Monday, September 30, 2013

Matt Rossano

Matt Rossano is head of the Psychology Department at Southeastern Louisiana University and the author of Evolutionary Psychology: The Science of Human Behavior and Evolution and Supernatural Selection: How Religion Evolved.

His new book is Mortal Rituals: What the Story of the Andes Survivors Tells Us About Human Evolution.

Earlier this month I asked Rossano about what he was reading. His reply:
Two recently read books that have stuck with me are Thomas Wynn and Fred Coolidge’s How to Think like a Neandertal and Michael Tomasello’s Why We Cooperate. Both of them deal with the issue that I have been pondering in one way or another my entire professional life, which is – what makes us human? Wynn and Coolidge’s book addresses the question by way of comparison with our closest hominin cousins (Neandertals). While Tomasello’s book does it by comparison with our closest primate relatives (chimpanzees).

I see a broad convergence between the two in that the big, glaring intellectual differences that had once seemed so certain, such things as only humans have symbols or only humans have language, are nowhere near as certain as once believed. This is not to say that there are no differences. There are, and certainly more so between humans and chimps compared to humans and Neanderthals. But in both cases the differences are more subtle than we had expected and they seem to cluster in the social domain far more than in the purely rational. What makes us human is our ability to form deep personal relationships and then expand those outward into complex cooperative communities. To be human is to think in terms of “we” rather than “I” or “it” or “F=ma” – shared intentionality is what Tomasello calls it. Which raises the interesting question of whether anyone can truly be human – alone.
Learn more about Mortal Rituals at the Columbia University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Supernatural Selection: How Religion Evolved.

The Page 99 Test: Mortal Rituals.

--Marshal Zeringue