Biology Professor wins Book Award

Research Policy Office
Wednesday 11 October 2017

This month, Professor Kevin Laland in the School of Biology was awarded the British Psychological Society’s best academic book award for 2017 for his monograph, Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony:How Culture Made the Human Mind.

Drawing on his own groundbreaking research, Professor Laland’s book traces our rise from scavenger apes in prehistory to modern humans able to design iPhones, dance the tango, and send astronauts into space. The book describes how our species’ extraordinary capacity for cultural production, from the arts and language to science and technology, evolved from its animal roots. According to Laland, our culture is not only a magnificent end product of the evolutionary process, but was also a key driving force behind it. The truly unique characteristics of our species – our intelligence, language, teaching, and cooperation – are not adaptive responses to predators, disease or other external factors: rather, humans are creatures of their own making.

Professor Laland presented his book to huge crowds at this year’s Hay Book Festival. In a whistle-stop tour through three decades of research, Laland describes how investigations of animal behavior – from painting elephants to dancing cockatoos – sheds light on human origins. Animals imitate, innovate, and have remarkable traditions of their own. New scientific findings suggest that such learned and socially transmitted activities amongst our ancestors shaped our intellects through accelerating cycles of evolutionary feedback. Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony tells the story of the key advances, the false leads, and the scientific breakthroughs that led to a new understanding of how culture transformed human evolution, to generate a species unlike all others.

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