A Natural History of Human Thinking

A Natural History of Human Thinking

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A Wall Street Journal Favorite Read of the Year
A Guardian Top Science Book of the Year

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.


"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
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Product details

  • Paperback | 192 pages
  • 156 x 235 x 17.78mm | 235.87g
  • Cambridge, Mass, United States
  • English
  • Reprint
  • 6 line illustrations
  • 0674986830
  • 9780674986831
  • 864,460

Review quote

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 " 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 " 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 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 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 " 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 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
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About Michael Tomasello

Michael Tomasello is Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University. From 1998 to 2018 he was Co-Director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, and in 2017 he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His scientific work has been recognized by institutions around the world, including the Guggenheim Foundation, the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Netherlands, and the German National Academy of Sciences.
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Rating details

96 ratings
4 out of 5 stars
5 35% (34)
4 36% (35)
3 21% (20)
2 7% (7)
1 0% (0)
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