Marshall Sahlins (1974)
One quickly comes to suspect a double entendre underlies Marshall Sahlins’ title, ‘Stone Age Economics’. Yes, his collection of six essays tackle fascinating aspects of Economic Systems in Stone Age (and other ‘primitive’) societies. But more deeply, Sahlins’ title belies a criticism of modern-day economics as a discipline. He holds that Economics, as practised by today’s card-carrying academic economists, is unable to adequately account for material flow of goods outside of the domain of Western Culture. Economics is primitive and underdeveloped – it is ‘still in the Stone Age’. » Continue reading “Stone Age Economics”
Daniel Kahneman (2011)
This book didn’t just profoundly affect the way I think about the behaviour of human individuals, it actually affected the way I structure my thinking about the behaviour of human individuals. It’s honestly hard to imagine a walk of life in which Kahneman’s book would not be an invaluable read.
Jerome Kagan (1994)
It would be easy, flipping casually through the pages of Kagan’s book, or glancing at its table of contents, to underestimate the profoundness that lies within. And indeed, most of the book constitutes a rather densely written account of studies into the difference between inhibited and uninhibited children.
But to me, Galen’s Prophecy holds deep seeds of implication to philosophy and our understanding of human nature. I will attempt a summary of both.
Have you ever wondered which, if any, attributes of any particular person’s behaviour or psychology are immutable, and which are pliable? Which of your own personality traits you are potentially able to change, and which traits will remain with you to your dying days? Although easily obscured amongst dense psychological and neurological detail, this is the very question that motivates Kagan in his work, and accounts for the books subtitle, ‘Temperament in Human Nature’. ‘Temperament’, by Kagan’s now widely adopted definition, refers to that constellation of attributes that individuals are just stuck with. A touchy subject, of course – not least becomes it lays the groundwork for organising people into neat categories.
Philosophically, the concept of the category is hugely interesting to me – and the present context is certainly no exception! There are also real implications here for how we set about thinking about personality and behaviour. Consider, as a teaser, how different it is to be living in a world populated with discrete groups or clusters of behaviour, rather than one in which individuals’ traits occupy positions along linear continua.
The Soul of the Ape shows what a tremendous difference a polished edit can do for the conveyance of ideas. The work was put together by Robert Ardrey, Marais’ tireless exponent, from an unfinished manuscript found many years after the author’s suicide. This makes it hard to hold many of Marais’ ideas up to the light.
Why what Marais has to say about baboons might interest us
Marais’ isolated existence in a narrow kloof in South Africa’s Waterberg Plateau in the 1920s had two important consequences. The first was that, despite his rigorous scientific training, he remained untouched by the influence of scientific work being done elsewhere. The second was that his subjects, a large troop of Chacma baboons, were largely untainted by human contact – outside of their doings with Marais himself. Because of the location of Marais’ hut, the baboons had no choice but to pass the astute observer every morning on their way out in search for food, and every evening on their way back to the home cave. Marais was a gifted naturalist who was able to carry out a detailed study of primates under highly favourable conditions before ‘primate science’ existed. » Continue reading “The Soul of the Ape”
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Freud turns his cool gaze on man’s grapple with the inevitable.
So this is a rather ballsy work. In varying depth, Ryan & Jethá aggressively attack several scientific consensuses, all orbiting within the broad ambit of human sexuality. A light-hearted writing style makes this a highly accessible work. Below, I focus on some of the key assertions and arguments of interest.
Primary amongst the traditional views attacked, and the books main target, is the idea that humans evolved from a monogamist prehistory – a period the authors peg as the 200,000 years immediately prior to agriculture and writing. (It is interesting to note how this disparate pair of technologies is often conjoined by use of this sense of the term). In strong contrast to todays western nuclear family, the authors posit that “the ‘natural’ family structure of our species” is one that enjoys “easy acceptance between adults and unrelated children, the diffuse nurturing found […] where children refer to all men as father and all women as mother, […] small and isolated enough to safely assume the kindness of strangers, where overlapping sexual relationships leave genetic paternity unknowable and of little consequence …”. The modern pair-bond is painted as a distortion brought about by recent transition to sedentary agriculture. » Continue reading “Sex at Dawn”