Monday, September 30, 2013

What is Matt J. Rossano reading?

The current featured contributor at Writers Read: Matt J. Rossano, author of Mortal Rituals: What the Story of the Andes Survivors Tells Us About Human Evolution.

His entry begins:
Two recently read books that have stuck with me are Thomas Wynn and Fred Coolidge’s How to Think like a Neandertal and Michael Tomasello’s Why We Cooperate. Both of them deal with the issue that I have been pondering in one way or another my entire professional life, which is – what makes us human? Wynn and Coolidge’s book addresses the question by way of comparison with our closest hominin cousins (Neandertals). While Tomasello’s book does it by comparison with our closest primate relatives (chimpanzees).

I see a broad convergence between the two in that the big, glaring intellectual differences that had once seemed so certain, such things as only humans have symbols or only humans have language, are nowhere near as certain as once believed. This is not to say that...[read on]
About Mortal Rituals, from the publisher:
On December 21, 1972, sixteen young survivors of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 were rescued after spending ten weeks stranded at the crash site of their plane, high in the remote Andes Mountains. The incident made international headlines and spawned several best-selling books, fueled partly by the fact that the young men had resorted to cannibalism to survive.

Matt Rossano examines this story from an evolutionary perspective, weaving together findings and ideas from anthropology, psychology, religion, and cognitive science. During their ordeal, these young men broke “civilized” taboos to fend off starvation and abandoned “civilized” modes of thinking to maintain social unity and individual sanity. Through the power of ritual, the survivors were able to endure severe emotional and physical hardship. Rossano ties their story to our story, seeing in the mortal rituals of this struggle for survival a reflection of what it means to be human.
Learn more about Mortal Rituals at the Columbia University Press website.

Matt Rossano is head of the Psychology Department at Southeastern Louisiana University and the author of Evolutionary Psychology: The Science of Human Behavior and Evolution and Supernatural Selection: How Religion Evolved.

The Page 99 Test: Supernatural Selection: How Religion Evolved.

The Page 99 Test: Mortal Rituals.

Writers Read: Matt J. Rossano.

--Marshal Zeringue