Cover image for The imagined world made real : towards a natural science of culture
The imagined world made real : towards a natural science of culture
Plotkin, H. C. (Henry C.)
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New Brunswick, N.J. : Rutgers University Press, 2003.

Physical Description:
xiv, 301 pages ; 24 cm
General Note:
Originally published: London : Allen Lane, 2002.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
GN357 .P56 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Can the insights of science provide a proper understanding of human culture, or must we leave the analysis of culture to the so-called humanities?

The ability to share knowledge and beliefs is the preeminent characteristic of our species. Science itself is a product of culture and the natural sciences are the most powerful forms of knowledge we have. From explanations of the origins of the universe to descriptions of the molecular structure of life, science has a spectacular record of achievement. Yet it has mostly failed to provide an understanding of human culture.

The Imagined World Made Real changes this by showing how a grasp of human evolution extends the reach of science. Henry Plotkin recognizes that at the heart of human culture are social constructs, such as justice and money, and that collective beliefs, values, and actions are essential to their formation and maintenance. Only when these constructs are integrated into an accepted biological framework will there be a true synthesis between the social and natural sciences.

This book describes the beginnings of a comprehensive natural science of culture, and with it, an understanding of why people do what they do. Culture can now be thought of as a natural process that is actually a billion years old.

Author Notes

Henry Plotkin is a professor of psychobiology at University College London.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Plotkin (psychology, Univ. College London) builds on current work in fields as diverse as evolutionary and developmental psychology, cognitive science, anthropology, and philosophy to bring the most intensely symbolic of all human attributes, culture, under the methodological and theoretical discipline of evolution. His framework progresses from the evolution of human cognition to human intelligence and on to culture; his tools are the "built environment" and its shared "social constructions," such as money, legislatures, worship, and the form of the proper family. Each phenomenon is grounded in and constrained by its predecessor; each has evolutionary consequences for the other. "The primary heuristic of biological evolution has given rise to individual intelligence, and from that intelligence, which locks into the intelligence of others, culture emerges." This is the third in his series that began with The Nature of Knowledge (1994), continued with Evolution in Mind (1997), and comes to temporary rest here, with a book written specifically for general readers who have interests in matters of mind, culture, and evolution. Plotkin succeeds admirably through clear prose and argument; he offers sufficient background material at each stage to bring any intelligent reader into the flow of the presentation. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. For general readers as well as university students in all disciplines. C. S. Peebles Indiana University-Bloomington

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
1 Marrying the Biological and Social Sciencesp. 1
Culture, social constructions and natural sciencep. 7
Possible frameworksp. 16
Evolution and the theory of evolutionp. 19
Alternative theories to NeoDarwinismp. 38
How good a theory is evolutionary theory?p. 43
Suggested Readingsp. 46
2 The Evolution of Intelligencep. 47
Why intelligence ever evolved at allp. 48
The limits of reductionismp. 71
Intelligence unlimited?p. 75
Fodor poses a problemp. 83
Human intelligence as adaptation or exaptationp. 88
Suggested Readingsp. 94
3 The Emergence of Culturep. 95
Broadening the picturep. 100
The trouble with 'levels'p. 112
A solution to the levels problemp. 114
Suggested Readingsp. 119
4 Naturalizing Culture the Process Wayp. 120
The puzzle of warp. 124
Universal Darwinismp. 130
Modelling co-evolutionp. 135
The 'new' science of memeticsp. 140
Suggested Readingsp. 160
5 Causal Mechanismsp. 161
A general framework for understanding psychological mechanismp. 163
What those mechanisms may bep. 171
Concepts, schemata and other higher-order knowledge structuresp. 172
Imitationp. 179
Languagep. 188
Theory of Mindp. 197
Social forcep. 204
A single magical mechanism?p. 209
Suggested Readingsp. 211
6 Individuals, Groups and Culturep. 213
The behavioural ecology of group livingp. 217
The units and levels of selectionp. 220
Vehicles, interactors and the revival of group selectionp. 231
Niche constructionp. 242
Suggested Readingsp. 246
7 The Strangeness of Culturep. 248
The construction of social realityp. 251
A sociological turnp. 259
Social representationsp. 266
Cultural psychologyp. 273
A tentative conclusionp. 283
Suggested Readingsp. 289
Indexp. 291