The Fate of the Third Chimpanzee
Lecture 3: The Model in Action: Social Learning and Its Transformation
Social learning is not unique to our species; we do not differ from other primates through being able to learn from our fellows. But social learning takes a unique form in our species: we can accumulate cognitive capital. Human groups (and perhaps individual humans) inherit informational resources from the previous generation, preserve those resources effectively, sometimes add to them, and transmit them accurately to the next generation. This accumulation of cognitive resources is (i) unique; (ii) is central to the explanation of the adaptation of individual and groups to their environment (as Pete Richerson and Bob Boyd have often stressed); (iii) is central to the geographic, demographic and ecological expansion of our species; (iv) confronts human minds with novel problems of information management, both of bandwidth and of content. There has been a lively debate within the human evolution community on both the paleoanthropological signature of this novel form of culture (“behavioural modernity”, as it is sometimes called) and about the specific key innovation that makes it possible. I defend the idea that the accumulation of cognitive capital is central to human evolution. But I draw upon the model developed in session 1 to argue against a “key adaptation” model of the establishment of this engine of accumulation. Instead, I argue that the origin of accumulation depended on the construction and stabilisation of social and learning environments of the right kind. Behavioural modernity depends on an innovation in epistemic engineering, not a genetic transformation.
Intervenant(s) : . Kim STERELNY
- Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, Philosophy - Professor