Wired for Culture: Origins of the Human Social Mind

Mark Pagel. Norton, $26.95 (384p) ISBN 978-0-393-06587-9
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“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.” (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 11/07/2011
Release date: 02/01/2012
Paperback - 416 pages - 978-0-393-34420-2
Open Ebook - 978-0-393-06315-8
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