Thursday, September 23, 2010

The cultural basis of human cognition

Tomasello, M. (1999) The cultural basis of human cognition (chapter 1). Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.

Humans have mastered several modes of cultural transmission of knowledge, practices, ideas, etc., which enables cumulative cultural evolution.
It supports creative invention and progress by allowing humans to build upon the work of others, and faithful social transmission so that useful, helpful, or beautiful ideas are preserved.

There are 3 types of social learning:
1. imitative
2. instructed
3. collaborative

Key Points or Ideas:
  1. Social learning enables faithful social transmission. It also enables multiple individuals ro create something together that no one individual could have created alone.
  2. Tomasello believes the human ability to understand (or imagine) what other humans beings are thinking, feeling, seeing, etc., enables social learning.
  3. Tomasello see the creation of material, symbolic and institutional artifacts with accumulated histories as unique features of human cognition.
  4. Tomasello asserts that the evidence that human beings have species-unique modes of cultural transmission is overwhelming
  5. Human beings are able to pool their cognitive resources in ways that other animal species are not
  6. Cumulative cultural evolution is the best explanation for many of human beings' most impressive cognitive achievements
  7. Tomasello's central argument in this chapter and the book is that it is these processes of cultural transmission, not any specialized biological adaptations directly, that have done the actual work in creating many, if not all, of the most distinctive and important cognitive products and processes of the species Homo sapiens.

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