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Archive for 'human evolution'

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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‘Last Ape Standing’ by Chip Walter for $1.99 – Kindle Daily Deal (Jan 16) at Amazon.com

January 16, 2014

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new book – ‘The Origin of Ideas: Blending, Creativity, and the Human Spark’ by Mark Turner

January 13, 2014

The Origin of Ideas

The Origin of Ideas: Blending, Creativity, and the Human Spark by Mark Turner (Oxford University Press, 2014)

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

Book description from the publisher:

What makes human beings so innovative, so adept at rapid, creative thinking? Where do new ideas come from, and once we have them, how can we carry them mentally into new situations? What allows our thinking to range easily over time, space, causation, and agency-so easily that we take this truly remarkable ability for granted?
In The Origin of Ideas, Mark Turner offers a provocative new theory to answer these and many other questions. While other species do what we cannot-fly, run amazingly fast, see in the dark-only human beings can innovate so rapidly and widely. Turner argues that this distinctively human spark was an evolutionary advance that developed from a particular kind of mental operation, which he calls “blending”: our ability to take two or more ideas and create a new idea in the “blend.” Turner begins by looking at the “lionman,” a 32,000-year-old ivory figurine, one of the earliest examples of blending. Here, the concepts “lion” and “man” are merged into a new figure, the “lionman.” Turner argues that at some stage during the Paleolithic Age, humans reached a tipping point. Before that, we were a bunch of large, unimaginative mammals. After that, we were poised to take over the world. Once biological evolution hit upon making brains that could do advanced blending, we possessed the capacity to invent and maintain culture. Cultural innovation could then progress by leaps and bounds over biological evolution itself, leading to the highest forms of human cognition and creativity.
For anyone interested in how and why our minds work the way they do, The Origin of Ideas offers a wealth of original insights-and is itself a brilliant example of the innovative thinking it describes.

Google Books preview:

See also: Author’s website

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new book – ‘More than Nature Needs: Language, Mind, and Evolution’ by Derek Bickerton

December 9, 2013

More Than Nature Needs

More than Nature Needs: Language, Mind, and Evolution by Derek Bickerton (Harvard University Press, 2013)

(amazon.co.uk)

Book description from the publisher:

The human mind is an unlikely evolutionary adaptation. How did humans acquire cognitive capacities far more powerful than anything a hunting-and-gathering primate needed to survive? Alfred Russel Wallace, co-founder with Darwin of evolutionary theory, saw humans as “divine exceptions” to natural selection. Darwin thought use of language might have shaped our sophisticated brains, but his hypothesis remained an intriguing guess–until now. Combining state-of-the-art research with forty years of writing and thinking about language evolution, Derek Bickerton convincingly resolves a crucial problem that both biology and the cognitive sciences have hitherto ignored or evaded.

What evolved first was neither language nor intelligence–merely normal animal communication plus displacement. That was enough to break restrictions on both thought and communication that bound all other animals. The brain self-organized to store and automatically process its new input, words. But words, which are inextricably linked to the concepts they represent, had to be accessible to consciousness. The inevitable consequence was a cognitive engine able to voluntarily merge both thoughts and words into meaningful combinations. Only in a third phase could language emerge, as humans began to tinker with a medium that, when used for communication, was adequate for speakers but suboptimal for hearers.

Starting from humankind’s remotest past, More than Nature Needs transcends nativist thesis and empiricist antithesis by presenting a revolutionary synthesis–one that instead of merely repeating “nature and nurture” clichés shows specifically and in a principled manner how and why the synthesis came about.

Google Books preview:

See also: Author at Academia.edu – “How ‘More Than Nature Needs’ Changes the Linguistic and Cognitive Landscape: A Study Guide”

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new book – ‘The Gap: The Science of What Separates Us from Other Animals’ by Thomas Suddendorf

October 27, 2013

The Gap

The Gap: The Science of What Separates Us from Other Animals by Thomas Suddendorf (Basic Books, 2013)

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

Book description from the publisher:

There exists an undeniable chasm between the capacities of humans and those of animals. Our minds have spawned civilizations and technologies that have changed the face of the Earth, whereas even our closest animal relatives sit unobtrusively in their dwindling habitats. Yet despite longstanding debates, the nature of this apparent gap has remained unclear. What exactly is the difference between our minds and theirs?

In The Gap, psychologist Thomas Suddendorf provides a definitive account of the mental qualities that separate humans from other animals, as well as how these differences arose. Drawing on two decades of research on apes, children, and human evolution, he surveys the abilities most often cited as uniquely human—language, intelligence, morality, culture, theory of mind, and mental time travel—and finds that two traits account for most of the ways in which our minds appear so distinct: Namely, our open-ended ability to imagine and reflect on scenarios, and our insatiable drive to link our minds together. These two traits explain how our species was able to amplify qualities that we inherited in parallel with our animal counterparts; transforming animal communication into language, memory into mental time travel, sociality into mind reading, problem solving into abstract reasoning, traditions into culture, and empathy into morality.

Suddendorf concludes with the provocative suggestion that our unrivalled status may be our own creation—and that the gap is growing wider not so much because we are becoming smarter but because we are killing off our closest intelligent animal relatives.

Weaving together the latest findings in animal behavior, child development, anthropology, psychology, and neuroscience, this book will change the way we think about our place in nature. A major argument for reconsidering what makes us human, The Gap is essential reading for anyone interested in our evolutionary origins and our relationship with the rest of the animal kingdom.

See also: Book website

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