Evolutionary battleground (2 of 2)

March 29, 2012

Steven Rose claims that Mark Pagel's Wired for Culture is full of contradictions and misunderstandings, but this is actually more characteristic of Rose's review than Pagel's book (" 'Brain candy' is hard to swallow", Books, 8 March).

Rose chides Pagel for neglecting evolutionary mechanisms other than natural selection, but doesn't explain what other mechanism is capable of producing complex adaptations such as the human brain (it's difficult to see how it could be genetic drift, for example). Rose then criticises "grand unitary theories of everything", having advanced one himself (that alloparenting is "one of the most convincing arguments for the evolution of human sociality"). But the statement that really made me fall off my chair was that Pagel is wrong to say that our brains think because "it is we who think, using our brains". Descartes lives! (In spirit if not in body.)

Robert Barton, Professor of evolutionary anthropology, Durham University

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