This introductory chapter provides an overview of professor Robert Boyd's approach to the study of human evolution that focuses on the population dynamics of culturally transmitted information. Putting aside the more familiar question of human uniqueness, Boyd asks why humans so exceed other species when it comes to broad indices of ecological success, such as humans' ability to adapt to and thrive in such a wide variety of habitats across the globe. Humans adapt to a vast variety of changing environments not mainly by applying individual intelligence to solve problems, but rather via “cumulative cultural adaptation” and, over the longer term, Darwinian selection among cultures with different social norms and moral values. Not only are humans part of the natural world, argues Boyd, but human culture is part of the natural world. Culture makes humans “a different kind of animal,” and “culture is as much a part of human biology as our peculiar pelvis or the thick enamel that covers our molars.” The chapter then outlines the lectures and discussions that follow, which originated as the Tanner Lectures on Human Values at Princeton University in April of 2016, organized under the auspices of the University Center for Human Values.
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