National Geographic : 2013 Jan
advantage rapidly spread the gene throughout Europe, even as it remained rare most other places. Culture and genes started selecting for each other: A new culture made a gene more valuable, and as the gene spread through the population, it made dairy-farming culture more important. You can see signs of this dynamic—genes and cultural bits affecting each other’s value—almost everywhere in complicated human behavior and particularly in exploration. The first time a hu- man ancestor used a rock to smack open a nut, she opened the way to a culture that may have increasingly selected for the genes studied by Jim Noonan that underlie dexterity and imagination. Rising powers of dexterity and imagination in turn accelerated the development of culture. Er- nest Shackleton, as Noonan notes, drew heavily on this, exploiting a culture of ships, tools, in- novation, and way finding—to say nothing of British stoicism—to explore new ground and get back home. In Gopnik’s explorers in the play- room, an ancient human culture of cooperative child raising—by mother, father, grandparents, other kin—has maximized the value of genes that allow a long period of brain development. And Quebec’s pioneer families leveraged their most restless genes and traits by creating a sub- culture that placed premiums on curiosity, in- novation, toughness, and a willingness to take risks—as well as the crucial physical culture of axes, adzes, pikes, and peaveys they used to build homes and harvest wood, and the sleds, wagons, and canoes they used to travel. With his ships, his compass and sextant, and his mandate from his king, Cook too leveraged his smarts and curiosity to bring home a map of a world previously uncharted. His return fat- tened the value of both England’s imperial ma- rine culture and the genetic traits he’d displayed in his relentlessly curious and risky journeys. But what of Tupaia? His genes and culture, it seems, took a more puzzling path to their meeting with their British counterparts. In fact the Polynesians’ spread across the Pacific repre- sents one of the oddest of the movements that took modern Homo sapiens out of the African The first time a hUman ancestor Used a rock to smack open a nut, she opened the way to a culture that may have increasingly selected for genes underlying dexterity and imagination.