Thinking Big: How the Evolution of Social Life Shaped the Human Mind

Thinking Big: How the Evolution of Social Life Shaped the Human Mind


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A closer look at genealogy, incorporating how biological, anthropological, and technical factors can influence human lives

We are at a pivotal moment in understanding our remote ancestry and its implications for how we live today. The barriers to what we can know about our distant relatives have been falling as a result of scientific advance, such as decoding the genomes of humans and Neanderthals, and bringing together different perspectives to answer common questions. These collaborations have brought new knowledge and suggested fresh concepts to examine. The results have shaken the old certainties.

The results are profound; not just for the study of the past but for appreciating why we conduct our social lives in ways, and at scales, that are familiar to all of us. But such basic familiarity raises a dilemma. When surrounded by the myriad technical and cultural innovations that support our global, urbanized lifestyles we can lose sight of the small social worlds we actually inhabit and that can be traced deep into our ancestry. So why do we need art, religion, music, kinship, myths, and all the other facets of our over-active imaginations if the reality of our effective social worlds is set by a limit of some one hundred and fifty partners (Dunbar’s number) made of family, friends, and useful acquaintances? How could such a social community lead to a city the size of London or a country as large as China? Do we really carry our hominin past into our human present? It is these small worlds, and the link they allow to the study of the past that forms the central point in this book.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780500051801
Publisher: Thames & Hudson
Publication date: 06/17/2014
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Robin Dunbar is head of the Social and Evolutionary Neuroscience Research Group at the University of Oxford. He has published numerous books including Grooming Gossip and the Evolution of Language (2004), The Human Story (2005), How Many Friends Does One Person Need?: Dunbar’s Number and Other Evolutionary Quirks (2011), The Science of Love (2012) and The Science of Love and Betrayal (2013).

Clive Gamble is Professor of Archaeology at the University of Southampton. His publications include Origins and Revolutions: Human Identity in Earliest Prehistory (2007) and Archaeology: The Basics (2007).

John Gowlett is Professor of Archaeology at Liverpool University. He has published numerous articles and contributions within edited volumes.

Table of Contents

Preface 7

1 Psychology meets archaeology 10

2 What it means to be social 39

3 Ancient social lives 61

4 Ancestors with small brains 85

5 Building the human niche: three crucial skills 117

6 Ancestors with large brains 149

7 Living in big societies 185

Selected Reading 205

Sources of Illustrations 216

Index 217

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