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Too Smart for our Own Good


  • 60 b/w illus. 2 tables
  • Page extent: 546 pages
  • Size: 247 x 174 mm
  • Weight: 1.07 kg


 (ISBN-13: 9780521757690)

Too Smart for Our Own Good
Cambridge University Press
9780521764360 - Too Smart for Our Own Good - The Ecological Predicament of Humankind - By Craig Dilworth


There is no denying that the world is facing ecological changes that we ourselves have brought about, such as climate change, that are of great detriment to our own species as well as to others. And it must also be admitted that the longer we wait before wholeheartedly dealing with the situation, the worse it will be for us and our children. But where should we concentrate our efforts? What is the appropriate general strategy? To be able to answer these questions, late though they be, we should first consider more closely the nature of our ecologically disruptive behaviour. What exactly does it consist in; and how long has it been going on?

In this book answers are provided to these questions. As regards how long we have been behaving in an ecologically disruptive way, it will be found that we have been doing so as long as we have existed. And, as is suggested by this, what this behaviour consists in is intimately related to our nature as a species. To understand our negative impact on the environment we have to understand ourselves as a species.

For purely intellectual reasons we have since the time of Darwin been in need of an explanation of the development of Homo sapiens as distinct from other species. What has been lacking is a theory in which the causal mechanism behind our development is laid bare. For such an explanation to be acceptable, the theory must of course be in keeping with the results of science – an added bonus being that it also be in keeping with common sense. In this book I shall present a theory of Homo sapiens’ development that attempts to meet these criteria, a theory based on what I call the vicious circle principle.

Darwin’s theory of natural selection provides this sort of explanation of the development of life, the primary cause lying behind this development being “the mutability of species,” i.e. the tendency for species to succeed one another

through the mutation of their chromosomal structures or karyotypes. In the explanation of humankind’s development to be attempted here, I shall, like Darwin, also suggest that development is primarily the result of one key cause, which in Darwin’s terms could be called “the mutability of technology,” i.e. humans’ tendency to innovate.

So where Darwin’s theory of natural selection is based on the principle of evolution, the theory of Homo sapiens’ development presented here, which presupposes Darwin’s theory and involves similar reasoning, is based on the vicious circle principle. In fact, the present theory may be seen as an extension of Darwin’s theory in such a way as to explain the development of humankind.

Where the principle of evolution came to constitute the core of biology, which is presupposed by all the life sciences, the vicious circle principle is intended to constitute the core of human ecology, which is presupposed by all the social sciences. So the vicious circle principle is here being advanced as the fundamental principle of the social sciences, against the background of which social change is to be understood.

From the above it may be seen that our species is special in being the only species to have constantly developed technology. And, as we shall see, it is just this technological innovativeness that is responsible for our present ecological predicament. In sum, we have simply been too smart for our own good.

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