The Human Evolutionary Transition offers a unified view of the evolution of intelligence, presenting a bold and provocative new account of how animals and humans have followed two powerful yet very different evolutionary paths to intelligence. This incisive book shows how animals rely on robust associative mechanisms that are guided by genetic information, which enable animals to sidestep complex problems in learning and decision making but ultimately limit what they can learn. Humans embody an evolutionary transition to a different kind of intelligence, one that relies on behavioural and mental flexibility. The book argues that flexibility is useless to most animals because they lack sufficient opportunities to learn new behavioural and mental skills. Humans find these opportunities in lengthy childhoods and through culture.
Blending the latest findings in fields ranging from psychology to evolutionary anthropology, The Human Evolutionary Transition draws on computational analyses of the problems organisms face, extensive overviews of empirical data on animal and human learning, and mathematical modelling and computer simulations of hypotheses about intelligence. This compelling book demonstrates that animal and human intelligence evolved from similar selection pressures while identifying bottlenecks in evolution that may explain why human-like intelligence is so rare.
Magnus Enquist is professor of ethology and director of the Centre for Cultural Evolution at Stockholm University. Stefano Ghirlanda is professor of psychology at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York. Johan Lind is associate professor of ethology and deputy director of the Centre for Cultural Evolution at Stockholm University.
"The Human Evolutionary Transition is ambitious, rigorous, and intellectually stimulating. The central argument that 'chaining' – a powerful form of associative learning – can explain even the most sophisticated behaviors among nonhuman species, is entirely convincing, as is the demonstration that humans have been able to overcome the costs associated with more complicated forms of combinatorial sequence learning, via social learning and extensive cooperation. Most impressively, the authors avoid the anthropocentric bias that places humans above other species, thereby offering a genuinely evolutionary perspective on cognitive evolution."
– Louise Barrett, author of Beyond the Brain: How Body and Environment Shape Animal and Human Minds
"The central thesis of this book – that sequential learning is the major Rubicon that separates human and nonhuman cognition and behavior – is a provocative one, and will stimulate much further research across disciplines ranging from psychology and anthropology to behavioral ecology and cultural evolution."
– Alex Mesoudi, author of Cultural Evolution: How Darwinian Theory Can Explain Human Culture and Synthesize the Social Sciences