social anthropology, human evolution

human evolution

blogs.lse  4/2020  Cultural evolution, Covid-19, and preparing for what’s next  by Michael Muthukrishna

 …”The pandemic thrusts many puzzles of scientific importance into practical public relevance: Why are institutions failing, even at a personnel level, with prime ministers succumbing to the sickness? Why are some governments doing better than others? Why are people in some countries ignoring advice, such as social distancing, until enforced or until they have direct experience with the illness, while rates of compliance are much higher in other countries? Why do many countries seem slow to learn the lessons offered by other countries? And behind all these, are we making optimal trade-offs on the short- and long-term costs of our decisions?  To some of these questions, the scientific community has quickly responded with working papers ranging from epidemiological models of the effects of different response strategies to large behavioural science reviews of relevant evidence. Here I attempt to put this pandemic into the context of human and cultural evolution, discuss what we can learn and how we may better prepare for challenges that lay ahead. …

….Even as scientists, it’s worth remembering that we each understand a small sliver of the world. We all suffer from the knowledge illusion and Gell-Mann amnesia: we read a popular article reporting on a topic close to our area of expertise and are exasperated or amused at the many errors. But when we click on the next link about other topics, we assume they’re somehow more accurate. With the opening of the next tab, we’ve forgotten the experience. Making correct decisions will require our collective expertise.

…bridging the misunderstandings between disciplines requires those who work at the intersection of disciplines to work as translators. Only by creating conditions in which diverse cultural-groups can attempt different strategies that search through the space of solutions, but also creating conditions in which accurate data, strategies, failures and solutions are shared, can we hope to maximise the potential of our collective brains.

caw> this article seems to be written from an unarticulated decoupling perspective

social anthropolgy 2021 Top 10 books of everyday social anthropology – From studies of the ‘ghost workers’ in the wealthy west to the social meaning of smartphones, these books offer vital insights into how we structure our lives Gillian Tett

1. Think Like an Anthropologist by Matthew Engelke
Brilliant, lively, short(ish) introduction into the key issues that shape anthropology.

2. Gods of the Upper Air: How a Circle of Renegade Anthropologists Reinvented Race, Sex and Gender in the 20th Century by Charles King
fantastic book on the history of anthropology in the 19th and 20th centuries.

3. The Weirdest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous by Joseph Henrich Henrich trained as an aeronautical engineer but then became an evolutionary anthropologist-cum-biologist and this renaissance background enables him to write brilliantly on the peculiarities of WEIRD – western, educated, industrialised, rich and democratic – societies today.

4. Debt, the First 5,000 Years by David Graeber
Graeber died suddenly last year, but his book remains even more relevant today

5. Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour by Kate Fox
masterful cultural analysis of the peculiarities of English culture

6. Ghost Work: How to Stop Silicon Valley from Building a New Global Underclass by Mary L Gray and Siddharth Suri
highlights one shameful, overlooked aspect of the modern tech world, namely “ghost” (or gig) workers – and thankfully the Seattle tech giant did not try to prevent her publishing this.

7. The Power of Not Thinking: How Our Bodies Learn and Why We Should Trust Them by Simon Roberts
a key idea of anthropology: our space, physical habits, rituals and non-verbal gestures matter so deeply that you cannot understand someone by staring at a big data set; instead you need to embrace “participant observation” –

8. Sensemaking by Christian Madsbjerg
how to use anthropological ideas to solve problems in consumer products, marketing and other business fields.

9. It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens by danah boyd
teenagers in cyberspace, using an anthropological perspective.

10. Exotic No More: Anthropology for the Contemporary World edited by Jeremy MacClancy
this readable compendium, accessible and wide-ranging. T

  • Anthro-Vision: How Anthropology Can Explain Business and Life by Gillian Tett is published by Cornerstone. To order a copy, go to