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Archive for 'human evolution'

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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new book – ‘Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era’ by James Barrat

October 2, 2013

Our Final Invention

Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era by James Barrat (Thomas Dunne, 2013)

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

Book description from the publisher:

Artificial Intelligence helps choose what books you buy, what movies you see, and even who you date. It puts the “smart” in your smartphone and soon it will drive your car. It makes most of the trades on Wall Street, and controls vital energy, water, and transportation infrastructure. But Artificial Intelligence can also threaten our existence.

In as little as a decade, AI could match and then surpass human intelligence. Corporations and government agencies are pouring billions into achieving AI’s Holy Grail—human-level intelligence. Once AI has attained it, scientists argue, it will have survival drives much like our own. We may be forced to compete with a rival more cunning, more powerful, and more alien than we can imagine.

Through profiles of tech visionaries, industry watchdogs, and groundbreaking AI systems, Our Final Invention explores the perils of the heedless pursuit of advanced AI. Until now, human intelligence has had no rival. Can we coexist with beings whose intelligence dwarfs our own? And will they allow us to?

Google Books preview:

See also: Author’s website

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new book – ‘The Rational Animal: How Evolution Made Us Smarter Than We Think’ by Douglas T. Kenrick and Vladas Griskevicius

August 28, 2013

Rational Animal

The Rational Animal: How Evolution Made Us Smarter Than We Think by Douglas T. Kenrick and Vladas Griskevicius (Basic Books)

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

Book description from the publisher:

Why do three out of four professional football players go bankrupt? How can illiterate jungle dwellers pass a test that tricks Harvard philosophers? And why do billionaires work so hard—only to give their hard-earned money away?

When it comes to making decisions, the classic view is that humans are eminently rational. But growing evidence suggests instead that our choices are often irrational, biased, and occasionally even moronic. Which view is right—or is there another possibility?

In this animated tour of the inner workings of the mind, psychologist Douglas T. Kenrick and business professor Vladas Griskevicius challenge the prevailing views of decision making, and present a new alternative grounded in evolutionary science. By connecting our modern behaviors to their ancestral roots, they reveal that underneath our seemingly foolish tendencies is an exceptionally wise system of decision making.

From investing money to choosing a job, from buying a car to choosing a romantic partner, our choices are driven by deep-seated evolutionary goals. Because each of us has multiple evolutionary goals, though, new research reveals something radical—there’s more than one “you” making decisions. Although it feels as if there is just one single “self” inside your head, your mind actually contains several different subselves, each one steering you in a different direction when it takes its turn at the controls.

The Rational Animal will transform the way you think about decision making. And along the way, you’ll discover the intimate connections between ovulating strippers, Wall Street financiers, testosterone-crazed skateboarders, Steve Jobs, Elvis Presley, and you.

Book trailer:

See also: Book website

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new book – ‘Big Gods: How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict’ by Ara Norenzayan

August 24, 2013

Big Gods

Big Gods: How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict by Ara Norenzayan (Princeton University Press, 2013)

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

Book description from the publisher:

How did human societies scale up from small, tight-knit groups of hunter-gatherers to the large, anonymous, cooperative societies of today–even though anonymity is the enemy of cooperation? How did organized religions with “Big Gods”–the great monotheistic and polytheistic faiths–spread to colonize most minds in the world? In Big Gods, Ara Norenzayan makes the surprising and provocative argument that these fundamental puzzles about the origins of civilization are one and the same, and answer each other.

Once human minds could conceive of supernatural beings, Norenzayan argues, the stage was set for rapid cultural and historical changes that eventually led to large societies with Big Gods–powerful, omniscient, interventionist deities concerned with regulating the moral behavior of humans. How? As the saying goes, “watched people are nice people.” It follows that people play nice when they think Big Gods are watching them, even when no one else is. Yet at the same time that sincere faith in Big Gods unleashed unprecedented cooperation within ever-expanding groups, it also introduced a new source of potential conflict between competing groups.

In some parts of the world, such as northern Europe, secular institutions have precipitated religion’s decline by usurping its community-building functions. These societies with atheist majorities–some of the most cooperative, peaceful, and prosperous in the world–climbed religion’s ladder, and then kicked it away. So while Big Gods answers fundamental questions about the origins and spread of world religions, it also helps us understand another, more recent social transition–the rise of cooperative societies without belief in gods.

Google Books preview:

See also: Author’s website

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