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A NATURAL HISTORY OF HUMAN THINKING

Michael Tomasello
Harvard University, 2014

EDUCATIONAL OBJECTIVES The reader will be able to:
Describe Tomasello's observations and theory of the evolution of human thinking:
• more cooperative than copetitive, unlike other apes
• capable of multiple social perspectives
• the connection between sociality and cognition
• new forms of thinking engendered by collaborative and communicative interaction
• collective intentionality
• joint intentionality

Michael Tomasello is Co-Director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

Editorial Reviews

What makes human thinking unique? Michael Tomasello's clear and elegant new book demonstrates once more his ability to draw on his experimental work with apes and children to offer major new insights into the evolutionary origins of human cognition. -- Dan Sperber, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris

Human thought, in Tomasello's conception, is different from that of all other organisms because humans alone have the capacity to think about the thoughts of others, and do so collectively. Tomasello's greatest strength is his insistence on relying on data to support his hypotheses, particularly the fascinating studies he summarizes comparing pre- linguistic children to our great ape relatives. --Publishers Weekly

What is it that differentiates humans from other animals? It's the question that keeps evolutionary anthropologists like Michael Tomasello up nights. But after 20-plus years wrestling with the thorny subject, he puts forward his ?shared intentionality hypothesis,' designed to account for how early humans learned to coordinate their actions and communicate their thoughts with collaborators. --New Scientist

Tomasello has spent a lifetime conducting?tests on both great apes such as chimpanzees and on humans of different ages, in order to pin down exactly where our capacities differ. In this difficult but rewarding book, he attempts to place these results into a grand theory of how and why these differences evolved?Tomasello's account of how co-operation drove the development of our distinctive intellect is controversial?It is also highly speculative: a trait such as co-operation leaves few traces in the fossil record. But it is speculation by a thinker at the top of his field, based on the latest research, and as such is likely to be the definitive statement of human uniqueness for some time to come. -- Stephen Cave, Financial Times

Tomasello argues that human thinking is unique because it is cooperative. He posits that environmental upheavals forced early humans to channel their thinking towards collective aims through two evolutionary innovations: collaboration while foraging, and the rise of culture as population and competition burgeoned. Tomasello convincingly sets out how ?shared intentionality,' in which social complexity spawned conceptual complexities, sets us apart. --Nature

Michael Tomasello is one of the few psychologists to have conducted intensive research on both human children and chimpanzees, and A Natural History of Human Thinking reflects not only the insights enabled by such cross-species comparisons but also the wisdom of a researcher who appreciates the need for asking questions whose answers generate biological insight. His book helps us to understand the differences, as well as the similarities, between human brains and other brains. -- David P. Barash Wall Street Journal

Compelling reading?In a reassessment of his earlier work, Tomasello argues that apes are cognitively much closer to humans than had been thought only a decade ago?The book's great virtue is its conceptual analysis of the cumulative steps in cognition required to get us from ape to human?Highly stimulating. -- Stephen Levinson Science


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