, and the Denisovans to interact. The historic consequence of this mixing is that humans originating in Europe carry 1% to 3% of Neanderthals’ genes. Hopefully, this unexpected discovery can be used as the scientific basis of a manifesto promoting the final and complete rejection of poisonous racism and the embrace of the unified nature of humanity.
Having visited 26 harbours during this long journey, the reader is ready for deeper reflections. If studying this volume has induced eudaemonic pleasure, then certainly this will motivate the reader’s quest for further contemplation. In this case, the purpose of this book will have been fully achieved.
FOR THE YOUNG
The well-being of people in several parts of the world is continuously improving. Thus, we may be approaching a point of an ‘eudemonic transition’; a crucial juncture where eudemonia can become a goal for the majority of society. In this sense, young people may be characterized as ‘the lucky generation’. However, a juncture is a bifurcation point, which is a point where the stability of the system may change, with possible disastrous consequences. For this reason, it is imperative that mature scholars assist young people to achieve their full potential, so that ultimately, they become part of something larger than themselves. This is the only way to ensure that humanity will emerge victorious. In this connection, it is noted that our huge moral obligation towards young people cannot be overestimated: our children are the result of our genes and the environment that we have created, thus they are completely our responsibility. Hence, I find it absurd that throughout history the older generation has tended to be unjustifiably critical towards the next generation. For example, the following quote sounds contemporary:
“Young people today love luxury, they have bad manners, contempt for authority and disrespect older people […]. They no longer rise when elders enter the room, they contradict their parents, can’t hold their tongues in company, gobble their food, and tyrannize their teachers”.
However, it is attributed to Socrates.
Although the road to growth and self-fulfilment is undoubtedly highly personal, in what follows some general principles are suggested.
Be overly optimistic. It is a moral obligation to enjoy the greatest gift of all; the gift of life. Optimism contributes to the development of resilience to setbacks; thus, it protects against the inertia created as a result of the fear of failure. The medical community has elucidated the processes via which substance abuse causes morbidity and mortality, and also has successfully promoted the understanding that healthy eating and exercising are associated with fewer diseases and longevity. However, surprisingly, the huge importance of optimism for longevity has been essentially ignored, despite the existence of overwhelming evidence for this fact. For example, in a recent study, patients were psychologically evaluated to determine whether they were optimists or pessimists, and subsequently underwent angioplasty. Over a 6-month period following a successful angioplasty, pessimists were 3 times more likely than optimists to have heart attacks or to require bypass surgery. Similarly, men of an average age of 61 were monitored over a period of 10 years by Harvard and Boston University. The most pessimistic were twice as likely to develop heart disease. In another study, 941 Dutch men and women between the ages of 65 and 85 were followed for a 9-year period. Remarkably, people who demonstrated dispositional optimism enjoyed a 45% lower risk of death (Optimism and your health 2008)!
Protect your sleep. The paramount importance of sleep for a variety of mental functions, including emotional stability, learning, and memory was until very recently also ignored by the medical community. Fortunately, this omission has now begun to be addressed. For example, the critical importance of sleep is promoted by the influential writer Arianna Huffington (Huffington 2016) and by the leading sleep-investigator Matthew Walker (Walker 2017). Sleep may be necessary for transferring newly learned information into long-term memories and for memories to be freely associated. During the latter process, unexpected relationships are formed, unconscious insight is gained, new solutions are dreamt, and the mysterious mechanisms of creativity are facilitated. Some of my best ideas have arisen during the small time-period of waking up from the rapid eye movement (REM) state, where most of dreams occur. This is also the period when I have discovered errors in my research work. This time-period provides a window to the vast information that exists in the unconscious. This window is tiny and blurry, but it still provides an almost unique possibility for accessing this information. This observation further underlines the huge importance of sleep.
Be flexible and open minded. As the mathematician and French polymath Henri Poincare had noted, ‘doubting everything or believing everything are the two extreme ways of dispensing with the crucial need for reflection’. Flexibility is a great asset. For example, it is needed for current approaches employed in digital technology. The modern motto is not to employ standard algorithms, but to optimize technology according to the specific task at hand. If, during a discussion or in some other context you encounter views that are antithetical to yours, attempt to extract from them something useful that will enrich your own ideas (instead of the typical reaction of disagreeing and criticizing). After all, there is no such thing as absolute truth. The more open to new ideas one is, the more enjoyable and fruitful will their never-ending quest for understanding be.
Do not waste emotional energy. There are only few situations, namely those that can be characterized as ‘irreversible’ (with death being chief among them), that justify one to be dispirited. Positive affect increases both dopamine and serotonin production, which enhance happiness (Trivers 2013, 131). Also, it has been shown that positive emotions enhance the vagal tone, which results in several health benefits (Kok 2013).
Seek diversity and be mentally resilient. Failures are not only inevitable, but also a measure of success. For example, the more mature and ambitious a scientist becomes, the more difficult the problems they attempt, and hence the higher the probability of failure.
Be self-confident and do not succumb to peer pressure. Self-confidence fosters authenticity, which is an integral part of nobility and excellence of character.
Do not be afraid to ask questions and do not ignore paradoxes. There is no better path to insight than posing appropriate questions to yourself and others. Paradoxes and incongruities express lack of understanding; thus, they provide great opportunities for further progress.
Respect your time. Do not allow time spent on idle activities, as well as on the internet and social media, to reduce the hugely important time for meaningful personal interactions and reflection. Invest your energy in quality endeavours. General criteria for quality include aesthetics, universal value, and the intriguing interplay between simplicity and complexity with a bias towards complexity.
 Haeckel introduced the terms ecology, phylogeny and ontology.
 Unfortunately, around the time that this essay was written, Woese embraced the dubious ideas expressed in Roy Davies’ book titled The Darwin Conspiracy, where Darwin is accused of plagiarism from, among others, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, the English zoologist Edward Blyth, his own grandfather Erasmus Darwin, and especially Alfred Wallace. There is no doubt that several scholars, starting with Aristotle, had expressed some of the ideas later developed by Darwin. Wallace, after four years of fieldwork in the Amazon and four more in Malay Archipelago, formulated the principle of natural selection independently of Darwin. However, the cordial correspondence between the latter and Darwin provides, in my opinion, strong evidence for the fallacy of the above accusations.
 The autocratic character of this state is in contradiction with the lack of dogmatism characterising the early Platonic dialogues. In particular, the method of elenchus is based on the ability of Socrates to persuade his interlocutors, as opposed to imposing his opinion on them. Furthermore, Socrates is constantly expressing his willingness to review his arguments and re-examine his points of view.
 In the Republic, Plato attempts to prove ‘the mimetic, fake character of arts in general’ by using the example of painting. However, he does not ban the painters from his ideal city, because he considers their creations “merely play (paidia) and not anything serious (spoude)”. Thus, in contrast to poetry, painting cannot corrupt the souls.
 In his youth, Plato wrote tragedies. This explains how painful it was for him (as he confesses in the Republic) to free himself from the enchantment of poetry: “We shall behave like lovers who see their passion is disastrous, and violently force themselves away from the object of their love”.
 Camus answered this question in favour of life: “Even if one does not believe in God, suicide is not legitimate”. Sisyphus’ desire to live, despite his tormented life is another reason for Camus’ affinity towards the mythological hero. After all, Sisyphus was punished by the gods precisely because he attempted to defeat death.
 The corpus callosum of women is actually the same size with that of men. However, since men have larger brains than women (reflecting their larger bodies), men would be expected to have larger corpus callosum.
 In the same book, several behavioural differences between boys and girls are discussed. For example, girls prefer to draw human figures in red, orange, and yellow, whereas boys prefer mechanical objects in blue.
 The blue LED light that powers screens, if absorbed in the evening, significantly suppresses the normal surge of melatonin. Thus, the advice to refrain from using devices before going to sleep should be followed or at least protective glasses should be worn.
 There is no concrete documentation that Socrates ever made the often-quoted statement ‘I know one thing, namely, that I know nothing’. The Neoplatonist philosopher Iamblichus, 245-325 AD, quotes Socrates stating that “I do not know anything, and I do not teach something; I only have queries”. In any case, Socrates alleged, or quoted statements express a basic element of wisdom: the deeper one penetrates the essence of things, the more questions (aporias) are raised.
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