Retuning cognition with a pair of rocks: Culture, evolution, technology

Country: USA

City: Pittsburgh

Abstr. due: 07.01.2019

Dates: 29.03.19 — 30.03.19

Area Of Sciences: Philosophy; Cultural science;

Organizing comittee e-mail:

Organizers: Center for Philosophy of Science 1008 Cathedral of Learning University of Pittsburgh


Interest in cultural evolution is growing exponentially, but the literature on the evolution of technology and its developmental and evolutionary impacts on cognition is not yet sufficiently connected with research on cultural evolution. This is crucial because cognition is not just a transmitted tool: at least sometimes changes in cognition transform the worldview, capacities, and motivations of the agent, making new adaptive radiations possible, and sometimes this is a direct response to the evolution or co-evolution of technology.

So, how does technology affect the nature, properties, and capacities of cognition? We can very quickly point to computers and the internet, but that would not analyze this relationship. Technology is not just a product of cognition, to be transmitted and elaborated through cultural means. It may also be a cognitive amplifier, yet still, a wholly external tool, such as pen and paper, which provides a larger working memory for production and experiment. Or a written language might drive the reworking of neural circuitry either (developmentally) to better recognize symbols or (evolutionarily) to better acquire the capacity to do so. Technology may also include systematic practices with a couple of rocks used to rework another to make an Oldowan flake, or perhaps requiring a coevolving language to communicate the much more complex array of actions facing the Acheulean toolmaker.

And if technology yields an expansion of the cognitive niche, the question arises—of whom? Is it of an individual who has mastered an elaborate flaking technology yielding a new diversity of tools and of the affordances they provide. Or is it of the whole interacting population of critical mass, with diverse normatively standardized practices, maintaining and elaborating a complex repertoire for fabricating, hunting, and perhaps celebrating their niche and its inhabitants? Or it is of multiple overlapping specialized groups in between? Perhaps an analogy is useful: In what ways is a society like a distributed brain?

We seek papers from those who share these puzzles with us and are interested in some aspect of the development and evolution of technology, cognition, culture, and the socially integrated and diverse structures (now so explosively elaborated by the internet!) that scaffold and articulate our complex worlds.

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