Humans are a puzzling species. On the one hand, we struggle to survive on our own in the wild, often failing to overcome even basic challenges, like obtaining food, building shelters, or avoiding predators. On the other hand, human groups have produced ingenious technologies, sophisticated languages, and complex institutions that have permitted us to successfully expand into a vast range of diverse environments. What has enabled us to dominate the globe, more than any other species, while remaining virtually helpless as lone individuals? This book shows that the secret of our success lies not in our innate intelligence, but in our collective brains—on the ability of human groups to socially interconnect and learn from one another over generations. Drawing insights from lost European explorers, clever chimpanzees, mobile hunter-gatherers, neuroscientific findings, ancient bones, and the human genome, Joseph Henrich demonstrates how our collective brains have propelled our species' genetic evolution and shaped our biology. Our early capacities for learning from others produced many cultural innovations, such as fire, cooking, water containers, plant knowledge, and projectile weapons, which in turn drove the expansion of our brains and altered our physiology, anatomy, and psychology in crucial ways. Later on, some collective brains generated and recombined powerful concepts, such as the lever, wheel, screw, and writing, while also creating the institutions that continue to alter our motivations and perceptions. Henrich shows how our genetics and biology are inextricably interwoven with cultural evolution, and how culture-gene interactions launched our species on an extraordinary evolutionary trajectory. Tracking clues from our ancient past to the present, The Secret of Our Success explores how the evolution of both our cultural and social natures produce a collective intelligence that explains both our species' immense success and the origins of human uniqueness.
Abstract : Joseph Henrich, The Secret of Our Success: How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter (Princeton, NJ and Woodstock: Princeton University Press, 2016), 464 pp. ISBN: 978-0-69116-685-8. $29.95/£22.95 hbk.
How our ability to learn from each other has been the essential ingredient to our remarkable success as a species Human beings are a very different kind of animal. We have evolved to become the most dominant species on Earth. We have a larger geographical range and process more energy than any other creature alive. This astonishing transformation is usually explained in terms of cognitive ability—people are just smarter than all the rest. But in this compelling book, Robert Boyd argues that culture—our ability to learn from each other—has been the essential ingredient of our remarkable success. A Different Kind of Animal demonstrates that while people are smart, we are not nearly smart enough to have solved the vast array of problems that confronted our species as it spread across the globe. Over the past two million years, culture has evolved to enable human populations to accumulate superb local adaptations that no individual could ever have invented on their own. It has also made possible the evolution of social norms that allow humans to make common cause with large groups of unrelated individuals, a kind of society not seen anywhere else in nature. This unique combination of cultural adaptation and large-scale cooperation has transformed our species and assured our survival—making us the different kind of animal we are today. Based on the Tanner Lectures delivered at Princeton University, A Different Kind of Animal features challenging responses by biologist H. Allen Orr, philosopher Kim Sterelny, economist Paul Seabright, and evolutionary anthropologist Ruth Mace, as well as an introduction by Stephen Macedo.
Time and History in Prehistory explores the many processes through which time and history are conceptualized and constructed, challenging the perception of prehistoric societies as ahistorical. Drawing equally on contemporary theory and illustrative case studies, and firmly rooted in material evidence, this book rearticulates concepts of time and history, questions the kind of narratives to be written about the past and underlines the fundamentally historical nature of prehistory. From a range of multi-disciplinary perspectives, the authors of this volume address the scales at which archaeological evidence and narrative are interwoven, from a single day to deep history and from a solitary pot to a complete city. In doing so, they argue the need for a multi-scalar approach to prehistoric data that allows for the interplay between short and long term, and for analytical units that encourage us to move continuously between scales. The growing interest in time and history in archaeology and across a wide range of disciplines concerned with human action and the human past highlights that these are exceptionally active fields. By juxtaposing varied viewpoints, this volume bridges gaps in narrative, finds a place for inclusive histories and makes clear the benefit of integrative and interdisciplinary approaches, including different disciplines and types of data.
Here is a fresh, intriguing, and, above all, authoritative book about how our sometimes hidden positions in various social structures—our human networks—shape how we think and behave, and inform our very outlook on life. Inequality, social immobility, and political polarization are only a few crucial phenomena driven by the inevitability of social structures. Social structures determine who has power and influence, account for why people fail to assimilate basic facts, and enlarge our understanding of patterns of contagion—from the spread of disease to financial crises. Despite their primary role in shaping our lives, human networks are often overlooked when we try to account for our most important political and economic practices. Matthew O. Jackson brilliantly illuminates the complexity of the social networks in which we are—often unwittingly—positioned and aims to facilitate a deeper appreciation of why we are who we are. Ranging across disciplines—psychology, behavioral economics, sociology, and business—and rich with historical analogies and anecdotes, The Human Network provides a galvanizing account of what can drive success or failure in life.
This book takes the reader on a journey, navigating the enigmatic aspects of cooperation; a journey that starts inside the body and continues via our thoughts to the human super-organism. Cooperation is one of life’s fundamental principles. We are all made of parts – genes, cells, organs, neurons, but also of ideas, or ‘memes’. Our societies too are made of parts – us humans. Is all this cooperation fundamentally the same process? From the smallest component parts of our bodies and minds to our complicated societies, everywhere cooperation is the organizing principle. Often this cooperation has emerged because the constituting parts have benefited from the interactions, but not seldom the cooperating units appear to lose on the interaction. How then to explain cooperation? How can we understand our intricate societies where we regularly provide small and large favors for people we are unrelated to, know, or even never expect to meet again? Where does the idea come from that it is right to risk one’s life for country, religion or freedom? The answers seem to reside in the two processes that have shaped humanity: biological and cultural evolution.