Biological and cultural processes have evolved together, in a symbiotic spiral; they are now indissolubly linked, with human survival unlikely without such culturally produced aids as clothing, cooked food, and tools. The twelve original essays collected in this volume take an evolutionary perspective on human culture, examining the emergence of culture in evolution and the underlying role of brain and cognition. The essay authors, all internationally prominent researchers in their fields, draw on the cognitive sciences—including linguistics, developmental psychology, and cognition—to develop conceptual and methodological tools for understanding the interaction of culture and genome. They go beyond the "how"—the questions of behavioral mechanisms—to address the "why"—the evolutionary origin of our psychological functioning. What was the "X-factor," the magic ingredient of culture—the element that took humans out of the general run of mammals and other highly social organisms?
Several essays identify specific behavioral and functional factors that could account for human culture, including the capacity for "mind reading" that underlies social and cultural learning and the nature of morality and inhibitions, while others emphasize multiple partially independent factors—planning, technology, learning, and language. The X-factor, these essays suggest, is a set of cognitive adaptations for culture.
About the Editors
Stephen C. Levinson is Director of the Language and Cognition Group at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands.
Pierre Jaisson is Professor and Director of the Laboratory of Experimental and Comparative Ethology at the University of Paris-North in France.
"This is a wonderful collection exploring the relationships between culture and evolutionary biology. It looks not only at issues concerning our evolutionary past, but also those relating to our social life today. There will be much discussion about the topics covered, and even those of us who disagree about parts will feel that we have benefited from the whole."
—Michael Ruse, Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy, Florida State University
"Distinguished psychologists wrestle 'culture' away from the greedy grip of interpretive anthropologists and ask their own questions: What kind of evolved mind was needed to create and transmit culture? What impact does that transmitted culture exert on our evolved minds?"
—Anne Campbell, Professor of Psychology, Durham University, UK