Sense and Nonsense: Evolutionary Perspectives on Human Behaviour / Edition 1

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Evolutionary theory is one of the most wide-ranging and inspiring of scientific ideas. It offers a battery of methods that can be used to help us understand human behavior. Nevertheless, the legitimacy of this exercise is at the center of a heated controversy that has raged for over a century. Many evolutionary biologists, anthropologists and psychologists have taken these evolutionary principles and tried using them to explain a wide range of human characteristics, such as homicide, religion and sex differences in behavior. Others, however, are sceptical of these interpretations. Moreover, researchers disagree as to the best ways to use evolution to explore humanity, and a number of schools have emerged.
'Sense and Nonsense' provides an introduction to the ideas, methods, and findings of five such schools, namely, sociobiology, human behavioural ecology, evolutionary psychology, memetics, and gene-culture co-evolution. Carefully guiding the reader through the mire of confusing terminology, claim and counter-claim, and polemical statements, Laland and Brown provide a balanced, rigorous analysis that scrutinizes both the evolutionary arguments and the allegations of the critics. This is a book that will be make fascinating reading for popular science readers, undergraduate and postgraduate students (for example, in psychology, anthropology and zoology), and to experts on one approach who would like to know more about the other perspectives. Having completed this book the reader will feel better placed to assess the legitimacy of claims made about human behavior under the name of evolution, and to make judgements as to what is sense and what is nonsense.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Lucid and balanced, Sense and Nonsense will hopefully reach a broad audience. May it become assigned reading for journalists reporting on this area." --Sarah Hrdy

"Laland and Brown are superb pilots for these treacherous waters. It is an altogether excellent book." --Patrick Bateson

"A must read for my undergraduate courses for the forseeable future."--Henry Plotkin

"What makes this book stand out from others trying to cover similar subject is that in each case there's a survey of the most interesting hard research done in each field. Laland and Brown's apolitical approach to the subject matter helps to distinguish between groundbreaking research and beguiling pseudo science lumped together in popular debate, and gives the book a refreshingly balanced refreshingly balanced perspective."--Focus

"[A]n informative, thoroughly documented book examining ways that evolutionary theory can help explain human social behavior. ... The authors are gene-culture coevolutionists, but they give a well-balanced account of each of the approaches and illustrate ways they can be integrated."--Choice

Reviewing a broad swath of the literature related to evolutionary treatments of the causes of human behavior, psychology, and culture, Laland and Brown (both researchers at the Department of Zoology, U. of Cambridge, UK) attempt to evaluate the relative worth of recent research and provide an account of where evolutionary theory holds some promise in explaining human behavior. Chapters individually examine sociobiology, behavioral ecology, evolutionary psychology, memetics, and gene-culture coevolution. A final chapter reflects on the possibilities of integrating the various approaches. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780198508847
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 1/28/2002
  • Edition description: Older Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 8.60 (w) x 5.50 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Kevin Laland is a Royal Society University Research Fellow at the
Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge. His research encompasses a range of topics related to animal behaviour and evolution,
particularly social learning, cultural evolution, and niche construction. Gillian R. Brown is a post-doctoral researcher at the Department of
Zoology, University of Cambridge. Her research covers various aspects of primate behaviour, including parental investment, infant development and sex differences, and she lectures on zoology and anatomy courses.

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Table of Contents

1 Sense and nonsense 1
2 A history of evolution and human behaviour 27
3 Human sociobiology 69
4 Human behavioural ecology 109
5 Evolutionary psychology 153
6 Memetics 197
7 Gene-culture coevolution 241
8 Comparing and integrating approaches 287
Further reading 319
References 323
Index 363
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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 19, 2002

    Brilliant -- Helps Readers of Popular Books

    Recently, I sat down to read the new popular book about "cultural biology" -- Liars, Lovers, and Heroes: What the New Brain Science Reveals About How We Become Who We Are by Steven R. Quartz Terrence J. Sejnowski. I found it difficult at first to place their perspective within the framework of contemporary approaches to human evolution. But by studying Sense and Nonsense's schema of 5 approaches, I was able to see that "cultural biology" is a new, 6th paradigm -- and to see its similarities and differences next to the previous 5 approaches. So I offer this example of a particular experience as a general testimonial for the usefulness of the wonderful (scholarly yet readable) book, Sense and Nonsense. The authors have worked hard to give evenhanded coverage of all of their topics, and they succeeded admirably.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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