464 pages, 13 b/w illustrations
Humans possess an extraordinary capacity for cultural production, from the arts and language to science and technology. How did the human mind – and the uniquely human ability to devise and transmit culture – evolve from its roots in animal behavior? Darwin's Unfinished Symphony presents a captivating new theory of human cognitive evolution. This compelling and accessible book reveals how culture is not just the magnificent end product of an evolutionary process that produced a species unlike all others – it is also the key driving force behind that process.
Kevin Laland shows how the learned and socially transmitted activities of our ancestors shaped our intellects through accelerating cycles of evolutionary feedback. The truly unique characteristics of our species – such as our intelligence, language, teaching, and cooperation – are not adaptive responses to predators, disease, or other external conditions. Rather, humans are creatures of their own making. Drawing on his own groundbreaking research, and bringing it to life with vivid natural history, Laland explains how animals imitate, innovate, and have remarkable traditions of their own. He traces our rise from scavenger apes in prehistory to modern humans able to design iPhones, dance the tango, and send astronauts into space.
Darwin's Unfinished Symphony tells the story of the painstaking fieldwork, the key experiments, the false leads, and the stunning scientific breakthroughs that led to this new understanding of how culture transformed human evolution. It is the story of how Darwin's intellectual descendants picked up where he left off and took up the challenge of providing a scientific account of the evolution of the human mind.
"With relentless determination and passion, Laland has accumulated a wealth of data and ideas from his experimental studies of social learning in many species. Spanning many disciplines, he weaves a rich, sophisticated, and ever-changing tapestry, showing us how the coevolution of cultural practices and products has shaped both the most mundane and extraordinary aspects of human life."
– Eva Jablonka, Tel Aviv University
"A most enjoyable and rewarding book that investigates many of humans' greatest achievements – from language to art – from the perspective of animals and evolution. Ranging across many different topics, Laland brings together processes of biological and cultural evolution in unique and fascinating ways to explain what it means to be human."
– Michael Tomasello, codirector of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
"Kevin Laland is one of the pioneers in the modern study of cultural evolution. Darwin's Unfinished Symphony draws on his large and important body of work, showing how culture – socially transmitted knowledge – is what has made humans so successful as a species."
– Robert Boyd, coauthor of Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution
"Truly impressive. Laland presents a new theory of cognitive evolution that is deeply grounded in evolutionary theory and comparative analyses, but which doesn't make the twin mistakes of exalting humans at the expense of other species or overplaying the continuity between the two. He also demonstrates beautifully why human cultural evolution has remained an evolutionary puzzle for so long."
– Louise Barrett, author of Beyond the Brain: How Body and Environment Shape Animal and Human Minds
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Kevin N. Laland is professor of behavioral and evolutionary biology at the University of St Andrews. His books include Social Learning: An Introduction to Mechanisms, Methods, and Models and Niche Construction: The Neglected Process in Evolution.