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If culture shapes the evolution of cognition …?

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From PNAS:

Significance: A central debate in cognitive science concerns the nativist hypothesis: the proposal that universal human behaviors are underpinned by strong, domain-specific, innate constraints on cognition. We use a general model of the processes that shape human behavior—learning, culture, and biological evolution—to test the evolutionary plausibility of this hypothesis. A series of analyses shows that culture radically alters the relationship between natural selection and cognition. Culture facilitates rapid biological adaptation yet rules out nativism: Behavioral universals arise that are underpinned by weak biases rather than strong innate constraints. We therefore expect culture to have dramatically shaped the evolution of the human mind, giving us innate predispositions that only weakly constrain our behavior. (public access) More.

It’s sometimes hard to parse this lingo (sort of like reading Pravda during the Cold War) but “strong, domain-specific, innate constraints on cognition” probably means stuff like “Evo psych explains”:

why we are sexually jealous (not fear of abandonment, but “sperm competition”); why we don’t stick to our goals (evolution gave us a kludge brain); why music exists (to “spot the savannah with little Pavarottis”); why art exists (to recapture that lost savannah); why many women don’t know when they are ovulating (if they knew, they’d never have kids); why some people rape, kill, and sleep around (our Stone Age ancestors passed on their genes via these traits), and why big banks sometimes get away with fraud (we haven’t evolved so as to understand what is happening).

File:A small cup of coffee.JPGWhich the authors do not seem to buy.

If behavioral universals “are underpinned by weak biases rather than strong innate constraints,” that would mean that how people behave when confronted by a reason for sexual jealousy is in fact motivated by conscious recognition of the risks of abandonment (rather than something “hard-wired” into our biology). It can, of course, result in anything from murder to suicide attempts to filing for divorce – or  having a revenge affair, getting pregnant again, gaining 50 lbs, taking an advanced degree, going on a shopping spree, demanding marriage counselling, ignoring the problem (rejoice, he’s someone else’s problem now!), or spray painting the house hot pink, to advertise one’s unhappiness to the public.

Retro Biscuit Tin

No, really. People have done all this stuff – and culture mainly governs what we think we should do. The corpus of the world’s literature can be adduced in evidence. Let’s hang onto some of that stock we bought in Common Sense, Inc. Maybe the market will correct soon.

See also: “The evolutionary psychologist knows why you vote — and shop, and tip at restaurants”

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2 Replies to “If culture shapes the evolution of cognition …?

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    Off Topic:

    “Pancho and Lefty” – Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CvdmxszsDM8

    Merle Haggard — Mama Tried
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxQbvSjQy9A

    Merle Haggard — Okie From Muskogee
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-iYY2FQHFwE

    RIP Haggard. See you in heaven!

  2. 2
    Robert Byers says:

    If on topic WHY MUSIC EXISTS has been explained. First by herbert Spencer and recently confirmed by researchers.
    Music is just mimicing our tones of voice which is the majority for expressing and hearing expression of what is called emotion.
    Ones emotion is in ones tones of voice and so its a trivial matter to copy it with instruments or voice and completely express the emotion without the substance behind the emotions.
    We can’t tell the difference. We are on a emotion hair-trigger.
    We just don’t notice how our tones of voice are dominate in speech.
    a matter missed, by the way, by evos who study speech origins.
    As usual!

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