Evolution and Culture

Evolution and Culture

A Fyssen Foundation Symposium

Edited by Stephen C. Levinson and Pierre Jaisson

A Bradford Book





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 essay authors, all internationally prominent researchers in their fields, draw on the cognitive sciences—including linguistics, developmental psychology, and cognition—to develop conceptual and methodological tools for understanding the interaction of culture and genome. They go beyond the "how"—the questions of behavioral mechanisms—to address the "why"—the evolutionary origin of our psychological functioning. What was the "X-factor," the magic ingredient of culture—the element that took humans out of the general run of mammals and other highly social organisms?

Several essays identify specific behavioral and functional factors that could account for human culture, including the capacity for "mind reading" that underlies social and cultural learning and the nature of morality and inhibitions, while others emphasize multiple partially independent factors—planning, technology, learning, and language. The X-factor, these essays suggest, is a set of cognitive adaptations for culture.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262122788 304 pp. | 7 in x 9 in 36 illus.


$36.00 X ISBN: 9780262621977 304 pp. | 7 in x 9 in 36 illus.


Stephen C. Levinson

Stephen C. Levinson is Director of the Language and Cognition Group at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands.

Pierre Jaisson

Pierre Jaisson is Professor and Director of the Laboratory of Experimental and Comparative Ethology at the University of Paris-North in France.


  • Distinguished psychologists wrestle 'culture' away from the greedy grip of interpretive anthropologists and ask their own questions: What kind of evolved mind was needed to create and transmit culture? What impact does that transmitted culture exert on our evolved minds?

    Anne Campbell

    Professor of Psychology, Durham University, UK

  • This is a wonderful collection exploring the relationships between culture and evolutionary biology. It looks not only at issues concerning our evolutionary past, but also those relating to our social life today. There will be much discussion about the topics covered, and even those of us who disagree about parts will feel that we have benefited from the whole.

    Michael Ruse

    Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy, Florida State University

  • I had long thought that the topic of function in biology was exhausted. Organisms and Artifacts, Tim Lewens' splendid new book, shows that I was quite wrong. Lewens unites a deep understanding of biology with a keen nose for a philosophical problem, and he has produced a work that is insightful and (just as important) highly interesting. This book will give an old problem really new life, and must be the starting point for all future discussion.

    Michael Ruse

    Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy, Florida State University