Laland & Brown, Sense & Nonsense

Posted on February 3, 2008


I’ve just finished reading a book that I really wish someone had recommended to me when I got to the KLI. Written by Kevin Laland and Gillian Brown, it is an introduction to the variety of evolutionary approaches to human behaviour that have developed since E.O. Wilson’s Sociobiology came out in 1975. Apart from sociobiology, the book also discusses human behavioural ecology, evolutionary psychology, memetics and gene-culture coevolution. It is meant as an introduction to the field and it does a very fine job of giving an overview. The book very carefully lists the strong and weak points of each approach, in the end arguing for a cooperative effort among the researchers following the various approaches. As it was, I do not think that by this stage there was much in the book that I had not been exposed to in some fashion. However, what I had garnered in bits and pieces was presented here in a way that allowed me to finally organise what I had learned over the last few months. Doing so helped me to realise the possible relevance the evolutionary approaches may have for the work I am doing on superstition. In particular, the book helped me to set out clearly in my mind what an evolutionary explanation of superstition might consist of. This, in turn, ought to help me focus on various issues that I had not really considered previously. At the same time, the book shows a very clear-headed awareness of the way in which science progresses as well as a detailed understanding of the history of the field of evolutionary studies of human behaviour so that it also consists an interesting case study for the sociology or philosophy of science.