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Is cultural evolution always fast? Challenging the idea that cognitive gadgets would be capable of rapid and adaptive evolution

Brown, Rachael L. (2021) Is cultural evolution always fast? Challenging the idea that cognitive gadgets would be capable of rapid and adaptive evolution. [Preprint]

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Abstract

Against the background of “arms race” style competitive explanations for complex human cognition, such as the Social Intelligence Hypothesis (Byrne & Whiten, 1988; Humphrey, 1976; Jolly, 1966), and theories that tie complex cognition with environmental variability more broadly (Godfrey-Smith, 1996, 2001), the idea that culturally inherited mechanisms for social cognition would be more capable of responding to the labile social environment is a compelling one. Whilst it is tempting to think that the evolvability of culturally inherited cognitive mechanisms such as Cecilia Heyes’ (2018) cognitive gadgets would be akin to culturally inherited tools like axes or canoes (i.e., relatively easy to modify to adaptive benefit, and relatively robustly inherited), I draw on established theory in evolutionary developmental biology to show that this is a mistake. Their causal translucency, along with the degree to which they would be integrated within the organism, make cognitive gadgets far more like genetically inherited traits with respect to their evolvability. Consequently, their evolution is unlikely to be particularly fast or nimble. In making clear the constraints on the evolution of culturally inherited cognition and how they must influence our theorising, the discussion also highlights the value of thinking about evolvability in this domain.


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Item Type: Preprint
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Brown, Rachael L.rachael.brown@anu.edu.au0000-0003-2709-1945
Keywords: cultural inheritance, cultural evolution, social cognition, cognitive gadgets, evolvability
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology > Developmental Biology
Specific Sciences > Psychology > Evolutionary Psychology
Specific Sciences > Biology > Evolutionary Theory
Specific Sciences > Cognitive Science
Specific Sciences > Cultural Evolution
Specific Sciences > Psychology > Developmental Psychology
Depositing User: Dr Rachael L. Brown
Date Deposited: 04 May 2021 03:24
Last Modified: 04 May 2021 03:24
Item ID: 18966
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology > Developmental Biology
Specific Sciences > Psychology > Evolutionary Psychology
Specific Sciences > Biology > Evolutionary Theory
Specific Sciences > Cognitive Science
Specific Sciences > Cultural Evolution
Specific Sciences > Psychology > Developmental Psychology
Date: 27 April 2021
URI: https://philsci-archive-dev.library.pitt.edu/id/eprint/18966

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