Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 32, Issue 2, pp 289–305 | Cite as

The swashbuckling anthropologist: Henrich on The Secret of Our Success

Review Essay

Abstract

In The Secret of Our Success, Joseph Henrich claims that human beings are unique—different from all other animals—because we engage in cumulative cultural evolution. It is the technological and social products of cumulative cultural evolution, not the intrinsic rationality or ‘smartness’ of individual humans, that enable us to live in a huge range of different habitats, and to dominate most of the creatures who share those habitats with us. We are sympathetic to this general view, the latest expression of the ‘California school’s’ view of cultural evolution, and impressed by the lively and interesting way that Henrich handles evidence from anthropology, economics, and many fields of biology. However, because we think it is time for cultural evolutionists to get down to details, this essay review raises questions about Henrich’s analysis of both the cognitive processes and the selection processes that contribute to cumulative cultural evolution. In the former case, we argue that cultural evolutionists need to make more extensive use of cognitive science, and to consider the evidence that mechanisms of cultural learning are products as well as processes of cultural evolution. In the latter case, we ask whether the California school is really serious about selection, or whether it is offering a merely ‘kinetic’ view of cultural evolution, and, assuming the former, outline four potential models of cultural selection that it would be helpful to distinguish more clearly.

Keywords

Cultural evolution Cultural learning Multi-level selection Cognitive science 

References

  1. Anisfeld M (1996) Only tongue protrusion modeling is matched by neonates. Dev Rev 16:149–161CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Boyd R, Richerson PJ (1988) Culture and the evolutionary process. University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  3. Chomsky N (1975) Reflections on language. Pantheon Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  4. Dennett DC (1978) Three kinds of intentional psychology. Perspect Philos Lang Concise Anthol 163–186 Google Scholar
  5. Dennett DC (2001) The evolution of culture. Monist 84(3):305–324CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Diamond J (1997) Germs, guns and steel. A short history of everybody of the last 13,000 years. Norton, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  7. Doolittle WF, Booth A (2016) It’s the song, not the singer: an exploration of holobiosis and evolutionary theory. Biol Philos. doi:10.1007/s10539-016-9542-2 Google Scholar
  8. Fogarty L, Rendell L, Laland KN (2012) Mental time travel, memory and the social learning strategies tournament. Learn Motiv 43:241–246CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Frankish K, Ramsey W (2012) The Cambridge handbook of cognitive science. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Galef BG (1971) Social effects in the weaning of domestic rat pups. J Comp Physiol Psychol 75:341–357CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Henrich J (2016) The secret of our success: how culture is driving human evolution, domesticating our species, and making us smarter. Princeton University Press, PrincetonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Heyes CM (2012) Grist and mills: on the cultural origins of cultural learning. Philos Trans R Soc B 367:2181–2191CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Heyes CM (2013) What can imitation do for cooperation? In: Sterelny K, Joyce R, Calcott B, Fraser B (eds) Cooperation and its evolution. MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  14. Heyes C (2015) When does social learning become cultural learning? Dev Sci. doi:10.1111/desc.12350 Google Scholar
  15. Heyes CM (2016a) Blackboxing: social learning strategies and cultural evolution. Philos Trans R Soc B 371:20150369CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Heyes CM (2016b) Who knows? Metacognitive social learning strategies. Trends Cogn Sci 20:204–213CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Heyes CM (in prep) Cognitive gadgets: the cultural evolution of thinkingGoogle Scholar
  18. Heyes CM, Pearce JM (2015) Not-so-social learning strategies. Proc R Soc Lond B 282:20141709CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hoppitt W, Laland KN (2013) Social learning: an introduction to mechanisms, methods, and models. Princeton University Press, PrincetonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Jones SS (2006) Exploration or imitation? The effect of music on 4-week-old infants’ tongue protrusions. Infant Behav Dev 29:126–130CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Laland KN (2004) Social learning strategies. Anim Learn Behav 32(1):4–14CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Laland KN, Odling-Smee J, Hoppitt W, Uller T (2013) More on how and why: cause and effect in biology revisited. Biol Philos 28(5):719–745CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Lewens T (2015) Cultural evolution: conceptual challenges. Oxford University Press, OxfordCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. McEwen F, Happe F, Bolton P, Rijsdijk F, Ronald A, Dworzynski K, Plomin R (2007) Origins of individual differences in imitation: links with language, pretend play, and socially insightful behavior in two-year-old twins. Child Dev 78:474–492CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Meltzoff AN, Moore MK (1977) Imitation of facial and manual gestures by human neonates. Science 198:75–78CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Okasha S (2006) Evolution and the levels of selection. Oxford University Press, OxfordCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Oostenbroek J, Suddendorf T, Nielsen M, Redshaw J, Kennedy-Costantini S, Davis J, Clark C, Slaughter V (2016) Comprehensive longitudinal study challenges the existence of neonatal imitation in humans. Curr Biol 26:1334–1338CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Ray E, Heyes CM (2011) Imitation in infancy: the wealth of the stimulus. Dev Sci 14:92–105CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Richerson PJ, Boyd R (2001) The evolution of subjective commitment to groups: a tribal instincts hypothesis. Evol Capacity Commit 3:186–220Google Scholar
  30. Richerson PJ, Boyd R (2005) Not by genes alone: how culture transformed human evolution. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  31. Shallice T, Cooper R (2011) The organisation of mind. Oxford University Press, OxfordCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Tomasello M (1999) The cultural origins of human cognition. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  33. Tomasello M (2014) A natural history of human thinking. Harvard University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.All Souls CollegeUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

Personalised recommendations