Peter J. Richerson

Peter J. Richerson is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Davis, and Visiting Professor at the Institute of Archaeology at University College London. He is the author of Not By Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution.

  • Cultural Evolution

    Cultural Evolution

    Society, Technology, Language, and Religion

    Peter J. Richerson and Morten H. Christiansen

    Leading scholars report on current research that demonstrates the central role of cultural evolution in explaining human behavior.

    Over the past few decades, a growing body of research has emerged from a variety of disciplines to highlight the importance of cultural evolution in understanding human behavior. Wider application of these insights, however, has been hampered by traditional disciplinary boundaries. To remedy this, in this volume leading researchers from theoretical biology, developmental and cognitive psychology, linguistics, anthropology, sociology, religious studies, history, and economics come together to explore the central role of cultural evolution in different aspects of human endeavor.

    The contributors take as their guiding principle the idea that cultural evolution can provide an important integrating function across the various disciplines of the human sciences, as organic evolution does for biology. The benefits of adopting a cultural evolutionary perspective are demonstrated by contributions on social systems, technology, language, and religion. Topics covered include enforcement of norms in human groups, the neuroscience of technology, language diversity, and prosociality and religion. The contributors evaluate current research on cultural evolution and consider its broader theoretical and practical implications, synthesizing past and ongoing work and sketching a roadmap for future cross-disciplinary efforts.

    Contributors Quentin D. Atkinson, Andrea Baronchelli, Robert Boyd, Briggs Buchanan, Joseph Bulbulia, Morten H. Christiansen, Emma Cohen, William Croft, Michael Cysouw, Dan Dediu, Nicholas Evans, Emma Flynn, Pieter François, Simon Garrod, Armin W. Geertz, Herbert Gintis, Russell D. Gray, Simon J. Greenhill, Daniel B. M. Haun, Joseph Henrich, Daniel J. Hruschka, Marco A. Janssen, Fiona M. Jordan, Anne Kandler, James A. Kitts, Kevin N. Laland, Laurent Lehmann, Stephen C. Levinson, Elena Lieven, Sarah Mathew, Robert N. McCauley, Alex Mesoudi, Ara Norenzayan, Harriet Over, Jürgen Renn, Victoria Reyes-García, Peter J. Richerson, Stephen Shennan, Edward G. Slingerland, Dietrich Stout, Claudio Tennie, Peter Turchin, Carel van Schaik, Matthijs Van Veelen, Harvey Whitehouse, Thomas Widlok, Polly Wiessner, David Sloan Wilson


  • Complexity and Evolution

    Complexity and Evolution

    Toward a New Synthesis for Economics

    David S. Wilson and Alan Kirman

    An exploration of how approaches that draw on evolutionary theory and complexity science can advance our understanding of economics.

    Two widely heralded yet contested approaches to economics have emerged in recent years: one emphasizes evolutionary theory in terms of individuals and institutions; the other views economies as complex adaptive systems. In this book, leading scholars examine these two bodies of theory, exploring their possible impact on economics. Relevant concepts from evolutionary theory drawn on by the contributors include the distinction between proximate and ultimate causation, multilevel selection, cultural change as an evolutionary process, and human psychology as a product of gene-culture coevolution. Applicable ideas from complexity theory include self-organization, fractals, chaos theory, sensitive dependence, basins of attraction, and path dependence.

    The contributors discuss a synthesis of complexity and evolutionary approaches and the challenges that emerge. Focusing on evolutionary behavioral economics, and the evolution of institutions, they offer practical applications and point to avenues for future research.

    Contributors Robert Axtell, Jenna Bednar, Eric D. Beinhocker, Adrian V. Bell, Terence C. Burnham, Julia Chelen, David Colander, Iain D. Couzin, Thomas E. Currie, Joshua M. Epstein, Daniel Fricke, Herbert Gintis, Paul W. Glimcher, John Gowdy, Thorsten Hens, Michael E. Hochberg, Alan Kirman, Robert Kurzban, Leonhard Lades, Stephen E. G. Lea, John E. Mayfield, Mariana Mazzucato, Kevin McCabe, John F. Padgett, Scott E. Page, Karthik Panchanathan, Peter J. Richerson, Peter Schuster, Georg Schwesinger, Rajiv Sethi, Enrico Spolaore, Sven Steinmo, Miriam Teschl, Peter Turchin, Jeroen C. J. M. van den Bergh, Sander E. van der Leeuw, Romain Wacziarg, John J. Wallis, David S. Wilson, Ulrich Witt

  • Better Than Conscious?

    Better Than Conscious?


    Christoph Engel and Wolf Singer

    Experts discuss the implications of the ways humans reach decisions through the conscious and subconscious processing of information.

    Conscious control enables human decision makers to override routines, to exercise willpower, to find innovative solutions, to learn by instruction, to decide collectively, and to justify their choices. These and many more advantages, however, come at a price: the ability to process information consciously is severely limited and conscious decision makers are liable to hundreds of biases. Measured against the norms of rational choice theory, conscious decision makers perform poorly. But if people forego conscious control, in appropriate tasks, they perform surprisingly better: they handle vast amounts of information; they update prior information; they find appropriate solutions to ill-defined problems.

    This inaugural Strüngmann Forum Report explores the human ability to make decisions, consciously as well as without conscious control. It explores decision-making strategies, including deliberate and intuitive; explicit and implicit; processing information serially and in parallel, with a general-purpose apparatus, or with task-specific neural subsystems. The analysis is at four levels—neural, psychological, evolutionary, and institutional—and the discussion is extended to the definition of social problems and the design of better institutional interventions. The results presented differ greatly from what could be expected under standard rational choice theory and deviate even more from the alternate behavioral view of institutions. New challenges emerge (for example, the issue of free will) and some purported social problems almost disappear if one adopts a more adequate model of human decision making.