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A Natural History of Human Thinking
     

A Natural History of Human Thinking

by Michael Tomasello
 

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Tool-making or culture, language or religious belief: ever since Darwin, thinkers have struggled to identify what fundamentally differentiates human beings from other animals. Michael Tomasello weaves his twenty years of comparative studies of humans and great apes into a compelling argument that cooperative social interaction is the key to our cognitive uniqueness.

Overview

Tool-making or culture, language or religious belief: ever since Darwin, thinkers have struggled to identify what fundamentally differentiates human beings from other animals. Michael Tomasello weaves his twenty years of comparative studies of humans and great apes into a compelling argument that cooperative social interaction is the key to our cognitive uniqueness. Tomasello maintains that our prehuman ancestors, like today's great apes, were social beings who could solve problems by thinking. But they were almost entirely competitive, aiming only at their individual goals. As ecological changes forced them into more cooperative living arrangements, early humans had to coordinate their actions and communicate their thoughts with collaborative partners. Tomasello's "shared intentionality hypothesis" captures how these more socially complex forms of life led to more conceptually complex forms of thinking. In order to survive, humans had to learn to see the world from multiple social perspectives, to draw socially recursive inferences, and to monitor their own thinking via the normative standards of the group. Even language and culture arose from the preexisting need to work together and coordinate thoughts. A Natural History of Human Thinking is the most detailed scientific analysis to date of the connection between human sociality and cognition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
12/02/2013
Tomasello, co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, asks the simply stated yet deceptively complex question, “what makes human thinking unique?” And while his answer, that “human thinking is fundamentally cooperative,” is straightforward, his presentation of the evidence is unfortunately not. Nevertheless, he demonstrates that “uman social life is much more cooperatively organized than that of other primates,” and this cooperation, rather than competition, has led to evolutionary advantages for individuals capable of broad conspecific communication. He posits the “shared intentionality hypothesis,” which allowed communally living humans to solve complex problems and expand their range dramatically. Human thought, in Tomasello’s conception, is different from that of all other organisms because humans alone have the capacity to think about the thoughts of others, and do so collectively. Tomasello’s greatest strength is his insistence on relying on data to support his hypotheses, particularly the fascinating studies he summarizes comparing pre-linguistic children to our great ape relatives. Through these comparisons he is able to begin to estimate the capabilities of our last common ancestor and thus define what sets us apart evolutionarily from our relatives. Tomasello’s enthralling subject matter, however, is poorly served by overly complex academic writing, making this read a chore few are likely to successfully finish. 6 line illus. (Feb.)
Dan Sperber
What makes human thinking unique? Michael Tomasello's clear and elegant new book demonstrates once more his ability to draw on his experimental work with apes and children to offer major new insights into the evolutionary origins of human cognition.
New Scientist
What is it that differentiates humans from other animals? It’s the question that keeps evolutionary anthropologists like Michael Tomasello up nights. But after 20-plus years wrestling with the thorny subject, he puts forward his ‘shared intentionality hypothesis,’ designed to account for how early humans learned to coordinate their actions and communicate their thoughts with collaborators.
Financial Times - Stephen Cave
Tomasello has spent a lifetime conducting…tests on both great apes such as chimpanzees and on humans of different ages, in order to pin down exactly where our capacities differ. In this difficult but rewarding book, he attempts to place these results into a grand theory of how and why these differences evolved…Tomasello’s account of how co-operation drove the development of our distinctive intellect is controversial…It is also highly speculative: a trait such as co-operation leaves few traces in the fossil record. But it is speculation by a thinker at the top of his field, based on the latest research, and as such is likely to be the definitive statement of human uniqueness for some time to come.
Nature
Tomasello argues that human thinking is unique because it is cooperative. He posits that environmental upheavals forced early humans to channel their thinking towards collective aims through two evolutionary innovations: collaboration while foraging, and the rise of culture as population and competition burgeoned. Tomasello convincingly sets out how ‘shared intentionality,’ in which social complexity spawned conceptual complexities, sets us apart.
Wall Street Journal - David P. Barash
Michael Tomasello is one of the few psychologists to have conducted intensive research on both human children and chimpanzees, and A Natural History of Human Thinking reflects not only the insights enabled by such cross-species comparisons but also the wisdom of a researcher who appreciates the need for asking questions whose answers generate biological insight. His book helps us to understand the differences, as well as the similarities, between human brains and other brains.
Science - Stephen Levinson
Compelling reading…In a reassessment of his earlier work, Tomasello argues that apes are cognitively much closer to humans than had been thought only a decade ago…The book’s great virtue is its conceptual analysis of the cumulative steps in cognition required to get us from ape to human…Highly stimulating.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780674727564
Publisher:
Harvard University Press
Publication date:
02/17/2014
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
File size:
609 KB

Related Subjects

Meet the Author

Michael Tomasello is Co-Director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

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