In the six decades since the publication of Julian Huxley's Evolution: The Modern Synthesis, spectacular empirical advances in the biological sciences have been accompanied by equally significant developments within the core theoretical framework of the discipline. As a result, evolutionary theory today includes concepts and even entire new fields that were not part of the foundational structure of the Modern Synthesis.
Human beings, like other organisms, are the products of evolution. Like other organisms, we exhibit traits that are the product of natural selection. Our psychological capacities are evolved traits as much as are our gait and posture. This much few would dispute. Evolutionary psychology goes further than this, claiming that our psychological traits—including a wide variety of traits, from mate preference and jealousy to language and reason—can be understood as specific adaptations to ancestral Pleistocene conditions.
This classic work by Julian Huxley, first published in 1942, captured and synthesized all that was then known about evolutionary biology and gave a name to the Modern Synthesis, the conceptual structure underlying the field for most of the twentieth century. Many considered Huxley's book a popularization of the ideas then emerging in evolutionary biology, but in fact Evolution: The Modern Synthesis is a work of serious scholarship that is also accessible to the general educated public.
In recent years an interest in applying the principles of evolution to the study of culture emerged in the social sciences. Archaeologists and anthropologists reconsidered the role of innovation in particular, and have moved toward characterizing innovation in cultural systems not only as a product but also as an evolutionary process.
Drop something in front of a two-year-old, and she's likely to pick it up for you. This is not a learned behavior, psychologist Michael Tomasello argues. Through observations of young children in experiments he himself has designed, Tomasello shows that children are naturally--and uniquely--cooperative. Put through similar experiments, for example, apes demonstrate the ability to work together and share, but choose not to. As children grow, their almost reflexive desire to help--without expectation of reward--becomes shaped by culture. They become more aware of being a member of a group.
The nature of the interplay between language learning and the evolution of a language over generational time is subtle. We can observe the learning of language by children and marvel at the phenomenon of language acquisition; the evolution of a language, however, is not so directly experienced. Language learning by children is robust and reliable, but it cannot be perfect or languages would never change--and English, for example, would not have evolved from the language of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles.
Modularity—the attempt to understand systems as integrations of partially independent and interacting units—is today a dominant theme in the life sciences, cognitive science, and computer science. The concept goes back at least implicitly to the Scientific (or Copernican) Revolution, and can be found behind later theories of phrenology, physiology, and genetics; moreover, art, engineering, and mathematics rely on modular design principles.
Although we now know that ontogeny (individual development) does not actually recapitulate phylogeny (evolutionary transformation), contrary to Ernst Haeckel's famous dictum, the relationship between embryological development and evolution remains the subject of intense scientific interest. In the 1990s a new field, evolutionary developmental biology (or evo-devo), was hailed as the synthesis of developmental and evolutionary biology.
Natural selection is commonly interpreted as the fundamental mechanism of evolution. Questions about how selection theory can claim to be the all-sufficient explanation of evolution often go unanswered by today’s neo-Darwinists, perhaps for fear that any criticism of the evolutionary paradigm will encourage creationists and proponents of intelligent design.In Biological Emergences, Robert Reid argues that natural selection is not the cause of evolution.
In the past few decades, sources of inspiration in the multidisciplinary field of cognitive science have widened. In addition to ongoing vital work in cognitive and affective neuroscience, important new work is being conducted at the intersection of psychology and the biological sciences in general. This volume offers an overview of the cross-disciplinary integration of evolutionary and developmental approaches to cognition in light of these exciting new contributions from the life sciences.