Sense and nonsense

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Sense and Nonsense: Evolutionary Perspectives on Human Behaviour

Kevin N. Laland Gillian R. Brown


Sense and Nonsense

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Sense and Nonsense
Evolutionary Perspectives on Human Behaviour
Kevin N. Laland
Royal Society University Research Fellow Sub-Department of Animal Behaviour University of Cambridge


Gillian R.Brown
Research Scientist Sub-Department of Animal Behaviour University of Cambridge


Great Clarendon Street, Oxford OX2 6DP Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide in Oxford New York Auckland Bangkok Buenos Aires Cape Town Chennai Dar esSalaam Delhi Hong Kong Istanbul Karachi Kolkata Kuala Lumpur Madrid Melbourne Mexico City Mumbai Nairobi São Paulo Shanghai Taipei Tokyo Toronto and an associated company in Berlin Oxford is a registered trade mark of Oxford University Press in the UK and in certain other countries Published in the United States By Oxford University Press Inc., New York © Kevin N. Laland and Gillian R. Brown, 2002 Themoral rights of the authors have been asserted Database right Oxford University Press (maker) First published 2002 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of Oxford University Press, or as expressly permitted by law, or under terms agreed with theappropriate reprographics rights organization. Enquiries concerning reproduction outside the scope of the above should be sent to the Rights Department, Oxford University Press, at the address above You must not circulate this book in any other binding or cover and you must impose this same condition on any acquirer A catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library Library of CongressCataloguing in Publication Data Data available ISBN 0 19 850884 0 (Hbk) 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Typeset by EXPO Holdings, Malaysia Printed in Great Britain on acid-free paper by T.J International, Padstow, Cornwall .


Can evolutionary theory help us to understand human behaviour and society? Many evolutionary biologists, anthropologists, and psychologists are optimistic thatevolutionary principles can be applied to human behaviour, and have offered evolutionary explanations for a wide range of human characteristics, such as homicide, religion, and sex differences in behaviour. Others are sceptical of these interpretations, and stress the effects of learning and culture. They maintain that human beings are too special to study as if they were just another animal—after all, wehave complex culture, language, and writing, and we build houses and programme computers. Perhaps both of these stances are right to a degree. Some aspects of our behaviour may be more usefully investigated using the methods of evolutionary biology than others. The challenge for scientists will be to determine which facets of humanity are open to this kind of analysis, and to devise definitive testsof any hypotheses concerning our evolutionary legacy. For those of us fascinated by this challenge, knowledge of the diverse methods by which human behaviour is studied from an evolutionary perspective would seem a prerequisite. In this book, we outline five evolutionary approaches that have been used to investigate human behaviour and characterize their methodologies and assumptions. Theseapproaches are sociobiology, human behavioural ecology, evolutionary psychology, memetics, and gene–culture coevolution. For each, we discuss their



positive features and their limitations and in the final chapter we compare their relative merits. Innumerable popular books have already been published that discuss human behaviour and evolution, e.g. The Selfish Gene (Dawkins, 1976),...
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