Why We Cooperate By Michael Tomasello

This is a short little book But it's packed with interesting ideasTomasello's basic proposition as I understand it is that humans cooperate because we have an ability to share intentions in a symbolic space and we like to be helpful by sharing informationHe tries to tease apart three different types of altruism or helpfulness two of which we share with other great apes The third which we do not share with apes is informative helping He refers to experiments done with children of various ages from about six months and onward The results seem to indicate that children of about 14 months of age can infer what the intentions of an adult are and will spontaneously inform them of where a tool is that they need to inact their intentions Eg point to a hidden stapler for an adult that was previously engaged in staplingThe book benefits from comments from other scientists at the end on the points on which they concur and differ from Tomasello Joan Silk Carol Dweck Brian Skyrms and Elizabeth Spelke are the commenters Hardcover Concise and thought provoking distillation of the current debate over what makes us uniue as humans the first part uses comparative studies with primates to make the case that we are in fact uniue in our social interactions while the second part offers a possible evolutionary trajectory for how we got here I found the second part marginally novel and interesting largely due to its discussion of the social norms and institutions that facilitate a shared intentionalityI saw another reviewer disappointed that the eponymous uestion was never decisively answered That's worth a note I think While Tomasello makes an excellent and well supported argument he's not arrogant enough to claim that he's reached the final eternal solution The field is young and many experiments still need to be conducted to conclusively settle the claims at play Many popular books by scientists in young fields serve to espouse specific idiosyncratic research programs than to capture the overall state of the debate By writing carefully and including a forum in which eually distinguished contemporaries have responded with counterpoints Tomasello avoids this ego move For those who enjoy watching science develop in real time this is an exciting document Hardcover Tomasello has written a short sweet technical introduction to his theory of cooperation which is a pretty hot topic in cognitive circles these days The book was adapted from a series of lectures Stanford's 2008 Tanner Lectures so it isn't as heavily footnoted or uite as academic in tone as an academic journal article but it doesn't spend uite as much time on background and basics as a typical pop cog book Still it does cover a lot of territory in its short length only 172 pages with pretty big marginsTomasello explores cooperation with several different comparisons He is most famous for comparing infants and toddlers to young chimpanzees but that is just one aspect — he also explores cross cultural differences for example Children and chimps however are a very intriguing place to start which is why the New York Times leaned heavily on his work in the December 2009 article We May Be Born With an Urge to Help well worth readingHe focuses on two basic phenomena p xvii1 Altruism one individual sacrificing in some way for another; and2 Collaboration multiple individuals working together for mutual benefit Hardcover This book has a lofty goal explaining how human altruism and cooperativeness developed given that our closest relatives in the animal kingdom aren't altruistic or cooperative but only manages to barely skim the surface of the issue This book is actually a collection of lectures that Tomasello gave with some short commentary from other scholars at the end The only problem is there isn't much new ground covered here compared to Tomasello's other work If you want a in depth coverage of the evolution of communication cooperation altruism etc I'd recommend reading one of his other books The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition That being said this book would make a good introduction to Tomasello's research for people who don't know about it and since it's so short it a pretty painless way of gaining exposure to the field Hardcover I once abandoned a fiction book after the author closed a chapter with this line And that was the last good day The book had made me miserable up to that point a third of the way through I didn't want to spend another week being made even miserableHere we have a non fiction book with a fine premise a promising opening and then rapidly diminishing returns Just as I wonder to myself Is this worth finishing? comes this bombshellThrough processes that we do not understand very well mutual expectations arise I will not pretend that I have any fundamentally new answers to this one of the most fundamental uestions in all of the social sciences where do these cooperative norms come from and how do they work?He goes on to elaborate but as suggested by the above we get speculation not educationThis book is called Why We Cooperate It was on page 89 that I discovered the reader would not find out Hardcover

Based on a series of lectures that the author gave at Stanford University in 2009 this tiny volume explores two key ideas 1 how children learn to cooperate and 2 why human beings choose to cooperate Intended for an academic rather than a mainstream audience Hardcover uick read but will make you realize how much of human nature we think we know and take for granted when we are much stranger creatures than we ever consider Especially pushes back on jaded and cynical views of human nature when one considers we are by far the most cooperative animal we know of so far Hardcover An interesting addendum to the notion of shared intentionality and the emergence of culture is the following paper chapter by evolutionary biologist Randolph NesseNesse RM Social selection and the origins of culture In Schaller M Heine SJ Norenzayan A Yamagishi T Kameda T editors Evolution culture and the human mind Philadelphia PA Psychology Press p 137 50 2010 Hardcover Tomasello has come to my attention from two sub areas of interest The first was Axel Honneth's poorly developed book on reification According to Honneth Tomasello has empirically demonstrated that infants have an ontogenetic faculty of deep empathy and recognition of fellow human beings But most of us know that adults don't have much empathy for other people and have a hard time 'recognizing' the other think the entire Republican party For Honneth this is the new starting point to develop a theory of reificationI also watch a lot of NOVA specials and freuently the Max Planck institute for social research is featured with some amazing experiment regarding chimpanzees andor toddlers This is the institute that Tomasello works forHaving been piued by his research I picked up Why We Cooperate which in only 100 pages sets out to develop an interesting thesis He begins with the uestion was Hobbes or Rousseau right? Are we born nasty and brutish and hardly concerned with others or are we born angelic and since fallen from grace due to the evolution of civilization? Tomasello is not as radical as Rousseau he won't damn all of civilization but he's convinced that we are born mostly altruistic cooperative and empathetic ie he sides with Rousseau He highlights about a dozen studies that reveal just how compassionate and innately concerned children are He doesn't speculate much on why humans lose their ability to be altruistic but he does show nearly conclusively that altruism is innate and not learned If anything is learned over time it's how NOT to be altruistic Society deprives us of our angelic nature There is one study that really highlights this If very young children see someone carrying a stack of books and bumping into a door they know to walk over and open the door for the person you can youtube these studies It doesn't matter if the child is alone in the room or if the parent is there prodding them along the child always opens the door meaning this isn't parent directed altruism But if the child is given a reward for opening the door they are less likely to open it a second time and a third time and so on The rewards they get for doing a good deed the less inclined they are to do the deed again The speculation is that the act has initial intrinsic value but once the intrinsic value is substituted for some material value the act loses its worth This is exactly the OPPOSITE view of man that most people especially economist and politicians hold They all believe people need material and monetary motivation to keep doing good things What is actually happening is that people are constantly being 'rewarded' for acts they would have done anyway and are now losing the inclination to do them for the right reasons If you reflect on this point for all of ten seconds it uickly becomes apparent just how rotten capitalism isIn order to uell doubts that Tomasello isn't painting a romantic picture of human beings he conducts the exact same studies on chimpanzees Although they're not completely unconcerned their ability to share and conduct altruistic acts is far less prominent than humans This leads him to believe that there is some evolutionary advantage to our innate altruism Although I don’t think the chimpanzee studies much matter one way or the other regarding human altruism and some of Tomsello’s critics contend this point freuently ie these ape studies are superfluous and not as informative as he thinksToward the end of the book things become too speculative for my taste Evolutionary Psychology often seems like a complete pseudo science once it starts abstracting back before civilization Comparing humans to chimpanzees Tomasselo tries to give an evolutionary account for our uniue set of altruistic traits None of these speculations are wholly empirical and always abstractly hypothetical I don't think it much matters why we evolved these traits; the real important uestion is why are we no longer exercising them and what's the cause? Hardcover Felt like I was in one of his lectures and that made the material accessible The additional and sometimes contrary viewpoints at the end were a nice complement Hardcover

Understanding cooperation as a distinctly human combination of innate and learned behaviorDrop something in front of a two year old and she's likely to pick it up for you This is not a learned behavior psychologist Michael Tomasello argues Through observations of young children in experiments he himself has designed Tomasello shows that children are naturally and uniuely cooperative Put through similar experiments for example apes demonstrate the ability to work together and share but choose not to As children grow their almost reflexive desire to help without expectation of reward becomes shaped by culture They become aware of being a member of a group Groups convey mutual expectations and thus may either encourage or discourage altruism and collaboration Either way cooperation emerges as a distinctly human combination of innate and learned behavior In Why We Cooperate Tomasello's studies of young children and great apes help identify the underlying psychological processes that very likely supported humans' earliest forms of complex collaboration and ultimately our uniue forms of cultural organization from the evolution of tolerance and trust to the creation of such group level structures as cultural norms and institutions Scholars Carol Dweck Joan Silk Brian Skyrms and Elizabeth Spelke respond to Tomasello's findings and explore the implications Why We Cooperate


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