A unique trait of the human species is that our personalities, lifestyles, and worldviews are shaped by an accident of birth--namely, the culture into which we are born. It is our cultures and not our genes that determine which foods we eat, which languages we speak, which people we love and marry, and which people we kill in war.Read more...
A unique trait of the human species is that our personalities, lifestyles, and worldviews are shaped by an accident of birth--namely, the culture into which we are born. It is our cultures and not our genes that determine which foods we eat, which languages we speak, which people we love and marry, and which people we kill in war. But how did our species develop a mind that is hardwired for culture--and why?
Evolutionary biologist Mark Pagel tracks this intriguing question through the last 80,000 years of human evolution, revealing how an innate propensity to contribute and conform to the culture of our birth not only enabled human survival and progress in the past but also continues to influence our behavior today. Shedding light on our species' defining attributes--from art, morality, and altruism to self-interest, deception, and prejudice--Wired for Culture offers surprising new insights into what it means to be human.
- ISBN-13: 9780393065879
- ISBN-10: 0393065871
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
- Publish Date: February 2012
- Page Count: 416
- Dimensions: 9.46 x 6.43 x 1.31 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.66 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2011-11-07
- Reviewer: Staff
“80,000 years ago... our genes undertook a remarkable gamble,” writes Pagel, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Reading in England. Our genes “handed over control to ideas,” and as a result, humans became the earth’s dominant species. Culture became “a second great system of inheritance to stand alongside our genes—a new way of transmitting information from one generation to the next, shortcutting the normal genetic routes of inheritance.” Pagel does an excellent job of using evolutionary biology to discuss the origins of religion, music, and art, and the reasons why, cross-culturally, we generally share a sense of morality. One of the more provocative questions Pagel asks is, “Have we been domesticated by culture?” His answer is yes. Culture, he asserts, has altered us in much the same way we have altered wild canids, The technologies we’ve developed exploit our innate, genetically endowed abilities, but they require more domesticated skills—such as mental agility rather than brute strength. Pagel also says that humans have a unique ability to cooperate. This ability, he explains, rather optimistically, allows us to overcome our evolutionary heritage and “makes us capable of moving beyond the divisive politics of race, ethnicity, and multiculturalism.” (Feb.)