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Chapter 7. The human major transition in relation to symbolic behaviour, including language, imagination, and spirituality

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Abstract

Human evolution can be described in terms of three C’s: Cognition, Culture, and Cooperation. Cognition includes the capacity for symbolic thought that lies at the heart of both language and spirituality. Culture includes the capacity to transmit information, both horizontally and vertically, leading to cumulative behavioural change and rapid adaptation to local environments. Cooperation includes the capacity to engage in prosocial behaviours far beyond one’s circle of genealogical relatives and narrow reciprocators. The three C’s all have precursors in nonhuman species, but they are vastly elaborated in our species. In what sequence did the 3 C’s of human evolution arise and how are they related to each other? A commonly invoked scenario is that the first step was the evolution of advanced cognition, often called “theory of mind (ToM)”, which enabled widespread cooperation and culture (e.g. Tomasello 1999). More recently, a consensus is forming around a second scenario. The first step in human evolution was a major evolutionary transition, which enabled withingroup cooperation to take place much more strongly than before (e.g. Boehm 1999; Wilson 2002, 2006, 2007; Tomasello et al. 2005). The major transition took place without a prior advance in cognitive ability and was a pre-requisite for the advanced forms of human cognition that we associate with language, symbolic thought, and spirituality. Moreover, much simpler adaptations were required as prerequisites for the advanced forms. The entire package of traits that make humans so distinctive are forms of teamwork that require interactions among trustworthy social partners. The first C to evolve was cooperation and the other two C’s are forms of cooperation.

References

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