D’Andrade, R. (1981). The cultural part of cognition, Cognitive Science, 5, 179-195.
A good part of what any person knows is learned from other people. The teaching
by others can be formal or informal, intended or unintended, and the learning can
occur through observation or by being taught rules. However accomplished, the
result is a body of learnings, called culture, transmitted from one generation to
In saying that an object--either a physical object like a desk, or a more
abstract object like a talk or a theorem--is a product of culture, I mean that the
cultural pool contains the information which defines what the object is, tells how
to construct the object, and prescribes how the object is to be used. Without
culture, we would not have or use such things.
How can things be arranged so that all this information gets learned
again and again without serious loss or distortion? How could one know if the
information were lost? How can procedures be established so that the person who
has the appropriate information is there when needed? How has all this been
arranged in the past, and how can it be arranged in the future when it is likely
there will be an even bigger pool? [See posting about the Tomasello article]
An important assumption of cognitive anthropology is that in the process of
repeated social transmission, cultural programs come to take forms which have a
good fit to the natural capacities and constraints of the human brain.
One major difference between cultural and computer programs
is in the degree of precision with which computer programs must be
stated. For almost all computer programs, there must be an exact and unambiguous
specification of the steps to be taken to accomplish the task, while what it is
that is being accomplished does not have to be represented at all in the program.
For humans, however, what is to be accomplished is usually represented in
detail, while how to do the task is usually given only incompletely and ambiguously,
if at all.
Looking at cross-cultural
studies of socialization, one is struck with both the small amount of explicit step
by step instruction and the large amount of occasional correction that characterizes
cultural learning all over the world.
Part of the method of guided discovery is having ready for the discoverer
information about what has been learned, and how it is labelled.
Typically, cultural systems not only label what is a good thing to know or
do, they also classify and label the kinds of errors people make.
The author argues that part of the human
condition to work hard to discover what is already known.
Three generalizations have been made about the relation between humans
and cultural programs. First, culturally based programs for action and understanding
are rarely well specified and explicit; second, people typically learn
these culturally based programs through a process of informally guided discovery;
and third, people are very good at discovering what they must learn under
conditions of informally guided discovery, and not so good when they must learn
entirely on their own.
There are two types of abstraction: content-based abstraction and abstraction by recoding the problem or situation in a different symbol system.
On the cultural level, formal language abstraction is the product of
"schooling", where there is a division of labor between the "theor ists" who
develop and teach the formal system, and the "engineers" or "applied people" ,
who work on the interface between the formal system and the content problems.
Content based abstraction, on the other hand, appears to be the product of
"experience", where the division of labor is a blurred distinction between the
old hands versus green horns, and instruction involves on the job training and a
personal relationship between the "master" and the "apprentice".
There is a strong positive
correlation phylogenetically between intelligence and emotionality. Thus vertebrates
show more emotional communication and intelligence than the invertebrates
(with that interesting creature the octopus as an exception), and mammals
more emotional communication intelligence than reptiles and fish. Among the
mammals, the higher primates have a more complex emotional communication
system than the rodents, herbivores, and even carnivores.
It seems to the author that intelligence necessarily involves a delay between
stimulus and response, a delay which permits time for complex information
processing. As intelligence increases, the representation of external events relies
more on internal processing, and response to events is determined more by
learned and recalled connections instead of innate stimulus-response bonds. This
processing takes time and requires delay.
The beauty of feelings and emotions is that they permit delay, but work
against forgetting. Feeling and thought are parallel systems of processing which
permit one to reason while being hungry or angry. Emotions and reasoning are not at all incompatible. In
fact, as a total information processing system, emotions and thoughts are, the author
argues, interacting parallel processes which have evolved together.