As the adage goes, home is where the heart is. This may seem self-explanatory, but none of our close primate cousins have anything like homes. Whether we live in an igloo or in Buckingham Palace, the fact that Homo sapiens create homes is one of the greatest puzzles of our evolution. In Home, neuroanthropologist John S. Allen marshals evidence from evolutionary anthropology, neuroscience, the study of emotion, and modern sociology to argue that the home is one of the most important cognitive, technological, and cultural products of our species’ evolution. It is because we have homesrelatively secure against whatever horrors lurk outsidethat human civilizations have been able to achieve the periods of explosive cultural and creative progress that are our species’ hallmark.
Narratives of human evolution are dominated by the emergence of language, the importance of hunting and cooking, the control of fire, the centrality of cooperation, and the increasingly long time periods children need to develop. In Home, Allen argues that the home served as a nexus for these activities and developments, providing a stable and safe base from which forays into the unknownboth mental and physicalcould be launched. But the power of the home is not just in what we accomplish while we have it, but in what goes wrong when we do not. According to Allen, insecure homes foster depression in adults and health problems in all ages, and homelessness is more than an economic tragedy: it is a developmental and psychological disaster.
Home sheds new light on the deep pleasures we receive from our homes, rooting them in both our evolution and our identity as humans. Home is not simply where the heart is, but the mind too. No wonder we miss it so when we are gone.
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