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June 27, 2020
WIRED FOR CULTURE:
Origins of the Human Social Mind
by Mark D. Pagel.
W.W. Norton, 2012 (i-xi, 416 pages)
[Numbers in parentheses = page numbers]
QUOTE = "A unique trait of the human species is that our personalities, lifestyles, and world views are shaped by an accident of birth — namely, the culture into which we are born. It is our cultures and not our genes, which determine what foods we eat, what languages we speak, what people we love and marry, and what people we kill in war. But how did our species develop a mind that is hardwired for culture — and why?" from book promotional info.
INTRODUCTION — THE GAMBLE (1-15)
PART 1 — MIND CONTROL, PROTECTION, AND PROSPERITY (17-68)
1) THE OCCUPATION OF THE WORLD (29-
2) ULTRA-SOCIALITY AND THE CULTURAL SURVIVAL VEHICLE (69-
3) THE DOMESTICATION OF OUR TALENTS (99-131)
4) RELIGION AND OTHER CULTURAL "ENHANCERS" (132-169)
PART 2 — COOPERATION AND OUR CULTURAL NATURE (171-266)
5) RECIPROCITY AND THE SHADOW OF THE FUTURE (179-
6) GREEN BEARDS AND THE REPUTATION MARKETPLACE (203-
7) HOSTILE FORCES (233-266)
PART 3 — THE THEATER OF THE MIND (267-340)
8) HUMAN LANGUAGE — The voice of our genes (275-
9) DECEPTION, CONSCIOUSNESS, AND TRUTH (307-340)
PART 4 — THE MANY AND THE FEW (341-369)
10) TERMITE MOUNDS AND THE EXPLOITATION OF OUR SOCIAL INSTINCTS (345-369)
Fairness, sense of
H. sapiens sapiens
Languages, words of
Survival of the fittest
Theory of mind
AUTHOR NOTE, SUMMARY,
AND BOOK DESCRIPTION
AUTHOR NOTE = Mark Pagel is a fellow of the royal society and a professor of evolutionary biology at the university of reading. He lives in oxford, England.
SUMMARY = A fascinating, far-reaching study of how the innate capacity of our species for culture has altered the course of our social and evolutionary history.
BOOK DESCRIPTION = A unique trait of the human species is that our personalities, lifestyles, and world views are shaped by an accident of birth — namely, the culture into which we are born. It is our cultures and not our genes, which determine what foods we eat, what languages we speak, what people we love and marry, and what people we kill in war. But how did our species develop a mind that is hardwired for culture — and why?
Evolutionary biologist Mark Pagel tracks this intriguing question through the last 80,000 years of human evolution, revealing how an innate propensity to contribute and conform to the culture of our birth not only enabled human survival and progress in the past but also continues to influence our behavior today. Shedding light on our species' defining attributes --- from art, morality, and altruism to self-interest, deception, and prejudice — Wired for Culture offers surprising new insights into what it means to be human.
EDITORIAL BOOK REVIEWS
LIBRARY JOURNAL REVIEW = Pagel (evolutionary biology, Univ. of Reading, UK) examines the evolution of human nature in the tradition of Richard Dawkins's The Selfish Gene. Pagel, taking the gene-focused approach fostered by Dawkins, extends the discussion from bodies as vehicles used to promote our genes, to culture as another, bigger vehicle driven to do the same.
Pagel argues humans evolved for culture. Furthermore, culture, not unlike genes and natural selection, was selected for knowledge, beliefs, and practices that contribute to the success and survivability of the human species. This cultural selection has set us apart from other species and continues to drive the selection of genes that extend the biology behind our cultural eminence, such as genes for larger brains. Likewise, cultural selection contributes insights into such other aspects of human nature as the arts, communities, languages, morality, religion, and other behaviors. VERDICT Paul Ehrlich's Human Nature: Genes, Culture, and the Human Prospect explores similar territory but takes a more contrarian position against a gene-driven evolution of behavior. Pagel's book is recommended for readers interested in human evolution and human nature. – Scott Vieira, Sam Houston State Univ. Lib., Huntsville, TX
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY REVIEW = "80,000 years ago... our genes undertook a remarkable gamble," writes Pagel, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Reading in England. Our genes "handed over control to ideas," and as a result, humans became the earth's dominant species. Culture became "a second great system of inheritance to stand alongside our genes — a new way of transmitting information from one generation to the next, shortcutting the normal genetic routes of inheritance." Pagel does an excellent job of using evolutionary biology to discuss the origins of religion, music, and art, and the reasons why, cross-culturally, we generally share a sense of morality. One of the more provocative questions Pagel asks is, "Have we been domesticated by culture?" His answer is yes. Culture, he asserts, has altered us in much the same way we have altered wild canids, The technologies we've developed exploit our innate, genetically endowed abilities, but they require more domesticated skills-such as mental agility rather than brute strength. Pagel also says that humans have a unique ability to cooperate. This ability, he explains, rather optimistically, allows us to overcome our evolutionary heritage and "makes us capable of moving beyond the divisive politics of race, ethnicity, and multiculturalism."
BOOK LIST REVIEW = *Starred Review* Herbert Spencer got it wrong. True Social Darwinism does not mean ruthlessly inhuman competition. Rather, it means the emergence of cooperation and altruism as vital parts of the astounding set of distinctively human adaptations called culture. Arguing this point, Pagel invokes Richard Dawkins' notion of memes as cultural units that compete for survival in social life in the same way genes compete for reproduction in biological life. Readers soon see how the memes that foster trust, division of labor, and intergenerational learning have flourished in small groups of related individuals. But Pagel also limns the dynamics of kin groups in incubating memes for deceit, prejudice, and violent aggression toward out-groups. Yet by ferreting out the hidden implications of game theory, sociolinguistics, and the mnemonics of music, Pagel shows that cosmopolitan civilizations can transcend such destructive impulses and so sustain very large yet harmonious societies. Some readers, to be sure, will resist the explanation of even religious worship and artistic creativity in terms of biological science. But readers of diverse perspectives will recognize the timely wisdom in Pagel's concluding reflections on the challenge humans now face in overcoming deeply ingrained ethnic jealousies by developing much more inclusive new conceptions of culture. – Christensen, Bryce
CHOICE REVIEW = The emergence of large-scale cooperation to achieve a desired goal, even among unrelated individuals, is a hallmark of human cultural evolution. Taking a formal comparative and evolutionary approach, Pagel (Univ. of Reading, UK) addresses the duality of human nature in which selfless yet costly altruistic acts toward fellow humans are balanced with cruel and grisly forms of aggression (e.g., war and genocide) against those whom people deem their enemies. Shared knowledge and cultural transmission of learned behaviors--from customs and belief systems to technical skills and language--become the basis of group membership and self-identity, ultimately driving geographic variation among modern human populations and, perhaps most importantly, the distinction between "us" and "them." The author draws from a wide variety of studies in culture, evolution, genetics, linguistics, and psychology to develop a comprehensive understanding of human cultural evolution over the past 80,000 years. Within the highly social context of human societies, the reputation of individuals can become a stronger evolutionary pressure than natural selection and thus drive the persistence of maladaptive behaviors. In sum, this is a thorough, well-researched, and important contribution to understanding the biological and social adaptations in modern humans. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Academic and general readers, all levels. R. A. Delgado Jr. University of Southern California.
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