Biology, Culture and Coevolution: Religion and Language as Case Studies

in Journal of Cognition and Culture
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The main intent of this paper is to give an account of the relationship between bio-cognition and culture in terms of coevolution, analysing religious beliefs and language evolution as case studies. The established view in cognitive studies is that bio-cognitive systems constitute a constraint for the shaping and the transmission of religious beliefs and linguistic structures. From this point of view, religion and language are by-products or exaptations of processing systems originally selected for other cognitive functions. We criticize such a point of view, showing that it paves the way for the idea that cultural evolution follows a path entirely autonomous and independent from that of biological evolution. Against the by-product and exaptation approaches, our idea is that it is possible to interpret religion and language in terms of coevolution. The concept of coevolution involves a dual path of constitution: one for which biology (cognition) has adaptive effects on culture, the other for which, in turn, forms of culture have adaptive effects on biology (cognition). This dual path of constitution implies that religion and language are (at least in some aspects) forms of biological adaptations.

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