Human Evolution : Our Brains and Behavior
Overview - The story of human evolution has fascinated us like no other: we seem to have an insatiable curiosity about who we are and where we have come from. Yet studying the "stones and bones" skirts around what is perhaps the realest, and most relatable, story of human evolution - the social and cognitive changes that gave rise to modern humans. Read more...
More About Human Evolution by Robin Dunbar
The story of human evolution has fascinated us like no other: we seem to have an insatiable curiosity about who we are and where we have come from. Yet studying the "stones and bones" skirts around what is perhaps the realest, and most relatable, story of human evolution - the social and cognitive changes that gave rise to modern humans.
In Human Evolution: Our Brains and Behavior
, Robin Dunbar appeals to the human aspects of every reader, as subjects of mating, friendship, and community are discussed from an evolutionary psychology perspective. With a table of contents ranging from prehistoric times to modern days, Human Evolution
focuses on an aspect of evolution that has typically been overshadowed by the archaeological record: the biological, neurological, and genetic changes that occurred with each "transition" in the evolutionary narrative. Dunbar's interdisciplinary approach - inspired by his background as both an anthropologist and accomplished psychologist - brings the reader into all aspects of the evolutionary process, which he describes as the "jigsaw puzzle" of evolution that he and the reader will help solve. In doing so, the book carefully maps out each stage of the evolutionary process, from anatomical changes such as bipedalism and increase in brain size, to cognitive and behavioral changes, such as the ability to cook, laugh, and use language to form communities through religion and story-telling. Most importantly and interestingly, Dunbar hypothesizes the order in which these evolutionary changes occurred-conclusions that are reached with the "time budget model" theory that Dunbar himself coined. As definitive as the "stones and bones" are for the hard dates of archaeological evidence, this book explores far more complex psychological questions that require a degree of intellectual speculation: What does it really mean to be human (as opposed to being an ape), and how did we come to be that way?
Publishers Weekly Reviews
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
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Dunbar (How Many Friends Does One Person Need?), a professor of evolutionary psychology at Oxford, ponders what it is “to be human (as opposed to being an ape)” and asks, “How did we come to be that way?” He suggests the answer began with a cooling climate 1.8 million to 2.5 million years ago, which led to fewer lush forests and more harsh grasslands. Because human ancestors were bipedal, they left trees for dangerous open spaces more easily than other primates. This left them vulnerable to predators, so social bonding became crucial for mutual protection. But as groups grew in size to improve safety, bonding became more complex and difficult to sustain. To adapt, did hominids begin evolving to replace grooming—most primates’ time-consuming bonding mechanism—with laughter, singing, and speech, simply because such bonding methods took less time? Did such increasingly sophisticated communication methods lead to bigger brains, spawning more sophisticated technology (cooking and hunting tools) and thus even more sophisticated communication methods (culture and religion), and in turn even larger brains? In light of such questions, Dunbar devised mathematical “time-budget” models to support his “social brain hypothesis.” Dunbar’s idea has gained in popularity among scholars, and his narrative is so mesmerizing it may attract many general readers, too. (Sept.)