Over the last three million years or so, our lineage has diverged sharply from those of our great ape relatives. Change has been rapid (in evolutionary terms) and pervasive. Morphology, life history, social life, sexual behavior, and foraging patterns have all shifted sharply away from other great apes. No other great ape lineage – including those of chimpanzees and gorillas – seems to have undergone such a profound transformation. In The Evolved Apprentice, Kim Sterelny argues that the divergence stems from the fact that humans gradually came to enrich the learning environment of the next generation. Humans came to cooperate in sharing information, and to cooperate ecologically and reproductively as well, and these changes initiated positive feedback loops that drove us further from other great apes.
Sterelny develops a new theory of the evolution of human cognition and human social life that emphasizes the gradual evolution of information sharing practices across generations and how information sharing transformed human minds and social lives. Sterelny proposes that humans developed a new form of ecological interaction with their environment, cooperative foraging, which led to positive feedback linking ecological cooperation, cultural learning, and environmental change. The ability to cope with the immense variety of human ancestral environments and social forms, he argues, depended not just on adapted minds but also on adapted developmental environments.
"The author's imposing scholarship, skill in philosophical analysis, and conscientious scientific methodology make this work a definitive critical discussion of current controversies concerning how humans evolved."
"Kim Sterelny has written a superb account of the evolution of humankind, remarkable for its breadth of vision and the range of evidence on which it draws. He reminds us how much natural selection can achieve, given vast enough stretches of time, from the accumulation of tiny physical and cultural changes too small to seem important to their immediate observers, but collectively adding up to nothing less than a revolution for our species and for our planet."
- Paul Seabright, Toulouse School of Economics
"In The Evolved Apprentice, Kim Sterelny casts a sharp philosopher's eye on rather contentious ideas about how we evolved into a highly distinctive species over the last few million years. He wants to make these ideas square with the evidence, sorting genuine contributions of various scholars – from often too-strong claims based on an incomplete consideration – of all the available evidence. His apprentice learning proposal is a judicious distillation of both ideas and empiricism."
- Peter Richerson, University of California-Davis
"The Evolved Apprentice is first and foremost a hypothesis about the origins of the human mind. Sterelny – arguably the world's leading philosopher of biology – has produced a wonderfully informed and readable treatise detailing how the construction of a nurturing environment in which others can learn has generated the positive feedback that made the difference and rendered humanity cognitively special. And I, for one, think that he is right."
- Kevin N. Laland, Professor of Biology, University of St. Andrews
1 The Challenge of Novelty
1.2 The Social Intelligence Hypothesis
1.3 Cooperative Foraging
1.4 Cooperative Foraging and Knowledge Accumulation
1.5 Life in a Changing World
2 Accumulating Cognitive Capital
2.1 A Lineage Explanation of Social Learning
2.2 Feedback Loops
2.3 The Apprentice Learning Model
3 Adapted Individuals, Adapted Environments
3.1 Behavioral Modernity
3.2 The Symbolic Species
3.3 Public Symbols and Social Worlds
3.4 Preserving and Expanding Information
3.5 Niche Construction and Neanderthal Extinction
4 The Human Cooperation Syndrome
4.1 Triggering Cooperation
4.2 A Cooperation Complex
4.3 The Grandmother Hypothesis
4.4 Foragers: Ancient and Modern
4.5 Hunting: Provisioning or Signaling?
5 Costs and Commitments
5.1 Free Riders
5.2 Control and Commitment
5.3 Commitment Mechanisms
5.4 Signals, Investments, and Interventions
5.5 Hunting and Commitment
5.6 Commitment through Investment
5.7 Primitive Trust
6 Signals, Cooperation, and Learning
6.1 Sperber’s Dilemma
6.2 Two Faces of Cultural Learning
6.3 Honesty Mechanisms
6.4 The Folk as Educators
7 From Skills to Norms
7.1 Norms and Communities
7.2 Moral Nativism
7.3 Self-Control, Vigilance, and Persuasion
7.4 Reactive and Reflective Moral Response
7.5 Moral Apprentices
7.6 The Biological Preparation of Moral Development
7.7 The Expansion of Cultural Learning
8 Cooperation and Conflict
8.1 Group Selection
8.2 Strong Reciprocity and Human Cooperation
8.3 Children of Strife?
8.4 The Holocene: A World Queerer Than We Realized?
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Kim Sterelny is Professor of Philosophy at Australian National University and Victoria University of Wellington. His books include Language and Reality (with Michael Devitt; second edition, MIT Press, 1999); Thought in a Hostile World, Dawkins vs. Gould: Survival of the Fittest; and The Major Transitions in Evolution Revisited (coedited with Brett Calcott; MIT Press, 2011).