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Archive for 'human evolution'

new book – ‘The Punisher’s Brain: The Evolution of Judge and Jury’ by Morris B. Hoffman

April 16, 2014

The Punisher's Brain
 

The Punisher’s Brain: The Evolution of Judge and Jury by Morris B. Hoffman (Cambridge University Press, 2014)

(amazon.co.uk)

 

Book description from the publisher:

Why do we punish, and why do we forgive? Are these learned behaviors, or is there something deeper going on? This book argues that there is indeed something deeper going on, and that our essential response to the killers, rapists, and other wrongdoers among us has been programmed into our brains by evolution. Using evidence and arguments from neuroscience and evolutionary psychology, Morris B. Hoffman traces the development of our innate drives to punish – and to forgive – throughout human history. He describes how, over time, these innate drives became codified into our present legal systems and how the responsibility and authority to punish and forgive was delegated to one person – the judge – or a subset of the group – the jury. Hoffman shows how these urges inform our most deeply held legal principles and how they might animate some legal reforms.

See also: Author’s webpage

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new book – ‘Snakes, Sunrises, and Shakespeare: How Evolution Shapes Our Loves and Fears’ by Gordon H. Orians

April 14, 2014

Snakes, Sunrises and Shakespeare

Snakes, Sunrises, and Shakespeare: How Evolution Shapes Our Loves and Fears by Gordon H. Orians (University of Chicago Press, 2014)

(kindle ed.), (amazon.co.uk), (UK kindle ed.)

Book description from the publisher:

Our breath catches and we jump in fear at the sight of a snake. We pause and marvel at the sublime beauty of a sunrise. These reactions are no accident; in fact, many of our human responses to nature are steeped in our deep evolutionary past—we fear snakes because of the danger of venom or constriction, and we welcome the assurances of the sunrise as the predatory dangers of the dark night disappear. Many of our aesthetic preferences—from the kinds of gardens we build to the foods we enjoy and the entertainment we seek—are the lingering result of natural selection.

In this ambitious and unusual work, evolutionary biologist Gordon H. Orians explores the role of evolution in human responses to the environment, beginning with why we have emotions and ending with evolutionary approaches to aesthetics. Orians reveals how our emotional lives today are shaped by decisions our ancestors made centuries ago on African savannas as they selected places to live, sought food and safety, and socialized in small hunter-gatherer groups.  During this time our likes and dislikes became wired in our brains, as the appropriate responses to the environment meant the difference between survival or death. His rich analysis explains why we mimic the tropical savannas of our ancestors in our parks and gardens, why we are simultaneously attracted to danger and approach it cautiously, and how paying close attention to nature’s sounds has resulted in us being an unusually musical species.  We also learn why we have developed discriminating palates for wine, and why we have strong reactions to some odors, and why we enjoy classifying almost everything.

By applying biological perspectives ranging from Darwin to current neuroscience to analyses of our aesthetic preferences for landscapes, sounds, smells, plants, and animals, Snakes, Sunrises, and Shakespeare transforms how we view our experience of the natural world and how we relate to each other.

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new book – ‘A Natural History of Human Thinking’ by Michael Tomasello

February 3, 2014

A Natural History of Human THinking

A Natural History of Human Thinking by Michael Tomasello (Harvard University Press, 2013)

(kindle ed.), (amazon.co.uk), (UK kindle ed.)

Book description from the publisher:

Tool-making or culture, language or religious belief: ever since Darwin, thinkers have struggled to identify what fundamentally differentiates human beings from other animals. In this much-anticipated book, Michael Tomasello weaves his twenty years of comparative studies of humans and great apes into a compelling argument that cooperative social interaction is the key to our cognitive uniqueness. Once our ancestors learned to put their heads together with others to pursue shared goals, humankind was on an evolutionary path all its own.

Tomasello argues that our prehuman ancestors, like today’s great apes, were social beings who could solve problems by thinking. But they were almost entirely competitive, aiming only at their individual goals. As ecological changes forced them into more cooperative living arrangements, early humans had to coordinate their actions and communicate their thoughts with collaborative partners. Tomasello’s “shared intentionality hypothesis” captures how these more socially complex forms of life led to more conceptually complex forms of thinking. In order to survive, humans had to learn to see the world from multiple social perspectives, to draw socially recursive inferences, and to monitor their own thinking via the normative standards of the group. Even language and culture arose from the preexisting need to work together. What differentiates us most from other great apes, Tomasello proposes, are the new forms of thinking engendered by our new forms of collaborative and communicative interaction.

A Natural History of Human Thinking is the most detailed scientific analysis to date of the connection between human sociality and cognition.

Google Books preview:

See also: Author’s webpage

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new book – ‘Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes’ by Svante Pääbo

January 27, 2014

Neanderthal Man

Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes by Svante Pääbo (Basic Books, 2014)

(amazon.co.uk)

Book description from the publisher:

What can we learn from the genomes of our closest evolutionary relatives?

Neanderthal Man tells the story of geneticist Svante Pääbo’s mission to answer this question, and recounts his ultimately successful efforts to genetically define what makes us different from our Neanderthal cousins. Beginning with the study of DNA in Egyptian mummies in the early 1980s and culminating in the sequencing of the Neanderthal genome in 2010, Neanderthal Man describes the events, intrigues, failures, and triumphs of these scientifically rich years through the lens of the pioneer and inventor of the field of ancient DNA.

We learn that Neanderthal genes offer a unique window into the lives of our hominin relatives and may hold the key to unlocking the mystery of why humans survived while Neanderthals went extinct. Drawing on genetic and fossil clues, Pääbo explores what is known about the origin of modern humans and their relationship to the Neanderthals and describes the fierce debate surrounding the nature of the two species’ interactions. His findings have not only redrawn our family tree, but recast the fundamentals of human history—the biological beginnings of fully modern Homo sapiens, the direct ancestors of all people alive today.

A riveting story about a visionary researcher and the nature of scientific inquiry, Neanderthal Man offers rich insight into the fundamental question of who we are.

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new book – ‘Survival of the Nicest: How Altruism Made Us Human and Why It Pays to Get Along’ by Stefan Klein

January 24, 2014

Survival of the Nicest

Survival of the Nicest: How Altruism Made Us Human and Why It Pays to Get Along by Stefan Klein (The Experiment, 2014)

(kindle ed.), (amazon.co.uk), (UK kindle ed.)

Book description from the publisher:

This revelatory tour de force by an acclaimed and internationally bestselling science writer upends our understanding of “survival of the fittest”—and invites us all to think and act more altruistically

The phrase “survival of the fittest” conjures an image of the most cutthroat individuals rising to the top. But Stefan Klein, author of the #1 international bestseller The Science of Happiness and winner of the Georg von Holtzbrinck Prize for Scientific Journalism, makes the startling assertion that the key to achieving lasting personal and societal success lies in helping others. In fact, Klein argues, altruism is our defining characteristic: Natural selection favored those early humans who cooperated in groups, and with survival more assured, our altruistic ancestors were free to devote brainpower to developing intelligence, language, and culture—our very humanity. As Klein puts it, “We humans became first the friendliest and then the most intelligent apes.”

To build his persuasive case for how altruistic behavior made us human—and why it pays to get along—Klein synthesizes an extraordinary array of material: current research on genetics and the brain, economics, social psychology, behavioral and anthropological experiments, history, and modern culture. Ultimately, his groundbreaking findings lead him to a vexing question: If we’re really hard-wired to act for one another’s benefit, why aren’t we all getting along?

Klein believes we’ve learned to mistrust our generous instincts because success is so often attributed to selfish ambition. In Survival of the Nicest, he invites us to rethink what it means to be the “fittest” as he shows how caring for others can protect us from loneliness and depression, make us happier and healthier, reward us economically, and even extend our lives.

Google Books preview:

See also: Author’s website

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