No biological concept has had greater impact on the way we view ourselves and the world around us than the theory of evolution by natural selection. Darwin's masterful contribution was to provide an algorithmic model (a formal step-by-step procedure) of how adaptation may take place in biological systems. However, the simple process of linear incremental improvement that he described is only one algorithmic possibility, and certain biological phenomena provide the possibility of implementing alternative processes.
Biological and cultural processes have evolved together, in a symbiotic spiral; they are now indissolubly linked, with human survival unlikely without such culturally produced aids as clothing, cooked food, and tools. The twelve original essays collected in this volume take an evolutionary perspective on human culture, examining the emergence of culture in evolution and the underlying role of brain and cognition.
The extraordinary overlap between human and chimpanzee genomes does not result in an equal overlap between human and chimpanzee thoughts, sensations, perceptions, and emotions; there are considerable similarities but also considerable differences between human and nonhuman primate brains. From Monkey Brain to Human Brain uses the latest findings in cognitive psychology, comparative biology, and neuroscience to look at the complex patterns of convergence and divergence in primate cortical organization and function.
The search for origins of communication in a wide variety of species including humans is rapidly becoming a thoroughly interdisciplinary enterprise. In this volume, scientists engaged in the fields of evolutionary biology, linguistics, animal behavior, developmental psychology, philosophy, the cognitive sciences, robotics, and neural network modeling come together to explore a comparative approach to the evolution of communication systems.
In Organisms and Artifacts, Tim Lewens investigates the analogical use of the language of design in evolutionary biology. Uniquely among the natural sciences, biology uses descriptive and explanatory terms more suited to artifacts than organisms. When biologists discuss, for example, the purpose of the panda's thumb and look for functional explanations for organic traits, they borrow from a vocabulary of intelligent design that Darwin's findings could have made irrelevant over a hundred years ago.
Evolutionary developmental biology, also known as evo-devo or EDB, seeks to find links between development and evolution by opening the "black box" of development's role in evolution and in the evolution of developmental mechanisms. In particular, this volume emphasizes the roles of the environment and of hormonal signaling in evo-devo.
Current thinking in evolutionary biology holds that competition among individuals is the key to understanding natural selection. When competition exists, it is obvious that conflict arises; the emergence of cooperation, however, is less straightforward and calls for in-depth analysis. Much research is now focused on defining and expanding the evolutionary models of cooperation. Understanding the mechanisms of cooperation has relevance for fields other than biology.
In Natural Ethical Facts William Casebeer argues that we can articulate a fully naturalized ethical theory using concepts from evolutionary biology and cognitive science, and that we can study moral cognition just as we study other forms of cognition. His goal is to show that we have "softly fixed" human natures, that these natures are evolved, and that our lives go well or badly depending on how we satisfy the functional demands of these natures. Natural Ethical Facts is a comprehensive examination of what a plausible moral science would look like.
Are women and men biologically destined to be in perpetual conflict? Does evolutionary genetics adequately explain sexual aggression? Such questions have been much debated in both the media and academia. In particular, the notion that rape is an evolutionary adaptation, put forth by Randy Thornhill and Craig T. Palmer in their book A Natural History of Rape (MIT Press, 2000), vaulted the debate into national prominence. This book assesses Thornhill and Palmer's ideas, as well as the critical responses to their work.
The field of evolutionary biology arose from the desire to understand the origin and diversity of biological forms. In recent years, however, evolutionary genetics, with its focus on the modification and inheritance of presumed genetic programs, has all but overwhelmed other aspects of evolutionary biology. This has led to the neglect of the study of the generative origins of biological form.