Preparedness in cultural learning

Synthese 199 (1-2):81-100 (2020)
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Abstract

It is clear throughout Cognitive Gadgets Heyes believes the development of cognitive capacities results from the interaction of genes and experience. However, she opposes cognitive instincts theorists to her own view that uniquely human capacities are cognitive gadgets. Instinct theorists believe that cognitive capacities are substantially produced by selection, with the environment playing a triggering role. Heyes’s position is that humans have similar general learning capacities to those present across taxa, and that sophisticated human cognition is substantially created by our socioculturally transmitted environment. It is a core strategy of Heyes to provide evidence of learning altering a cognitive capacity to conclude that a capacity is a cognitive gadget and not an instinct. We draw on recent work on the evolution of learning preparedness to examine the adequacy of this strategy. In particular, we analyse experimental evolution work showing how selection affects cognition within the laboratory. First, this work reveals that change due to learning can still be retained under genetic assimilation. This suggests that domain-specific adaptation can coexist with learning, moderate nativism, an option missed by the instinct versus gadget distinction. Second, we describe the conditions that select for increased preparedness in learning: certainty, reliability, and particular costs. We consider how these conditions can be used when conducting evolutionary reasoning about cognition, applying them to the important capacity for imitation. We find that the conditions lend theoretical support to moderate nativism about the capacity to imitate, which is supported by psychological evidence.

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