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How culture made your modern mind

Posted to Gurteen Knowledge-Log by David Gurteen on 8 June 2008

 


Title

How culture made your modern mind
WeblogGurteen Knowledge Log
Knowledge LetterAppears in the Gurteen Knowledge Letter issue: 96
Posted DateSunday 8 June 2008 06:45 GDT
Posted ByDavid Gurteen
Linkshttp://www.newscientist.com/channel/being-human/mg19826564.3 ... 
CategoriesKnowledge Sharing; Science

Its interesting to think that maybe we have developed our cognitive abilities through learning to consciously teach our children and of course each other. Dare I even say "share our knowledge"!
It is one of the hottest questions of our time: how did our cognitive abilities explode, leaving other animals for dust intellectually?

Now a new explanation is emerging. Controversially, it challenges the idea that biology alone is what drove the evolution of intellectual skills. What if we acquired abilities such as the capacity to invent, converse or work in unison as a result of a continual process of cultural cross-fertilisation with the world we inhabit, and through the way we interact with other people and material things?

Not only does this idea help explain how our species blossomed intellectually in the first place but it implies that our brains are continually changing whenever we meet new cultural concepts, objects and technologies, whether they are cellphones or new religions.

Credit: How culture made your modern mind New Scientist, Issue 2656, 14 May 2008
Yet perhaps the biggest opportunity opened up by a theory of mind and an expanded working memory was the ability to learn, and to systematically educate other people. Animals learn by random observations of what other animals do. It is very seldom that they recognise the value of an innovation by their peers and then copy it themselves, such as shaking a tree to make fruit fall.

But thanks to theory of mind and the ability to divine the intentions of others, humans were able to train their offspring. During the process of teaching, both pupils and teachers are well aware of what's happening and know they must pay special attention beyond random observation. What's more, as working memory expanded, learning would have become more efficient.

Credit: How culture made your modern mind New Scientist, Issue 2656, 14 May 2008
Unfortunately, unless you subscribe to New Scientist, you cannot read the full article.




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