Open Access Articles

As a hybrid journal, ESIC offers a collection of open access articles. Follow the Read Article buttons below to access the highlighted article's full text. 

Judith Saunders. American Classics: Evolutionary Perspectives

William E. Cain
Wellesley College

American Classics: Evolutionary Perspectives is a very interesting and discerning study, cogently argued, well-written, propelled by Saunders’s knowledge of theory and research in evolutionary biology, post-Darwin. She has made a noteworthy contribution to evolutionary criticism, and, more, generally, to our understanding of American literary and cultural history. American Classics also has important—and controversial—implications for scholarship and teaching. … In American Classics, Saunders sets out, with special skill and distinction, an array of textual interpretations, close readings of American authors, a detailed series of model case studies that are stimulating and persuasive. She convinces me that her approach can make familiar literary texts feel new, reanimating them, impelling us to peruse and ponder them in a new light.

This article was featured in Vol 2, No 2 (2018)

Get Shorty: Steven Pinker on the Enlightenment

Geoffrey Galt Harpham
Duke University

Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now makes a powerful argument that by every measure, the conditions of human life have been improving steadily for the past 200 years. This improvement can be attributed not just to the spread of the principles of enlightenment announced in the eighteenth century but also to the evolved properties of the human mind, which have been liberated by modernity. Pinker writes in support of this development and in opposition to the ideological and academic resistances to it. His book has itself generated resistance among those he criticizes, and while many of these criticisms are unwarranted, Pinker's book raises serious questions that it does not fully address.

This article was featured in Vol 2, No 2 (2018)


Religion, Evolution, and the Basis of Institutions: The Institutional Cognition Model of Religion

Connor Wood
Center for Mind and Culture, Boston, MA

John H. Shaver
University of Otago, New Zealand

ABSTRACT: Few outstanding questions in the human behavioral sciences are timelier or more urgently debated than the evolutionary source of religious behaviors and beliefs. Byproduct theorists locate the origins of religion in evolved cognitive defaults and transmission biases. Others have argued that cultural evolutionary processes integrated non-adaptive cognitive byproducts into coherent networks of supernatural beliefs and ritual that encouraged in-group cooperativeness, while adaptationist models assert that the cognitive and behavioral foundations of religion have been selected for at more basic levels. Here, we survey these differing approaches, noting their respective strengths and weaknesses. We then advance a novel model that centers on the ability of language to generate alternative worlds independent of immediate empirical facts, and thus highlight the similarities between religious belief and the modes of cognition that underlie institutions in general. The institutional cognition model of religion accounts for some of the shortcomings of extant approaches and draws attention to the human ability to create non-empirical worlds; that is, worlds that are imaginary. Both religious beliefs and institutional facts—such as jurisdictional borders—are non-empirical assertions, yet they are socially accepted as truths and reified through ritual and behavior. One type of non-empirical, linguistically generated belief—supernatural agent belief—is particularly effective for stabilizing systems of arbitrary norms by rooting them in deontic rather than utilitarian reasoning. The evolutionary roots and continued persistence of religion are thus functions of the capacity for humans to generate cognitive alternatives to empirical reality, and the need to stably coordinate those alternative conceptions.

This article was featured in Vol 2, No 2 (2018)


Drawings of Representational Images by Upper Paleolithic Humans and their Absence in Neanderthals Reflect Historical Differences in Hunting Wary Game

Richard G. Coss
University of California, Davis

ABSTRACT: One characteristic of the transition from the Middle Paleolithic to the Upper Paleolithic in Europe was the emergence of representational charcoal drawings and engravings by Aurignacian and Gravettian artists. European Neanderthals never engaged in representational drawing during the Middle and Early Upper Paleolithic, a property that might reflect less developed visuomotor coordination. This article postulates a causal relationship between an evolved ability of anatomically modern humans to throw spears accurately while hunting and their ability to draw representational images from working memory. Unlike Neanderthals, archaic and anatomically modern humans in sub-Saharan Africa adopted longer-range hunting practices using hand-cast spears as a compensation for the emergence of increasingly wary game. For Neanderthals, paleoclimatic fluctuations likely precluded consistent hunting of cold-adapted game, a property making game more approachable for close-range hunting with thrusting spears. As evidence of less historical wariness of humans, many of the species hunted by Neanderthals were eventually domesticated. Due to strong sources of natural selection on archaic and anatomically modern humans for effective hunting, the parietal cortex that integrates visual imagery and motor coordination expanded progressively, yielding the globular shape of the human cranium that is not evident in Neanderthals. To characterize how the cognitive properties employed for throwing spears and drawing line work are similar, the Upper Paleolithic drawings of animals in Chauvet cave, France, are discussed in the speculative context of how these artists engaged simultaneously in overt attention to guide their hand movements and covert attention to their mental images during the drawing process.


This article was featured in Vol 1, No 2 (2017)


The Appeal of the Primal Leader: Human Evolution and Donald J. Trump

Dan P. McAdams
Northwestern University

ABSTRACT: Drawing on the distinction between dominance and prestige as two evolutionarily grounded strategies for attaining status in human groups, this essay examines an underappreciated feature of Donald Trump’s appeal to the millions of American voters who elected him president in 2016—his uncanny ability to channel primal dominance. Like the alpha male of a chimpanzee colony, Trump leads (and inspires) through intimidation, bluster, and threat, and through the establishment of short-term, opportunistic relationships with other high-status agents. Whereas domain-specific expertise confers status in the prestige paradigm, dominant leaders derogate expertise in order to establish a direct, authoritarian connection to their constituency. Trump’s leadership style derives readily from his personality makeup, which entails a combustible temperament mixture of high extraversion and low agreeableness, a motivational agenda centered on extreme narcissism, and an internalized life story that tracks the exploits of an intrepid warrior who must forever fight to win in a Hobbesian world of carnage. 


This article was featured in Vol 1, No 2 (2017)


A Cross-Disciplinary Survey of Beliefs about Human Nature, Culture, and Science

Joseph Carroll University of Missouri, St. Louis
John A. Johnson Pennsylvania State University
Catherine Salmon University of Redlands in California
Jens Kjeldgaard-Christiansen Aarhus University
Mathias Clasen Aarhus University
Emelie Jonsson University of Gothenburg

ABSTRACT: How far has the Darwinian revolution come? To what extent have evolutionary ideas penetrated into the social sciences and humanities? Are the “science wars” over? Or do whole blocs of disciplines face off over an unbridgeable epistemic gap? To answer questions like these, contributors to top journals in 22 disciplines were surveyed on their beliefs about human nature, culture, and science. More than 600 respondents completed the survey. Scoring patterns divided into two main sets of disciplines. Genetic influences were emphasized in the evolutionary social sciences, evolutionary humanities, psychology, empirical study of the arts, philosophy, economics, and political science. Environmental influences were emphasized in most of the humanities disciplines and in anthropology, sociology, education, and women’s or gender studies. Confidence in scientific explanation correlated positively with emphasizing genetic influences on behavior, and negatively with emphasizing environmental influences. Knowing the current actual landscape of belief should help scholars avoid sterile debates and ease the way toward fruitful collaborations with neighboring disciplines.


This article was featured in Vol 1, No 1 (2017)


INTRODUCTION TO THE FIRST ISSUE: Why We Need a Journal with the Title Evolutionary Studies in Imaginative Culture

Joseph Carroll
University of Missouri, St. Louis

Evolutionary Studies in Imaginative Culture is designed to make use of an opportunity that has only recently opened up for the social sciences and humanities. These fields now have before them the prospect of a synthesis that would produce, for the first time, a comprehensive and scientifically robust understanding of the human condition. That synthesis would immensely enrich both the humanities and the social sciences. It would ground the humanities on the bedrock of scientific fact, and it would consummate the explanatory potential in the evolutionary social sciences....


This article was featured in Vol 1, No 1 (2017)