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Selected Books by Edmund Blair Bolles

  • Galileo's Commandment: 2500 Years of Great Science Writing
  • The Ice Finders: How a Poet, a Professor, and a Politician Discovered the Ice Age
  • Einstein Defiant: Genius vs Genius in the Quantum Revolution

« The Emergence of Grammar | Main | The One Model that Works »



You are right to point out the importance of group selection, which becomes all the more important when a group has developed technologies (including language technologies) which give it a definite advantage over other groups. Bows and arrows and stone axes too. I suspect much "group selection" in human history has taken the form of genocide, the extermination of neighbouring tribes or ape-like cousins who did not quite speak "in the right way" or interact profitably with the dominant group. To coin a phrase: the history of human evolution is a history of genocide. And a shared language is a key element in this tale. So, cooperation within the group goes hand in hand with competition with neighboring groups; it may actually hone the edge of competition.
BLOGGER: Long ago I was partial to the genocide idea myself. It is melodramatic and decisive, but I have changed my mind. There is no good evidence that it has been as important as the more familiar mechanisms we see in history: the stronger move in and push the weaker aside, either by shoving them off into highland or desert margins, or by dominating the older group and taking a region's wealth, or by absorbing the weaker so that they become part of the new power.


Well, call it "soft" genocide then. How do you "push" someone to the margin, in fact? Of course I agree all kinds of domination strategies are influential- including extermination through infectious diseases, which according to Jared Diamond also tends to wipe out less 'globalized' peoples. But we are not lacking in evidence for more or less deliberate genocides in recent history (take for instance the case of all-white Argentina or Australia). A story along that line has long been a matter of speculation as regards the spread of Homo Sapiens, of course: for instance in William Golding's "The Inheritors".


Regarding Your Criticism #1, I think there is some interesting work done by Michael Tomasello and his colleagues at the MPI, which shows that tolerance and personal relationships between individual apes are a necessary precondition and a triggering factor for co-operation.

Here's the link to the 2007 Science story: Greg Miller - All Together Now, Pull!:


Manual babbling would arise naturally once gestural communication developed the forms of language. This would facilitate the collaborative groups you posit, but it would not provide any pressure toward speech, in fact just the opposite. What's more, in the absence of spoken language there would be nothing to provide a source for vocal babbling.

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