Mark Pagel is professor and head of the Evolution Laboratory of the Division of Zoology in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Reading. His "Wired for Culture: Origins of the Human Social Mind" is, as one might expect, a scholarly tome, which discourses at length on the nature of mankind's so-called "cultural vehicles" -- our communities, societies, tribes etc, together with their various trappings such as laws, languages, customs, and so on -- and the ways in which we, uniquely as a species, have evolved to function within them. The basic tenet of the book's thesis is that those very traits which most people think defines Homo sapiens as a species -- our intelligence, capacity for reasoning, language and consciousness -- have not so much shaped the cultures in which we have come to live but rather themselves arisen as a direct consequence of our evolutionary tendency towards mutual cooperation within small but competing tribal groupings.
The idea is a not a new one - Darwin himself came close to proposing something very similar in his "The Descent of Man" of 1871. In fact there are times when I think Darwin came closer to getting things right -- for Pagel clearly builds much of this argument on the thinking of Richard Dawkins of the 70s, holding to many of the tenets of "The Selfish Gene" (albeit modified to a more "gene expressionistic" mode of thinking) and consequently departs considerably from the latest thinking of many human biologists with regard to what drives evolutionary pathways, as well as what lies behind the workings of the human mind.Read more ›
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