The Cultural Brain Hypothesis: How culture drives brain expansion, underlies sociality, and alters life history. I keep suggesting to everyone that they need to read more cultural evolution! But to be honest it’s hard for me to keep up. So much easier reading evolutionary genomics, since I know the literature and the models far better.
Book recommendations, The Secret of Our Success: How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter. Yeah, it’s good. But for the more technically inclined, Mathematical Models of Social Evolution: A Guide for the Perplexed. At some point might get the author of the second book on the podcast.
Two issues of guilt: I haven’t been keeping up with the comments, and also the South Asian Genotype Project. I’ll try to do better on that in the near future. Though a major cost there is I will then post less.
Probably keep an eye out for more stuff from me in NRO and India Today in the near future. Though if you follow my total content feed the NRO stuff already gets pushed into that automatically.
She Has Her Mother’s Laugh was reviewed in The New York Times. I plan on trying to get a review into NRO. Here is an important point: it’s a pretty diverse and long book, so any review is going to run with only a small sliver of the narrative. Honestly the stuff about marine cancer and chimerism is probably the most novel material, but that’s probably not going to take center stage in most reviews because it would take a lot of explanation.
In contrast, people “get” race, eugenics and epigenetics (or so they think).
I found the second half of The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living since the Civil War more of a slog than the first half. Why? I think it’s because I didn’t viscerally understand as well the difference between 1870 and 1940. In contrast, I get what’s changed between 1940 and 2010 (I think?).
I still think it’s worth a read. Lots of facts and footnotes.
So many in my “stack” before I could ever get to The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World. But this looks like a really good book.
Lots of debate on the Twitter on whether the Enlightenment “invented” racism. The problem that I see is that this is correct if you define racism in a very specific way. To be frank, an entirely Eurocentric way.
In God’s War: A New History of the Crusades, there is a section which covers tensions in the Egyptian court during the period of the Crusader kingdoms (I believe in the middle 1200s). Basically, black slaves who traditionally guarded the harem had taken a more prominent leadership role. The Circassian military slaves found this offensive on grounds of race and caste. The cultural context was clearly not anything that a 17th century Englishmen would recognize, but it’s pretty obvious that the tensions at court organized themselves around race.
You might say it wasn’t racism because there wasn’t an explicit Linnean taxonomy. But the implication is clear that the Circassians were not going to tolerate domination by black slaves who were customarily, if not by statute, subordinate. Kind of sounds racist.
Though I’ve read books like The History of White People, in general, I find them too Eurocentric, with a particular focus on Anglo-America. Not that that matters as such, it’s just not to my taste to understand the general human condition.
But when we get into arguments about racism being invented in a clear and distinct fashion during the Enlightenment, it helps to have read books like God’s War, and have really good recall. Or a bit of Ibn Khaldun and his rather crass ethnography. Or you might read a history of Ming dynasty China, and recall that sometimes Portuguese sailors who were washed ashore were executed by officials, because they had blonde hair and blue eyes, and so were assumed to be Dutch (who were a priori pirates). The Ming were not racist as such, but they generalized racially in a manner which was unfortunate for fair Portuguese (and probably good for dark Dutch, those these instances are not recorded, for obvious reasons).
Of course we know most people don’t know any of this, or Aristotle’s taxonomies, or the literature on folk biology.
Additionally, one thing I’ve noticed over the years is that in public debates historians often lie. They don’t lie in a bald-faced manner, they lie like Protagoras might lie. They play fast and loose with terminologies and shade the conclusions in a way that benefits their chosen tribe. Unlike physics, history is really hard and requires a lot of honesty. Unlike physics, historians seem to lack that quite often.
I know enough to be able to see them in action because I know enough to know when they’re engaging in misdirection.
I have no solution. As with journalists, you need to know as much as they do to know when they lie when they tell the truth. Unfortuately, historians are usually more clever than journalists.
Andy Ngo Patreon. Honestly, I agree with him too much to read him a lot!
Outstanding questions in the study of archaic hominin admixture. Follow the citations.
The Discourse of Race in Modern China. I read this book 13 years ago. It was written 25 years ago. Seems like it is more relevant today than it was then.
Mystery ghost ape species found hidden in bonobo’s genome. Sometimes I wonder if the term “species” and “population” are just getting totally overwhelmed with the complexity of the models that genomics is now throwing at us.
I don’t think genomics has transformed evolutionary biology in the broad sketches. But, it has really specified a lot of details and filled in gaps, and terms which had previously been pretty clear and distinct are getting really muddled.
Don’t usually say it straight out, but I might not be posting as frequently for a while. Need to catch up on family, keep up on work, etc. I feel like I’ll probably crank it up again when the next batch of ancient DNA papers come out.
Also, Patrick Wyman is on this week’s episode of The Insight (should be up by Wednesday night EDT). We take on ancient DNA and Late Antiquity. I think you’ll like it. Only 14 reviews on iTunes to go before I stop pestering you guys on that!
Any other population genetics blogs you read? Any books of note?