Review of Steve Stewart-Williams’s The Ape That Understood the Universe: How the Mind and Culture Evolve
The aliens have landed. In Stewart-Williams’s telling, they have scanned Earth to take note of that most strange animal, human beings. They have issued a report in which they identify key features of this weird “meat creature.” In framing this view of humans, Stewart-Williams seeks to emphasize some of the peculiar aspects of our everyday psychology and behavior that perhaps we fail to notice or even seek to eliminate. To illustrate, “humans engage in various peculiar mating rituals. The male, for example, may give the female a bundle of plant genitals (or “flowers”), or the pair may take turns making noises at each other while imbibing fermented plant juice” (p. 6). As a resident of Las Vegas, just a few hours away from Area 51, I am dubious of any actual alien landings, even as I enjoy the extraterrestrial approach to our understanding.
The book aims “to sketch out an explanation for human behavior and human culture that has at least a reasonable chance of being accurate” (p. 10). In...
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