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The Four Forces of Human Nature: A Unifying Theory
Since physicists discovered the four fundamental forces of nature—Weak, Strong, Electromagnetic and Gravity—they have tried to unify them into one theory. Physicists went down to the subatomic level to search and ended up with vibrating strings. They went up into space and ended up with gravitons (which are yet to be found). But what do these forces mean in terms of human behavior? In The Four Forces of Human Nature: A Unifying Theory, Dr. Treviño Peña identifies the human forces and the specific areas of the brain responsible for processing them. He demonstrates the analogy between physics and human forces, and explains how the interaction of these influence human behavior. The four forces are Affective, Cognitive, Communicative, and Socio-environmental. The processing centers for each of these forces are, respectively: amygdala, thalamus, cerebral cortex, and insular cortex. The aims of these are to get, keep, and increase the four necessities: health, status, wealth, and basic drives (eat, sleep, sex). Every person needs the four necessities for self-preservation. Without these, humans can die prematurely, or become extinct as a species!
Linking human behavior and up-to-date neuroscience to physics’ four fundamental forces of nature, this incisive and surprising survey posits that a quartet of “human forces”—affective, cognitive, communicative, and socio-environmental—influence our responses, choices, values, beliefs, fears, and more in life. Via analogy Peña, a doctor with research specialization in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and brain physiology, links each of these motivating forces to those fundamental forces of nature (weak, strong, electromagnetic, gravity), a metaphoric connection he explores but does not belabor. More immediately illuminating and practical is Peña’s linking of his human forces to individual but sometimes overlapping “processing centers” in the brain, which aim to “get, keep, and increase” four key human necessities: “health, status, wealth, and basic drives (eat, sleep, sex).”

Connecting our emotions to the world outside of us, the affective force, for example, is rooted in the amygdala and serves as a sometimes overzealous first responder, protecting us from perceived threats to those necessities. The affective force can “dull” and “excite” us, turn on auto-immune systems, “incite a passion,” or trigger fight-or-flight behavior, all in response to our need to gather or protect those necessities. The less potent cognitive force, by contrast, exists to “memorize and reason,” working to understand and estimate the impact of our actions, at times putting it in conflict with the affective force.

Peña brings ample reason and passion to his clear, concise introductions of these ideas, presenting the science with authority, precision, and a strong sense of what readers will find fascinating. Readers not steeped in the distinctions between cortexes will have no trouble following as Peña ventures into unexpected places—meme science, say, and a discussion of the question of whether language comes from our genes or our culture. Peña resists self-help advice or promises of controlling one’s brain in favor of thinking through, with ample citations and frank caveats, why we act as we do, how our brains shape us and our society and culture, and the urgent question of what we still have to learn.

Takeaway: Illuminating survey of “human forces,” necessities, and brain regions governing behavior.

Comparable Titles: Robert M. Sapolsky’s Behave, Troy A. Swanson’s Knowledge as a Feeling.

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