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Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding Paperback – April 15, 2011
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“Boldly conceived and beautifully written, Mothers and Others makes a strong case that we humans are (or should be) cooperative breeders. It is an indispensable contribution to the debate about how and why we came to be the most successful primate of them all.”―Melvin Konner, author of The Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit
“As was the case for her earlier classic, Mother Nature, Sarah Hrdy's Mothers and Others is a brilliant work on a profoundly important subject. The leading scientific authority on motherhood has come through again.”―E. O. Wilson
“"What if I were traveling with a planeload of chimpanzees? Any one of us would be lucky to disembark with all ten fingers and toes still attached...Even among the famously peaceful bonobos...veterinarians sometimes have to be called in following altercations to stitch back on a scrotum or penis," Hrdy writes. What she found is that our unique mothering instinct, quite different from gorillas and chimpanzees, meant that the children most likely to survive were those who could relate to and solicit help from others. We evolved to be wired for empathy for, consideration of, and intuition into how others are feeling.”―Jessa Crispin, Smart Set
“To explain the rise of cooperative breeding among our forebears, Hrdy synthesizes an array of new research in anthropology, genetics, infant development, comparative biology.”―Natalie Angier, New York Times
“For as long as she's been a sociobiologist, Sarah Blaffer Hrdy has been playfully dismantling traditional notions of motherhood and gender relations...Hrdy is back with another book, Mothers and Others, and another big idea. She argues that human cooperation is rooted not in war making, as sociobiologists have believed, but in baby making and baby-sitting. Hrdy's conception of early human society is far different from the classic sociobiological view of a primeval nuclear family, with dad off hunting big game and mom tending the cave and the kids. Instead, Hrdy paints a picture of a cooperative breeding culture in which parenting duties were spread out across a network of friends and relatives. The effect on our development was profound.”―Julia Wallace, Salon
“Hrdy's lucid and comprehensively researched book takes us to the heart of what it means to be human.”―Camilla Power, Times Higher Education
“Hrdy's much-awaited new book, is another mind-expanding, paradigm-shifting, rigorously scientific yet eminently readable treatise...Mothers and Others lays the foundation for a new hypothesis about human evolution...Mothers and Others is overflowing with fascinating information and thinking. It's a book you read, pausing regularly to consider the full import of what you just read...Sarah Blaffer Hrdy has added another enormous building block to our thinking about our origins with this new book. Our species is lucky to have her.”―Claudia Casper, Globe and Mail
“Provocative. [Hrdy] argues that unlike other apes, Homo sapiens could never have evolved if human mothers had been required to raise their offspring on their own. Human infants are too helpless and too expensive in their demands for care and resources. So human females have to line up helpers--sometimes extending beyond their own kin--to raise their young. That requires both males and females to invest heavily in social skills for bargaining with other members of their groups. Hrdy suggests that females in ancestral hunting and gathering groups may have thrived because they were free to be flexible in this way. Female flexibility was reduced when humans established settlements requiring male coalitions to defend them, probably leading to greater control of females by males...The most refreshing aspect of [this] book is the challenge [it] offers to what we thought we already knew.”―John Odling-Smee, Nature
“If Sarah Blaffer Hrdy were a male scientist, I might be tempted to say that her new book Mothers and Others arrives like an intellectual time bomb, or that it throws a grenade into accepted notions of human evolution. But those are aggressive, competitive metaphors, and one of the essential points of Mothers and Others is that aggression and competition have been given far too central a place in the standard accounts of how our species came into being. From Charles Darwin onward, those accounts are mostly the work of men, and Hrdy points out in meticulous detail how partial and biased was their understanding of the remote past...Mothers and Others offers enormous rewards. It is not only revolutionary; it is also wise and humane.”―Mark Abley, Calgary Herald
“More than a million years ago, somewhere in Africa, a group of apes began to rear their young differently. Unlike almost all other primates, they were willing to let others share in the care of infants. The reasons for this innovation are lost in the ancient past, but according to well-known anthropologist Hrdy, it was crucial that these mothers had related--and therefore trusted--females nearby and that the helpers provided food as well as care. Out of this "communal care," she argues, grew the human capacity for understanding one another: mothers and others teach us who will care and who will not. Beginning with her opening conceit of apes on an airplane (you wouldn't want to be on this flight) and continuing through her informed insights into the behavior of other species, Hrdy's reasoning is fascinating to follow.”―Michelle Press, Scientific American
“One of the boldest thinkers in her field...Hrdy's scope is huge...To build her arguments, she expertly knits together research from a variety of fields--fossil evidence, endocrinology, psychology, history, child development, genetics, comparative primatology and field research among hunter-gatherer societies. Her book is at once entertaining, full of apt, often colorful anecdotes, sometimes culled from her own experiences, and rich with information and case studies...Hrdy is not only synthesizing her own research on female reproductive strategies (initially on langur monkeys in India), but that of hundreds of other researchers to create what amounts to a sweeping new meta-paradigm.”―Michele Pridmore-Brown, Times Literary Supplement
“In this compelling and wide-ranging book, Hrdy sets out to explain the mystery of how humans evolved into cooperative apes. The demands of raising our slow-growing and energetically expensive offspring led to cooperative child-rearing, she argues, which was key to our survival.”―Alison Motluk, New Scientist
“Using evidence from diverse research fields (including ethnography, archaeology, developmental psychology, primatology, endocrinology, and genetics), Hrdy builds an engaging and compelling argument for an evolutionary history of cooperative offspring care that requires us to rethink entrenched views about how we came to be human...Mothers and Others provides a fascinating, readable account of how our hominin ancestors might have negotiated the obstacles to raising offspring. Hrdy presents a well-argued case for human evolutionary history being characterized by cooperative offspring care, which opens fresh avenues of research into the history of our species. In addition, she prompts readers to consider far-reaching questions, such as whether the nuclear family is the "best" unit in which to raise children and how learned parenting practices might determine the future of human evolution. Her thought-provoking book will interest students, specialists, and general readers alike and should focus attention on the neglected roles of mothers and others within human evolutionary theory.”―Gillian R. Brown, Science
“Hrdy presents her hypothesis systematically and painstakingly, chapter by chapter, so that the result is compellingly plausible.”―William McGrew, American Scientist
“Understanding the evolution of the human mind has become the holy grail of modern evolutionary anthropology and evolutionary psychology, and those who pursue it feel themselves closing in on something big. Mothers and Others is a heroic contribution to this quest. It is an anthropological T(A)E: a theory of (almost) everything, a genre for which I must confess a weakness. It stands above most other examples of the genre, however, for both its scholarship and its craft. Hrdy draws on a broad literature extending beyond the traditional domains of primatology and anthropology, with particular emphasis on developmental psychology, but breadth of scholarship and lucid vision have long been the trademarks of her writing...Hrdy is at least as gifted as a writer as [Stephen Jay] Gould and at least as clear a thinker...This is a very important book, and a beautiful one. It is a book that will delight a broad lay readership coming to it from disparate perspectives. It will be a wonderful book to assign to undergraduates in a range of courses. But most importantly, it is a challenging and provocative book for academics and scientists interested in human cognition and human evolution. Once again, Hrdy has woven together strands of material from many sources into an elegant tapestry of insight and logic, emblazoned with her vision of who we are, and why.”―Peter Ellison, Evolutionary Psychology
“The book is an impressive and sustained argument for why, unlike other apes, humans are cooperative breeders...Hrdy offers some fascinating speculations about the problems whose solution might have facilitated the emergence of cooperative breeding.”―Pierre Jacob, International Cognition and Culture Institute blog
“Mothers and Others is an engaging book. It is full of fascinating information from diverse fields, imaginatively harnessed to produce a coherent account of our genetic predispositions as a species. Above all, it challenges the pervasively sexist tradition within evolutionary psychology, which routinely highlights aggression and maternal care at the expense of sociability and shared care. In doing so, the book provides a rich foundation for engagement with the social sciences, exploring the articulation between our genetic predispositions and contemporary human societies.”―Michael Gilding, Australian Book Review
“Convincing about the importance of alloparenting, [Hrdy] makes a rich case that draws on wide erudition about many primate species and current arguments about human cooperation.”―B. Weston, Choice
“In Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding, Sarah Hrdy argues that what makes humans different from other apes is our need to rear children cooperatively. Elegantly written and, to any parent, compellingly argued.”―Morgan Kelly, Irish Times
“Sarah Blaffer Hrdy is one of the most original and influential minds in evolutionary anthropology...It is possible to see Hrdy's most recent book, Mothers and Others, as the third in a trilogy that began with The Woman That Never Evolved. It may be the most important...[It's her] most ambitious contribution. In Mothers and Others, she situates this pivotal mother-infant pair not in an empty expanse of savanna, waiting for a man to arrive with his killed game, but where it actually belongs, in the dense social setting of a hunter-gatherer or, before that, an ape or monkey group. Hrdy argues convincingly that social support was crucial to human success, that compared with other primates, humans are uniquely cooperative, and that it was precisely cooperation in child care that gave rise to this general bent...Hrdy's gracefully written, expert account of human behavior focuses on the positive, and its most important contribution is to give cooperation its rightful place in child care. Through a lifetime of pathbreaking work, she has repeatedly undermined our complacent, solipsistic, masculine notions of what women were meant "by nature" to be. Here as elsewhere she urges caution and compassion toward women whose maternal role must be constantly rethought and readjusted to meet the demands of a changing world. Women have done this successfully for millions of years, and their success will not stop now. But neither Hrdy nor I nor anyone else can know whether the strong human tendency to help mothers care for children can produce the species-wide level of cooperation that we now need to survive.”―Melvin Konner, New York Review of Books
About the Author
- Publisher : The Belknap Press; Illustrated edition (April 15, 2011)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 432 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0674060326
- ISBN-13 : 978-0674060326
- Item Weight : 1.58 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.16 x 0.92 x 9.2 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #396,543 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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If you're here, you've probably heard about the grandmother hypothesis, and Hrdy really delves into several angles to grandmothers and selection making do. This book was more redundant, almost like it was meant to be part of assigned reading where sections get selected and thus need to stand alone and already presumes you're invested in the premise. However, if you're interested and willing to read through, this book challenged my assumptions and current cultural ideas of parenting in a nuclear family on a deeper, more existential way than Mother Nature.
Following up upon her vitally important study of "Mother Right", which demonstrated a compassionate biological understanding of female infanticide and infantile neglect, in cases where adult support for pregnancy and raising infants was not available, "Mothers and Others" focuses upon the caregivers and their evolution in the human species. Why are we primed to respond with care and concern whenever we hear a baby cry? Why are we hardwired to find the physiological shape of a baby so appealing? Reaching back into our pre-human primate, and indeed mammalian heritage, "mothering" seems to be a deep source of our ability to care and have compassion for others, on top of the narrower reciprocal trade offs involving costs and benefits or tit for tat. Drawing upon comparative ethology, neuroscence and population genetics, Blaffer Hrdy demonstrates that the narrow assumptions based upon Bowlby's attachment theories cast a much wider net. Children do need to "bond" to a significant other to secure their survival at such a dependent stage, but such attachment is not with the mother alone. It takes more than 13 million calories of food to successfully raise a slow maturing human to adulthood and this vastly exceeds the capacity of one individual. The provisioning of mothers amongst our ancestors was secured by a vastly larger group than the biological father anxious to secure the perpetuation of his genes to the next generation. As the cooperative breeding ape, Blaffer Hrdy asks the provocative question, why only humans, why did the other great apes, Chimpanzees, Bonobo and even Gorilla, not evolve significantly in the direction of Cooperative Breeding? She amply demonstrates that the precursor behaviours were there, in our simian heritage, but it failed to "catch" on evolutionarily.
The huge importance of the fact of cooperative breeding, in the development of human capacities for apparently self-less compassion and empathy is deeply demonstrated in detailed case studies of its importance to secure infant survival. While menopause is present in a number of primate species, Blaffer Hrdy demonstrates why it is in humans alone that it extends for over 20 years in a female lifetime. It seems that it is the child-grandmother bond that has made the difference. She also shows that there are significant differences affecting maternal rather than paternal grandmothers in child-rearing outcomes. With this wealth of case studies, it allows the re-examination of the research into human "universals", showing patrilocality is found predominantly amongst post-agrarian cultures, and even there, the close proximity and involvement of the maternal family, through helping to reduce the high infant mortality in pre-modern times is important for the survival and flourishing of the infant. Present, but not as developed as in Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethra's "Sex at Dawn: How we mate, why we stray and what it meas for modern relationships", Blaffer Hrdy shows that the existence of theories of partial parentage and other arrangements demonstrate that the early human condition was not of rigidly enforced monogamy, and that such a feature is also only found in sedentary cultures where concerns for inheritance of property in filial descendants becomes a patriarchal concern.
In conclusion this book is a welcome antidote to the automatic assumptions of human pair-bonding that have dominated male-centric theories of human evolution before Desmond Morris's "The Naked Ape". It is the slow maturation of human forebears that produced us as a species, and it is the evolution of motherhood and mutual care that has marked us most as a species different from our closest relatives. I await eagerly Blaffer Hrdy's next magnum opus which I feel could explain why the rate of maturation amongst human infants and adolescents slowed down so significantly when compared to our nearest relatives.
Hrdy sticks fairly close to her thesis, that humans are unique in the way we employ "alloparents," that is, other caregivers in the nurture of our children, and especially in the vast variety of arrangements that seem to work. In descending order, the most important relationships are the mother's mother, sisters, and daughters. Among the important males are of course the father, but also to a surprising degree other men who might be the father, and brothers.
One of the most unique thing about human beings is the variety of relationships. In other species, if a father is useful in raising children, he is pretty generally useful, such as the father fish which let their mouths be used as a nursery. In people, however, the rules vary from culture to culture and even family to family. It is a matter of, whatever works.
The take-home truth is that human babies are tremendously expensive to raise. They take forever to mature. In the days before we became civilized they were highly vulnerable to predators and to starvation. The child had a vastly superior chance of survival if more than one person was responsible for taking care of him. Cooperation was also a superior use of resources: one person could watch two or three kids, giving other mothers the freedom to cultivate crops or gather food.
Continuing a theme from her first book, Hrdy emphasizes that building relationships is a two-way street, and that evolution has obviously favorite children who are good at building relationships. They know how to be cute, how to babble, how to look deeply into a caregiver his eyes, how to be demanding, coy, or whatever it takes to seduce other humans into taking care of them. And in doing this, they become quite Hrdy calls "emotionally modern." Children become good at reading the intentions of other people, a characteristic at which humans are vastly better than our ape cousins.
Hrdy repeats findings that one reads elsewhere about the timeframe in which human beings developed. It boils down to this. A few million years of slow evolution through the Pliocene after we parted company with the chimpanzees. Then, with the emergence of homo erectus at the beginning of the Pleistocene, about 1.8 million years ago, more rapid development of this emotional modernity. Of course, there is little fossil evidence - mostly speculation. However, the fossil record does show the beginnings of tool use, the use of fire, and gradually increasing brain size evidence. Then, only 200,000 years ago or so, homo sapiens emerged, as did language, modern brain sizes, the modern races of man, and the spread of mankind out of Africa.
Hrdy gently dispatches the notion of a primordial patriarchy. Since their mothers kin were so useful in raising her children, matriarchal societies were more likely than patriarchal, although here as always we are an amazingly versatile species. She offers a now common argument that patriarchy probably became a dominant social form after the advent of agriculture, when men needed to band together to into armies to defend what they had amassed, at which point paternity became an issue because there was property worth inheriting.
Most of Hrdy's examples are taken from well studied groups of primitive humans in Africa and the Amazon. They offer the most probable models of human society as it existed tens and hundreds of thousands of years ago. She asks some interesting questions. Infants today are certain to get enough calories to survive regardless of the society in which they live. However, she asks, is it not quite likely that they did not get the emotional support that they need to develop into fully socialized human adults? Is our society changing, perhaps degenerating, as children are raised in environments in which they have less emotional security than their ancestors?
Both of Hrdy's books should be required reading well outside the field of sociobiology. They throw a bracing dash of cold water on the highflown theories of political scientists, religious advocates, educators, feminists and others who purport to have discovered great truths about how to socialize and educate the human animal.
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But, Blaffer Hrdy is not that kind of biologist. Instead, she takes as her starting point a notion which is virtually universally agreed upon - that how children are born and raised is central to the ways in which animal societies are organised. From that point, in elegant prose, she proceeds to analyse what we know from studies of other animals (but especially primates) to compare and contrast where Homo sapiens fits in, including both our commonalities with other primates, and our differences. in doing so, she draws on information from biology and anthropology and never glosses over awkward facts or avoids difficult questions. As a highly respected primatologist, of course, her knowledge of this material is deep and authoritative, and full of insight. Even after a decade of in working with young children, for example, I found it a delightful shock to be reminded that despite the commonplace observation that getting children to share can be a parental nightmare, human infants are actually exceptionally good at volunteering to share with their peers compared to other primates. "Mothers and Others" is peppered with such moments of revelation and the result is that it generates plausible and powerful ideas about human history and social evolution.
Ultimately, Blaffer Hrdy issues no moral imperatives, and eschews trite ideological conclusions. What she does suggest is correspondingly much richer and convincing. Of equal interest to lay people and specialists, this book deserves a wide readership.
I am not a scientist or an academic but enjoy reading books about 'evolutionary psychology' (or 'sociobiology' if you prefer) to satisfy my curiosity as to the origins of human nature. When it comes to her abilities as a writer Blaffer Hrdy is not in the same league as the likes of Jared Diamond, Steven Pinker or Matt Ridley and that is why I have only rated the book at 4 stars as opposed to five, but as a thinker on the matter of the origins of human nature I think she is the equal of any of her male contempories writing on the topic for a popular audience.
Blaffer Hrdy argues that human beings are unique amongst apes in the degree in which we co-operate with others, in the first chapter of the book she contrasts this behaviour with our nearest genetic relatives the chimpanzees by inviting the reader to engage in the thought experiment of imagining a group of chimpanzees on a long-haul aeroplane flight, an unremarkable fact of life for modern homo sapiens, and its most likely result:- 'bloody earlobes and other appendages would litter the aisles.'
For anyone seeking to understand human behaviour within an evolutionary framework the extent of human co-operation is a puzzle. Ever since Mendelism was combined with Darwinism, putative sociobiologist's have been trying to explain how such a social creature as our's could emerge from 'selfish genes.'
Blaffer Hrdy's answer is that it lies in our historic tendency to engage in 'co-operative breeding,' what Hillary Clinton referred to as 'it takes a village to raise a child.' Blaffer Hrdy argues that 'Novel rearing conditions among a line of early hominins meant that youngsters grew up depending on a wider range of caretakers than just their mothers, and this dependence produced selection pressures that favoured individuals who were better at decoding the mental state of others... The need for alloparental succor transformed the selection pressures that shaped our species, and in doing so altered the way infants developed and then the way humans evolved.'
Blaffer Hrdy contrasts homo sapiens tendency towards co-operative breeding with that of the other great apes 'the earliest a wild chimpanzee mother has ever been observed to voluntarily let a baby out of her grasp is three and a half months. Among wild orangutans, half a year elapses before a mother allows any other individual, even her own older offspring, to hold her baby.... Women are just as prone as other apes to worry about the well-being of new babies. But what hunter-gatherer mothers do not do postpartum is refuse to let anyone else come near their baby. This is an important difference.'
It is in our history of shared care and provisioning of our young - not least our reliance upon post-menopausal women with longer life spans in particular (i.e grandmothers) - that the mental faculties that facilitate the level of co-operation that characterises our species were first developed. The same mental faculties which allowed us to develop art, religion and culture i.e that make us 'human.'
Blaffer Hrdy argues that prior to the agricultural revolution around 10,000 years ago our hunter-gatherer forebears lived in 'matriarchal' groups - mothers lived with their own kin as opposed to the child's fathers much more frequently - as opposed to the patrilocal residence patterns, patrilineal inheritance and social institutions biased towards patrilineal interests that characterise human societies after the agricultural revolution as people settled in one place, built walled houses, grew and stored their own food. This lead to population growth, social stratification and corollary inequalities. 'Property, higher population densities and larger group sizes all put new pressures on men to remain near fathers and brothers.'
In the final chapter of the book Blaffer Hrdy provides a warning for the future in the rise of children who are troubled by a pattern of 'disorganised attachment' (? Prototype personality disordered adults) due to childhoods characterised by the lack of trusting relationships forged with caring adults which she argues is due to the lack of coperative breeding enjoyed by our ancestors.
'Mothers and Others' is an important book in that it has the potential to change the way you think about human nature. If it has a downside it is that it spends too long discussing primatology and not enough discussing the implications of her theories for human beings. A book to be read by anyone who wants to learn about why we are the way we are.