First makes you think, then makes you cry. Should get some sort of inverted igNobel prize. The author is to a large degree obviously correct, which isFirst makes you think, then makes you cry. Should get some sort of inverted igNobel prize. The author is to a large degree obviously correct, which is depressing. The school system needs to be restructured, but that will never happen - because education politics is mostly about signaling. So we’re stuck. (But if you do try reform, please don’t cut government spending for schools. That suggestion is just politics.)...more
All in all a fantastic book. And obviously correct in its conclusions (meaning that I agree). The book sets out to show how recent human evolution (laAll in all a fantastic book. And obviously correct in its conclusions (meaning that I agree). The book sets out to show how recent human evolution (last 300 000 thousand years, at least) to a large degree has taken place in the cultural realm rather than in the biological realm. According to Heyes, we don't only learn facts, but also what she terms "cognitive gadgets" - thinking tools such as reading, reasoning, how to imitate and how to "mind read". These abilities have evolved over time, meaning that the difference between people a few thousand years ago and people today are in that these "cognitive gadgets" have evolved, not our biology. To my mind, this is blindingly obvious, but it's nice to see the alternative arguments countered in such a well-informed and scholarly way. But the claim is actually even more expansive than that, that also some human universals are learned, not genetically inherited, such as language and "mind reading". If there is any shortcoming in the book (and why I gave four stars instead of five) it is that the refutation of counterarguments is so prominently featured and Heyes own theory less well explained. How do you test it, how do you study the evolution of "cognitive gadgets" and in what way is it not just regular history of ideas? I would have liked to see a more expansive presentation of such issues. But all in all, this is probably one of the most important books on evolution and cultural evolution to be published in recent years, to be read by anyone interested in these issues. I, for one, will happily bury "evolutionary psychology" and all its excesses. Welcome instead "cultural evolutionary psychology"....more
This was a surprisingly disappointing book. As a practicing researcher in evolutionary biology, I hate to see my subject mistreated like this.
Pro tip:This was a surprisingly disappointing book. As a practicing researcher in evolutionary biology, I hate to see my subject mistreated like this.
Pro tip: if you want to write about a subject - read up on it from other sources than best selling popular science accounts. For some examples, (1) Franz de Waal's Chimpanzee Politics is fun, but basically an exercise in anthropomorphizing, (2) Robin Dunbar's hypotheses of a "Dunbar number" limiting human group size has a badly thought through mechanism (many things limit primate group sizes) and lacks empirical support, and (3) Geoffrey Miller's ideas of the brain as sexual or fitness advertisement likewise has no empirical support. They are fun hypotheses to speculate about, no more, much less.
The central thesis in the book seems to be that we are driven by hidden motives (duh) having to do with self-deception (yes!) and social signaling (also yes!). But that's it - its biology all the way down. Like the exploding field of cultural evolution hasn't made huge inroads to that type of explanation. Is biological evolution our real motive? Well no, its an underlying process having shaped some of our motives, like self-deception and social signaling. But there is more, much more, to be known about our motives from understanding cultural evolution. To recommend just one immensely readable recent book on the topic, read Joseph Henrich's The Secret of Our Success.
That said, the book picks up steam towards the end, is well written and contains interesting observations. But it is sadly one-sided and lacking in current research....more
One of the best books on the current state of research in cultural evolution written so far. Engaging and fun to read, it steers clear of simplifying One of the best books on the current state of research in cultural evolution written so far. Engaging and fun to read, it steers clear of simplifying the field or overstating the relevance of the examples provided....more