July 2, 2017

WE ARE ALL DESIGNIST NOW:

This is the impact that culture has had on our evolution (Kevin Laland, 5/19/17, Project Syndicate)

Is there an evolutionary explanation for humanity's greatest successes - technology, science, and the arts - with roots that can be traced back to animal behavior? I first asked this question 30 years ago, and have been working to answer it ever since.

Plenty of animals use tools, emit signals, imitate one another, and possess memories of past events. Some even develop learned traditions that entail consuming particular foods or singing a particular kind of song - acts that, to some extent, resemble human culture.

But human mental ability stands far apart. We live in complex societies organized around linguistically coded rules, morals, and social institutions, with a massive reliance on technology. We have devised machines that fly, microchips, and vaccines. We have written stories, songs, and sonnets. We have danced in Swan Lake.

Developmental psychologists have established that when it comes to dealing with the physical world (for example, spatial memory and tool use), human toddlers' cognitive skills are already comparable to those of adult chimpanzees and orangutans. In terms of social cognition (such as imitating others or understanding intentions), toddlers' minds are far more sophisticated.

The same gap is observed in both communication and cooperation. Vaunted claims that apes produce language do not stand up to scrutiny: animals can learn the meanings of signs and string together simple word combinations, but they cannot master syntax. And experiments show that apes cooperate far less readily than humans.

Thanks to advances in comparative cognition, scientists are now confident that other animals do not possess hidden reasoning powers and cognitive complexity, and that the gap between human and animal intelligence is genuine. So how could something as extraordinary and unique as the human mind evolve?

A major interdisciplinary effort has recently solved this longstanding evolutionary puzzle. The answer is surprising. It turns out that our species' most extraordinary characteristics - our intelligence, language, cooperation, and technology - did not evolve as adaptive responses to external conditions. Rather, humans are creatures of their own making, with minds that were built not just for culture, but by culture. In other words, culture transformed the evolutionary process.

Posted by at July 2, 2017 6:31 AM

  

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