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Cognitive Gadgets: The Cultural Evolution of Thinking

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Evolutionary psychology casts the human mind as a collection of cognitive instincts – organs of thought shaped by genetic evolution and constrained by the needs of our Stone Age ancestors. This picture was plausible 25 years ago but, I argue, it no longer fits the facts. Research in psychology and neuroscience – involving nonhuman animals, infants and adult humans – now suggests that genetic evolution has merely tweaked the human mind, making us more friendly than our pre-human ancestors, more attentive to other agents, and giving us souped-up, general-purpose mechanisms of learning, memory and control. Using these resources, our special-purpose organs of thought are built in the course of development through social interaction. They are products of cultural rather than genetic evolution, cognitive gadgets rather than cognitive instincts.

This talk is part of the Zangwill Club series.

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