Humphrey's collection of many years provides a lively insight into many aspects of life. Divided into five general topical areas, the essay range over the evolution of human cognition, perception, religion, the trials and execution of animals and emotion. Humphey is a major thinker. Add his fine prose skills to the many thought experiments in this book and you have a provocative collection to enjoy. There is much in here to inspire repeated reading.
Three of the essays are of significant import, requiring serious reflection on Humphrey's concepts. What level had human cognition reached when "cavemen" painted the walls of Chauvet? [actually, two essays address this topic] Was Jesus a conjurer? And, foremost in significance, "What Shall We Tell the Children?". The first question derives from the well-known case of the child Nadia who proved an artistic prodigy. She developed an outstanding ability to draw animals by the age of four. Her renditions of horses exceed the attempts of many adult sketchers. Humphrey argues that Nadia's minimal language skills offer a clue to how this talent developed. He suggests the animal drawings in French and Iberian caves suggest reconsideration of how and when human cognitive skills developed and whether
artistic skills preceded those of language.
In discussing Jesus' role in his own society, Humphrey suggests the Redeemer had grown up in a society that anticipated the emergence of a Messiah. In "Behold the Man," Humphrey addresses the social and psychological" roots leading to the myth of Jesus' divinity. He sees the Jesus myth as "setting the stage for all subsequent paranormal phenomena in Western culture . . . outside as well as inside a specifically religious context." It's a challenging task he's set himself, but Humphrey fulfills it with rational evidence. Of primary importance is the idea that "Jesus himself believed he was the real thing," allowing him to carry off the proposition that he enjoyed special powers. That confidence imparted the belief to those he encountered in every community but one, his own. Humphrey explains why that differential helps undermine the myth of divinity. Why wasn't Jesus acceptance universal?
In "What Shall We Tell the Children?", Humphrey suggests one of his most challenging ideas. How far should parents be allowed to go in forming a child's opinions and beliefs. He strongly urges that "false beliefs" must not be imposed on children if their rights as individuals are thereby curtailed. He argues that pre-emptive action in protecting children's rights is not an extreme action. His solution is universal education in science - not scientific dogmas, but the methods of observation, testing and critical thinking. No dogma ever withstands these tools in combination.
Three [four!] summaries hardly address the value of this collection. The remainder, some of which are surprisingly brief, are all a challenge to think along novel lines or reassess old ideas. Are we Stone Age people living in a Space Age or a Computer Age? Why is dictatorship attractive to many - even those living within one? What is the Mind/Body problem and is there an answer to it? What is altruism and how does it work in human society? How and why does a placebo work in curing illness? These and many other issues are addressed in this anthology, keeping the reader's constant attention. There are many challenges here, and no disappointments. Humphrey's insights are worth considering and his effective presentation makes this book a fine addition to anyone's library.