Wednesday, February 26, 2014

New Book by Tomasello: A Natural History of Human Thinking

A Natural History of Human Thinking

by Michael Tomasello

(Harvard University Press, 2014)

192 pages


Tool-making or culture, language or religious belief: ever since Darwin, thinkers have struggled to identify what fundamentally differentiates human beings from other animals. In this much-anticipated book, Michael Tomasello weaves his twenty years of comparative studies of humans and great apes into a compelling argument that cooperative social interaction is the key to our cognitive uniqueness. Once our ancestors learned to put their heads together with others to pursue shared goals, humankind was on an evolutionary path all its own.

Tomasello argues that our prehuman ancestors, like today’s great apes, were social beings who could solve problems by thinking. But they were almost entirely competitive, aiming only at their individual goals. As ecological changes forced them into more cooperative living arrangements, early humans had to coordinate their actions and communicate their thoughts with collaborative partners. Tomasello’s “shared intentionality hypothesis” captures how these more socially complex forms of life led to more conceptually complex forms of thinking. In order to survive, humans had to learn to see the world from multiple social perspectives, to draw socially recursive inferences, and to monitor their own thinking via the normative standards of the group. Even language and culture arose from the preexisting need to work together. What differentiates us most from other great apes, Tomasello proposes, are the new forms of thinking engendered by our new forms of collaborative and communicative interaction.

Contents [preview]

1. The Shared Intentionality Hypothesis [preview]

2. Individual Intentionality
    Evolution of Cognition
    Thinking like an Ape
    Cognition for Competition

3. Joint Intentionality
    A New Form of Collaboration
    A New Form of Cooperative Communication
    Second-Personal Thinking
    Perspectivity: The View from Here and There

4. Collective Intentionality
    The Emergence of Culture
    The Emergence of Conventional Communication
    Agent-Neutral Thinking
    Objectivity: The View from Nowhere

5. Human Thinking as Cooperation
    Theories of Human Cognitive Evolution
    Sociality and Thinking
    The Role of Ontogeny

6. Conclusion

Michael Tomasello is Co-Director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. He is the author of "The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition" (Harvard University Press, 1999), "Origins of Human Communication" (MIT Press, 2008), and "Why We Cooperate" (MIT Press, 2009). 

Many of Tomasello's recent papers are available here

His Tanner Lectures from 2008 are available here: "Origins of Human Cooperation" [pdf]. 

See also some of my previous posts on Michael Tomasello:

* Interview with Michael Tomasello (video) [2008]

* Michael Tomasello wins the Hegel Prize 2009

* Habermas's laudatio to Michael Tomasello [2009]

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