What Sort of Mind/Brain Is Compatible with Cultural Adaptation?

In: Journal of Cognition and Culture
Peter J. Richerson Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Department of Environmental Science and Policy, University of California, Davis Davis, CA USA

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Robert T. Boyd Professor, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University Tempe, AZ USA

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Cultural evolution is substantially driven by agentic forces and rather less by the random variation and natural selection that dominate the evolution of genes. Reinforcement based decisions (attractors) keep cultural evolution tolerably on track of genetic fitness. Reinforcement can come from a variety of proximate mechanisms ranging from rather general-purpose appetites and emotions to highly specific cognitive features. Cognitive features must be substantially built by social and individual learning to be compatible with the vast cultural diversity we observe in space and over time. At the same time gene-based components of reinforcement keep culture generally on track of genetic fitness. This essay asks whether the available neuroscientific evidence on brain function is more compatible with this cultural niche hypothesis or the much more directly gene-based cognitive niche alternative. Future neuroscience may provide a complete proximate account of the biological foundations of culture.

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