The Origins and Evolutionary Effects of Consciousness

Evolution cannot be conscious, just as it cannot be unconscious, silly, clever, or anxious. However, conscious, sentient animals, including reflectively thinking humans, are one of the most amazing products of evolution. So while the question “Can Evolution be Conscious?” has no meaning, it is meaningful to ask how consciousness–the ability to have subjective experiences, such as smelling a rose or feeling fear–has evolved, and how, once in place, it has modified the rates and patterns of evolution. This is a particularly pertinent question when the effects of human reflective consciousness are considered. However, the effects of consciousness on evolutionary processes are more general.

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Do not Underestimate the Etruscans: Art and Culture of their Own

Many folks see the Etruscan civilization as merely a segue, a follow up to the Greeks and a foreshadowing to the Romans. But casting this ancient society as a sideline character might not do them enough justice. Indeed, despite the importance of Etruria (the wider region of the Etruscans ) in its context as a link between the ancient worlds of the Greeks and the Romans, modern thought considers Etruscan civilization ‘far superior to the traditional picture of a poor relation of Greece and a mysterious prelude to Rome.’This new-found appreciation of the Etruscans can be most clearly seen in its art and architecture – and distinguishing where they leave off from the Greeks and create their own individual style.

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Settlement, Society and Cognition in Human Evolution

This volume provides a landscape narrative of early hominin evolution, linking conventional material and geographic aspects of the early archaeological record with wider and more elusive social, cognitive and symbolic landscapes. It seeks to move beyond a limiting notion of early hominin culture and behavior as dictated solely by the environment to present the early hominin world as the outcome of a dynamic dialogue between the physical environment and its perception and habitation by active agents. This international group of contributors presents theoretically informed yet empirically based perspectives on hominin and human landscapes.

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Compassion Helped Neanderthals to Survive

They have an unwarranted image as brutish and uncaring, but new research has revealed just how knowledgeable and effective Neanderthal healthcare was. The study, by the University of York, reveals that Neanderthal healthcare was uncalculated and highly effective — challenging our notions that they were brutish compared to modern humans. The researchers argue that the care provided was widespread and should be seen as a “compassionate and knowledgeable response to injury and illness.” It is well known that Neanderthals sometimes provided care for the injured, but a new analysis by the team at York suggests they were genuinely caring of their peers, regardless of the level of illness or injury, rather than helping others out of self-interest.

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Evolution, Culture, and the Human Mind

An enormous amount of scientific research compels two fundamental conclusions about the human mind: The mind is the product of evolution, and the mind is shaped by culture. These two perspectives on the human mind are not incompatible, but, until recently, their compatibility has resisted rigorous scholarly inquiry. Evolutionary psychology documents many ways in which genetic adaptations govern the operations of the human mind. But evolutionary inquiries only occasionally grapple seriously with questions about human culture and cross-cultural differences. By contrast, cultural psychology documents many ways in which thought and behavior are shaped by different cultural experiences. But cultural inquiries rarely consider evolutionary processes. Even after decades of intensive research, these two perspectives on human psychology have remained largely divorced from each other. But that is now changing – and that is what this book is about. Evolution, Culture, and the Human Mind is the first scholarly book to integrate evolutionary and cultural perspectives on human psychology. The contributors include world-renowned evolutionary, cultural, social, and cognitive psychologists. These chapters reveal many novel insights linking human evolution to both human cognition and human culture – including the evolutionary origins of cross-cultural differences. The result is a stimulating introduction to an emerging integrative perspective on human nature.

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The Ape that Understood the Universe: How the Mind and Culture Evolve

The Ape that Understood the Universe is the story of the strangest animal in the world: the human animal. It opens with a question: How would an alien scientist view our species? What would it make of our sex differences, our sexual behavior, our child-rearing patterns, our moral codes, our religions, our languages, and science? The book tackles these issues by drawing on ideas from two major schools of thought: evolutionary psychology and cultural evolutionary theory. The guiding assumption is that humans are animals, and that like all animals, we evolved to pass on our genes. At some point, however, we also evolved the capacity for culture – and from that moment, culture began evolving in its own right. This transformed us from a mere ape into an ape capable of reshaping the planet, travelling to other worlds, and understanding the vast universe of which we’re but a tiny, fleeting fragment.

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Read also: First Chapter

Posted in Cultural evolution, Culture, Human intelligence | Tagged , ,

How Culture Makes Us Smarter

Cumulative culture gives us knowledge and tools far beyond our individual powers.

Cumulative culture doesn’t just gift our species technology that none of us could have invented; it literally makes us smarter. The products of cumulative culture include not only our physical tools but also a well-stocked library of what we might call mind tools: ideas and habits and rules of thumb, which we stamp into the gooey grey matter of our brains and which radically enhance our powers.

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Posted in Cultural evolution, Cultural intelligence, Culture, Intelligence | Tagged , , ,

The emergence of hierarchical structure in human language

We propose a novel account for the emergence of human language syntax. Like many evolutionary innovations, language arose from the adventitious combination of two pre-existing, simpler systems that had been evolved for other functional tasks. The first system, Type E(xpression), is found in birdsong, where the same song marks territory, mating availability, and similar “expressive” functions. The second system, Type L(exical), has been suggestively found in non-human primate calls and in honeybee waggle dances, where it demarcates predicates with one or more “arguments,” such as combinations of calls in monkeys or compass headings set to sun position in honeybees. We show that human language syntax is composed of two layers that parallel these two independently evolved systems: an “E” layer resembling the Type E system of birdsong and an “L” layer providing words. The existence of the “E” and “L” layers can be confirmed using standard linguistic methodology. Each layer, E and L, when considered separately, is characterizable as a finite state system, as observed in several non-human species. When the two systems are put together they interact, yielding the unbounded, non-finite state, hierarchical structure that serves as the hallmark of full-fledged human language syntax. In this way, we account for the appearance of a novel function, language, within a conventional Darwinian framework, along with its apparently unique emergence in a single species.

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Posted in Cultural evolution, Evolution, Language | Tagged , ,

Neanderthal genes influence brain development of modern Humans

A characteristic feature of modern humans is the unusually round skull and brain, in contrast to the elongated shape seen in other human species. By studying Neanderthal DNA fragments found in the genomes of living Europeans, scientists have now discovered genes that influence this globular shape. An interdisciplinary research team, led by the Max Planck Institutes for Psycholinguistics and Evolutionary Anthropology, brought together fossil skull data, brain imaging and genomics, as reported in Current Biology.

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Read also: Research paper

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There is no scientific proof that war is ingrained in human nature

Is it in our nature to go to war? Should we just accept the fact that humans have this innate tendency and are hardwired to kill members of other groups?

No, says R. Brian Ferguson, professor of anthropology at Rutgers University-Newark. There is no scientific proof that we have an inherent propensity to take up arms and collectively kill.

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