Embodying Culture

Integrated cognitive systems and cultural evolution

Authored by: Richard Menary , Alexander James Gillett

The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of the Social Mind

Print publication date:  December  2016
Online publication date:  November  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138827691
eBook ISBN: 9781315530178
Adobe ISBN: 9781315530161


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The Cognitive Integration (henceforth CI) framework posits the existence of integrated cognitive systems (henceforth ICS). In this chapter we outline the nature of ICS and their phylogenetic history. We shall argue that phylogenetically earlier forms of cognition are built upon by more recent cultural innovations. Many of the phylogenetically earlier components are forms of sensorimotor interactions with the environment (Menary 2007a, 2010a, 2016). These sensorimotor interactions are redeployed (or retrained) to service more recent cultural innovations (Dehaene & Cohen 2007). Take, for example, a rudimentary ability for tool use, that is refined and then built upon by innovations over many generations. The same refined sensorimotor skills for manipulating tools can be redeployed to recent cultural innovations for writing with stylus, brush or pencil (Menary 2015). Redeployment happens after a process of learning or training and the cultural innovations are inherited and spread out across groups. 2 This process depends upon both high fidelity cultural inheritance and a high degree of plasticity (Sterelny 2012), which in humans is a specialised form of learning driven plasticity (Menary 2014). Learning driven plasticity (henceforth LDP) is the capacity for functional changes that are acquired from (usually) scaffolded learning in a highly structured social niche. This results in a multi-layered system with heterogeneous components, dynamically interwoven into a complex arrangement of processes and states in an integrated cognitive system. The coordination dynamics of the system are, at least in part, understood in terms of the physical dynamics of brain–body–niche interactions in real-time.

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