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A Natural History of Human Thinking

A Natural History of Human Thinking

Michael Tomasello
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Harvard University Press
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  • Book Info
    A Natural History of Human Thinking
    Book Description:

    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 Thinkingis the most detailed scientific analysis to date of the connection between human sociality and cognition.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-72636-9
    Subjects: Psychology, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Anthropology, Zoology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. 1 The Shared Intentionality Hypothesis
    (pp. 1-6)

    Thinking would seem to be a completely solitary activity. And so it is for other animal species. But for humans, thinking is like a jazz musician improvising a novel riff in the privacy of his own room. It is a solitary activity all right, but on an instrument made by others for that general purpose, after years of playing with and learning from other practitioners, in a musical genre with a rich history of legendary riffs, for an imagined audience of jazz aficionados. Human thinking is individual improvisation enmeshed in a sociocultural matrix.

    How did this novel form of socially...

  5. 2 Individual Intentionality
    (pp. 7-31)

    Cognitive processes are a product of natural selection, but they are not its target. Indeed, natural selection cannot even “see” cognition; it can only “see” the effects of cognition in organizing and regulating overt actions (Piaget, 1971). In evolution,beingsmart counts for nothing if it does not lead toactingsmart.

    The two classic theories of animal behavior, behaviorism and ethology, both focused on overt actions, but they somehow forgot the cognition. Classical ethology had little or no interest in animal cognition, and classical behaviorism was downright hostile to the idea. Although contemporary instantiations of ethology and behaviorism take...

  6. 3 Joint Intentionality
    (pp. 32-79)

    In their magisterial survey of life on planet earth, Maynard-Smith and Szathmary (1995) identified eight major transitions in the evolution of complexity of living things, for example, the emergence of chromosomes, the emergence of multicellular organisms, and the emergence of sexual reproduction. Astoundingly, in each case the transition was characterized by the same two fundamental processes. First, in each case there emerged some new form of cooperation with interdependence: “Entities that were capable of independent replication before the transition can replicate only as part of a larger whole after it” (p. 6). Second, in each case this new form of...

  7. 4 Collective Intentionality
    (pp. 80-123)

    A modern human society may be characterized in two dimensions. The first is itssynchronicsocial organization: the coordinated social interactions that make it a society in the first place. Early human individuals, as we have seen, coordinated in acts of collaborative foraging with specific others from a loosely structured pool of collaborators. But now with modern humans we need to scale up to much larger social groups with much more complex social organization, that is to say, to fully cultural organization. Modern humans became cultural beings by identifying with their specific cultural group and creating with groupmates various kinds...

  8. 5 Human Thinking as Cooperation
    (pp. 124-148)

    Human cognition and thinking are much more complex than the cognition and thinking of other primates. Human social interaction and organization are much more complex than the social interaction and organization of other primates as well. It is highly unlikely, we would argue, that this is a coincidence.

    Complex human cognition is of course responsible for complex human societies in the sense that human societies would fall apart if human-like cognition were not available to support them. But this cognition-to-society causal link is not a plausible direction for an account of evolutionary origins. For that direction of effect, there would...

  9. 6 Conclusion
    (pp. 149-154)

    At least since Aristotle, human beings have wondered how they differ from other animal species. But for almost all of that time the appropriate information for making this comparison was not available—most important, because for the first several thousand years of Western civilization there were no nonhuman primates in Europe. Aristotle and Descartes could readily posit things like “only humans have reason” or “only humans have free will” because they were comparing humans to birds, rats, various domesticated animals, and the occasional fox or wolf.

    In the nineteenth century nonhuman primates, including great apes, came to Europe via newly...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 155-158)
  11. References
    (pp. 159-172)
  12. Index
    (pp. 173-178)