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Human Evolution and Collaboration
What makes us different from other species?
In order to survive, an animal species needs to succeed at finding food, finding prey and/or avoiding predators, and producing offspring. How did humans evolve to achieve those goals?
Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying emphasize that humans are highly flexible in terms of habitat. We can eat many types of food, and we have learned to avoid many types of prey.
Joseph Henrich, Michael Tomasello, Kevin Laland, and others have emphasized how well humans learn from one another, communicate with one another, and collaborate with one another. We have “shared intentionality” and “shared agency” to a much larger extent than other species.
We remain children, unable to feed ourselves or defend ourselves, for much longer than other species. It takes a long time for us to learn to deal with our environment.
We have a long time horizon. We are able to recall the past and re-imagine the future.
We accumulate knowledge in a way that other species cannot seem to do. We have evolved language, writing, and computers.
Overall, I think that the success of the human species is based on our ability to collaborate.
We collaborate to obtain food. We share. We trade. We teach one another. We use informal norms to encourage cooperation and discourage cheating. In the process of finding and preparing food, we specialize. We work together.
We collaborate in what we have come to call the economy. We have evolved roundabout production techniques, including trading networks and intermediate goods that are used in assembling final goods. We have evolved complex specialization of labor. We have become highly interdependent.
We collaborate to fend off predators. But humans soon became the most dangerous predators. To deal with this challenge, we have evolved cultural mechanisms for collaborating in large groups. We have developed formal systems, including legal systems, military forces, education systems, organizations, and government.
Our brains evolved to develop skills involved in collaboration. One skill is the use of language. Another skill is the ability to handle situations that social scientists call games involving the choice between cooperation and defection. This includes skills related to cheating and detection of cheating, and skills related to deception and discovery.
We collaborate in setting up and enforcing rules governing the selection of mates. We then compete for mates within the cultural system as it exists.
This essay is part of a series on human interdependence.