cover image Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony: How Culture Made the Human Mind

Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony: How Culture Made the Human Mind

Kevin N. Laland. Princeton Univ., $35 (480p) ISBN 978-0-691-15118-2

Laland, professor of behavioral and evolutionary biology at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, covers basic principles of evolutionary biology as he describes a decade’s worth of his and others’ research, culminating in a comprehensive and fascinating solution to the vexing problem of the human mind. He advocates for the position that human culture is not a product of the human mind; instead, he believes that early cultural tendencies shaped the evolution of our brains. Employing a combination of experimental and theoretical data, Laland hypothesizes that early humans copied successful behaviors from relatives and thus increased their fitness. Passive imitation led to active teaching with large benefits accruing to those who were able to pass on complex behaviors most accurately. Teaching, in turn, led to the need for language. “It sounds paradoxical that teaching should both explain the advent of human cultural complexity and be the product of it,” he writes, “but that is exactly what we should expect if a feedback mechanism... is operating.” All of these interactions helped shaped the brains of early humans, making them far more complex than those of our closest relatives. Throughout, Laland successfully draws readers into the scientific process that led to his conclusions while presenting data from a very wide array of disciplines. (Mar.)