The fact that we are basically smart monkeys underlies a lot of our not-so-smart behaviour but Mike McRae focuses on only one aspect of it, that is, how it affects our relationship with science.
On one level we know we know science is our best means for discovering the truth, but on another we distrust it. McRae wanted to find out why, since our distrust encourages irrational and potentially dangerous responses to real-world problems.
His evolutionary history of our big brains leads into a brief history of philosophy and science. A recurring theme is that our social relationships, still tribal after all these years, often trump our rationality and make us reluctant to oppose authority or stand out from the crowd by accepting an idea which is rejected by most of our tribe. He doesn’t discuss the reception of climate science in any detail but that, to me, would have been the perfect case study, demonstrating all of the features he mentions.
Thinking about how we think is often fun, and Tribal Science is far more entertaining than my quick summary suggests, rambling amiably through scientific errors and frauds, logic puzzles and psychology.
UQP, $32.95, March 2011.