The Evolved Apprentice

The Evolved Apprentice: How Evolution Made Humans Unique

Kim Sterelny
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: MIT Press,
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    The Evolved Apprentice
    Book Description:

    Over the last three million years or so, our lineage has diverged sharply from those of our great ape relatives. Change has been rapid (in evolutionary terms) and pervasive. Morphology, life history, social life, sexual behavior, and foraging patterns have all shifted sharply away from those of the other great apes. InThe Evolved Apprentice, Kim Sterelny argues that the divergence stems from the fact that humans gradually came to enrich the learning environment of the next generation. Humans came to cooperate in sharing information, and to cooperate ecologically and reproductively as well, and these changes initiated positive feedback loops that drove us further from other great apes. Sterelny develops a new theory of the evolution of human cognition and human social life that emphasizes the gradual evolution of information-sharing practices across generations and how these practices transformed human minds and social lives. Sterelny proposes that humans developed a new form of ecological interaction with their environment, cooperative foraging. The ability to cope with the immense variety of human ancestral environments and social forms, he argues, depended not just on adapted minds but also on adapted developmental environments.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-30281-4
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Series Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)

    The Jean Nicod Lectures are delivered annually in Paris by a leading philosopher of mind or philosophically oriented cognitive scientist. The 1993 inaugural lectures marked the centenary of the birth of the French philosopher and logician Jean Nicod (1893–1931). The lectures are sponsored by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), in cooperation with the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) and the École Normale Supérieure (ENS). The series hosts the texts of the lectures or the monographs they inspire....

  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. 1 The Challenge of Novelty
    (pp. 1-22)

    Hominins split from the chimpanzee lineage six to seven million years ago, and after a relatively unobtrusive beginning, over the last three million years or so, our lineage has diverged sharply from those of our great ape relatives. Hominins became fully bipedal, dependent on technology and cooperation, and, uniquely, combined a fission–fusion social organization with heavy male investment in their offspring.¹ Life history changed: recent hominins live longer than earlier ones and great apes, and our life history has unusual features (adolescents and active postmenopausal females). Our geographic range expanded massively, as did population size. We moved into many...

  6. 2 Accumulating Cognitive Capital
    (pp. 23-44)

    This book is at heart an attempt to explain the origin and special role of cultural learning in human evolution. That is not because I think the expansion of social learning is the key innovation whose origin drove hominin evolution. Social learning, advances in technical capabilities, changes in prosocial motivations, and cooperation in breeding were all important, and they all interacted. That said, the evolution of accumulating social learning was one central causal factor in the evolution of human uniqueness. Its evolution did not just change hominin phenotypes; it changed the way the hominin lineage evolved. Almost certainly, the earliest...

  7. 3 Adapted Individuals, Adapted Environments
    (pp. 45-72)

    In the last chapter, I outlined an initial model of social learning based on the idea that the upstream generation structures the learning environment of the downstream generation, so that trial-and-error learning combined with observational learning and (sometimes) explicit instruction results in the reliable reacquisition of expertise. According to this model, high-fidelity, high-bandwidth social learning depends both on adapted environments and on adapted minds. The purpose of this chapter is to illustrate the explanatory power of this model, choosing two important paleoanthropological puzzles. One is the puzzle of Neanderthal extinction. The other is the long lag time (perhaps 150,000 years)...

  8. 4 The Human Cooperation Syndrome
    (pp. 73-100)

    The argument of this book is that hominins increasingly diverged from their great ape relatives as their capacities for cooperation, information-guided foraging, and niche construction coevolved. Cognition and cooperation fed off each other as investment in cognitive capacity gave rich returns in a cooperative world. Think, for example, of the impact of increasing tolerance on social learning. Tolerant social worlds allow the young access to many models. Moreover, these models are more valuable because, with tolerance, close attention to adult activity is rewarded rather than punished. Exploration is more rewarding and less dangerous. Once these positive feedback loops are established,...

  9. 5 Costs and Commitments
    (pp. 101-124)

    I have argued in the last four chapters that one of the most distinctive features of human social worlds is our dependence on intricate networks of cooperation and the division of labor. No living humans gather the resources needed for a successful life by their own efforts. None do so even with the help only of their immediate family. Yet it is a truism of evolutionary biology that cooperation evolves only in special conditions. While cooperation can be immensely profitable, it is also fragile. In many circumstances, the profits of cooperation do not depend on all who benefit paying their...

  10. 6 Signals, Cooperation, and Learning
    (pp. 125-150)

    In chapters 1 and 2, I argued that cultural inheritance—the generation-by-generation accumulation of information—explains the striking contrast in social life and ecological style between hominins and chimps, and I introduced a basic model of that hominin cultural inheritance. In chapter 3, I applied these ideas to the human archaeological record, suggesting that they enable us to make sense of the otherwise puzzling transition to behavioral modernity, and that they offer a simple and parsimonious picture of the replacement of Neanderthals bysapiens, one that does not rely on undetectable, intrinsic cognitive differences between the species. Chapter 4 connected...

  11. 7 From Skills to Norms
    (pp. 151-172)

    The theme of my whole argument is that humans are unique largely because we have evolved the capacities to accumulate and use cognitive capital. I have suggested that information pooling at and across generations has long been a central feature of human life, but the nature of this pooling has been transformed over time. I suggested in sections 2.3 and 3.4 that the power and fidelity of cross-generational flow increased by the increasing organization of the learning environment, by the gradual evolution of specific adaptations for learning and teaching, and by the invention of cognitive technologies. Language, most obviously, is...

  12. 8 Cooperation and Conflict
    (pp. 173-198)

    I began this book by noting the extraordinarily rapid and extensive transformation of the hominin lineage once it had separated from that of the great apes. But hominins contrast with their closest living relatives not just in their phenotypes but in the evolutionary mechanisms that explain those phenotypes. Chimp life involves a significant amount of social learning, and as a consequence, multigenerational behavioral traditions probably affect both social signals and perhaps foraging techniques (see, e.g., Laland and Galef 2009, esp. chaps. 3–5). But these behavioral traditions are not high fidelity, historically deep, or transformative. Most of their learning is...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 199-210)
  14. References
    (pp. 211-236)
  15. Index
    (pp. 237-242)