Humanity has precipitated a planetary crisis of resource consumption – a crisis of stuff. So ingrained is our stuff-centric view that we can barely imagine a way out beyond substituting a new portmanteau of material things for the one we have today.
In The Human Scaffold, anthropologist Josh Berson offers a new theory of adaptation to environmental change. Drawing on niche construction, evolutionary game theory, and the enactive view of cognition, Berson considers cases in the archaeology of adaptation in which technology in the conventional sense was virtually absent. Far from representing anomalies, these cases exemplify an enduring feature of human behaviour that has implications for our own fate.
The time has come to ask what the environmental crisis demands of us not as consumers but as biological beings. The Human Scaffold offers a starting point.
List of Figures
Preface: Living Epiphytically
4boro. Landscapes and Scaffolds
5. Ditch Kit
Josh Berson has held appointments at two Max Planck Institutes – Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, and the History of Science – and at the Berggruen Institute, where he was inaugural USC Berggruen Fellow in the Transformations of the Human. He is the author of The Meat Question: Animals, Humans, and the Deep History of Food and Computable Bodies: Instrumented Life and the Human Somatic Niche.
"In The Human Scaffold, Josh Berson offers an original, challenging, and beautiful argument that moves across physical and cultural anthropology, and across continents and time, to reassess the relationship between bodily adaptation, tool use, and survival. He shows us denizens of the twenty-first century that beneath the question of environmental adaptation lies another one, both practical and philosophical: How should we live?"
– Ben Wurgaft, author of Meat Planet
"The Human Scaffold turns you inside out. It shifts the way we see our bodies, how they sense and think, and how climate and landscape may biochemically adapt our inner selves. A book that makes you aware about the behavior of the skins we thought we were inhabiting. It touches your insides in all possible degrees. A hot date with your senses."
– Cooking Sections, founders of Climavore and authors of Salmon: A Red Herring
"Who else but Josh Berson could take readers on a journey that begins with forty thousand years of goings-on in Tasmania, veers into a consideration of Korean breath-hold divers, and touches on the fine points of topology? This deceptively small book brims with Berson's trademark elegance of mind and generosity of spirit, asking us to reconsider ideas of evolution, sustainability, and the anthropocene. Moving across scales of time and space, cautioning against our technological biases, Berson's breadth of vision and enquiry is, at the same time, astonishingly parsimonious. This is anthropology for the twenty-first century."
– Elizabeth J. Chin, Editor-in-Chief, American Anthropologist, and author of My Life with Things