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Ep196 - Why Culture Matters: Joe Henrich on his book The Secret of Our Success

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Mixed Mental Arts

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Humans have always been pretty sure that they were special but we've never quite been sure why. Was it because we were made in God's image? Was it our opposable thumbs? Was it that we had bigger brains? Far be it for us to tell you what God does or does not look like but what Professor Joe Henrich can tell you is that it's not because we have bigger brains. In fact, when you compare the baseline intelligence of human toddlers, chimpanzees and orangutans you find out that we're really not smarter at all. Actually, in many areas we may even be dumber. The one area in which we are definitively smarter even as toddlers is social intelligence. That, it turns out, may be the secret of our success. Individually, we just aren't that smart. But, collectively, we have the capacity for genius. In his book, The Secret of Success, Professor Henrich examines how faith, imitation and trial and error have allowed peoples all over the world to evolve cultural practices so brilliant that the people who practice them very often don't understand why they're important but do them with the unwavering faith of believers. Of course, Professor Henrich's book exists within a culture of its own and although the book itself is a sensible and soundly-reasoned argument for humans' success as being heavily driven by culture it serves to challenge a whole series of cherished ideas within academia and the western world more generally. In The Secret of Our Success, religion is not the bug in the human brain that the New Atheists depict it as but a cornerstone of our ability to adopt useful cultural practices evolved through the cumulative work of people who died long before us. Henrich's book does not buy into the cultural relativism so prevalent in Western media and college campuses that argues that culture doesn't matter but instead makes the case that we ignore culture at our peril such as when Europeans transported crops like corn and manioc without also transporting the cultural practices indig

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