The Cultural Brain Hypothesis and the transmission and evolution of culture

Humans are an undeniably remarkable species with massive brains, amazing technology, and large, well-connected social networks. The co-occurrence of these traits is no accident. Here, I introduce the Cultural Brain Hypothesis and Cumulative Cultural Brain Hypothesis. The Cultural Brain Hypothesis is a single theory that explains the increase in brain size across many taxa. In doing so, it makes predictions about the relationships between brain size, adaptive knowledge, group size, social learning, and the length of the juvenile period. These predictions are consistent with existing empirical literature, tying together these otherwise disparate measured relationships. The Cumulative Cultural Brain Hypothesis makes predictions about the conditions under which these processes lead to a positive feedback loop between brain size and adaptive knowledge, ratcheting both upward in a co-evolutionary duet. I argue that these conditions, which include a rich environment, low reproductive skew, and high transmission fidelity, are the key to the uniquely human pathway, explaining our large brains and vari us aspects of our psychology that led to and sustain those large brains. The predictions of these two hypotheses are consistent with other theories within a Dual Inheritance Theory framework – the idea that natural selection led our species to develop a line of cultural inheritance in addition to the line of genetic inheritance shared by all species on Earth. I test many of these theories against competing theories across 4 experiments with human subjects. These experiments include cultural transmission experiments, which support a causal relationship between sociality and cultural complexity, and two social learning experiments, which test the environmental and individual predictors of biased social learning. The overall findings support Dual Inheritance Theory and the Cumulative Cultural Brain Hypothesis. Finally, I lay the groundwork for improving the way in which these theories account for human social structures by proposing a theory to help explain the social structures unique to our species. I then demonstrate the utility of this model by  iii using it to make predictions about the implications of population-level differences in personality and social influence for the transmission and evolution of culture.

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Posted in Brain, Cultural brain, Culture | Tagged , ,

Your brain on culture

The study also shows the power of cultural neuroscience, the growing field that uses brain-imaging technology to deepen the understanding of how environment and beliefs can shape mental function. Barely heard of just five years ago, the field has become a vibrant area of research, and the University of Michigan, the University of California, Los Angeles, and Emory University have created cultural neuroscience centers. In addition, in April a cultural neuroscience meeting at the University of Michigan attracted such psychology luminaries as Hazel Markus, PhD, Michael Posner, PhD, Steve Suomi, PhD, and Claude Steele, PhD, to discuss their work in the context of cultural neuroscience.

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Comparative Political Theory and Cross-Cultural Philosophy

Comparative Political Theory and Cross-Cultural Philosophy: Essays in Honor of Hwa Yol Jung explores new forms of philosophizing in the age of globalization by challenging the conventional border between the East and the West, as well as the traditional boundaries among different academic disciplines. The essays in this volume examine diverse issues, encompassing globalization, cosmopolitanism, public philosophy, political ecology, ecocriticism, ethics of encounter, and aesthetics of caring. They examine the philosophical traditions of phenomenology of Hursserl, Merleau-Ponty, and Heidegger; the dialogism of Mikhail Bakhtin; the philosophy of mestizaje literature; and Asian philosophical traditions. This rich comparative and cross-cultural investigation of philosophy and political theory demonstrates the importance of cultural and cross-cultural understanding in our reading of philosophical texts, exploring how cross-cultural thinking transforms our understanding of the traditional philosophical paradigm and political theory. This volume honors the scholarship and philosophy of Hwa Yol Jung, who has been a pioneer in the field of comparative political theory, cross-cultural philosophy, and interdisciplinary scholarship. In one of his earliest publications, The Crisis of Political Understanding (1979), Jung described the urgency and necessity of breakthrough in political thinking as a crisis, and he followed up on this issue for his half century of scholarship by introducing Asian philosophy and political thought to Western scholarship, demonstrating the possibility of cross-cultural philosophical thinking. In his most recent publications, Jung refers to this possibility as ‘transversality’ or ‘trans(uni)versality,’ a concept which should replace the outmoded Eurocentric universality of modernist philosophy. Jung expounds that in ‘transversality,’ ‘differences are negotiated and compromised rather than effaced and absorbed into sameness.’ This volume is a testimony to the very possibility of transversality in our scholarship and thinking.

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Posted in Cross-Cultural Philosophy, Philosophy, Politics | Tagged , ,

Culture, Heritage, Art

In Hungary, the decline of traditional peasant culture and its heritage has prompted urban revivals, leading to the acceptance of traditional Hungarian folk singing as a performing arts genre. Drawing from a series of in-depth interviews, this study shows how contemporary Hungarian folk singers navigate (define, learn, police) different forms of authenticity within the field of folk music. While we find that objectified authenticity – heritagized classification systems – is the dominant form of symbolic capital, the broader symbolic economy of authenticity is complicated by competing definitions of folk singing as, variously, culture, heritage, and art. Third-person authenticity is more highly regarded, but it is more difficult for contemporary urban folk singers to achieve because they were not socialized in peasant communities. Therefore, they use objectified authenticity such as ‘original recordings’ as a proxy for learning about living folk culture. Although objectified authenticity constrains the agency of artistic expression, it affords discriminatory creativity (choosing one’s own repertoire) and rationalized creativity (adapting traditional material to external values and contexts).

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Posted in Art, Cultural heritage, Culture, Heritage | Tagged , , ,

Emotions and Culture

The relationship between emotions and culture has been discussed ever since there was interest in what it means to be human, and since then that relationship has been contrastingly characterized as either inimical or reconcilable. Culture can be understood as the defining values, meanings, and thoughts of a local, national, or supranational community. When emotions are conceived in terms of psychological feelings and physical sensations, then they appear inimical to culture. This is because such a perspective suggests the involuntary nature and disorganizing consequence of emotions. The opposition between cognition as reason and emotion, implicit in this representation, is classically defended in Plato’s critique of dramatic poetry in the Republic. Plato’s supposition that emotion is pleasure or pain dissociated from thought or knowledge was corrected, however, by Aristotle’s more comprehensive appreciation of emotion as not merely physical but also cognitive, in which culture and emotions are reconciled.

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Rabindranath Tagore – The Nation

The peoples are living beings. They have their distinct personalities. But nations are organizations of power, and therefore their inner aspects and outward expressions are everywhere monotonously the same. Their differences are merely differences in degree of efficiency.

In the modern world, the fight is going on between the living spirit of the people and the methods of nation-organizing. It is like the struggle that began in Central Asia between cultivated areas of man’s habitation and the continually encroaching desert sands, till the human region of life and beauty was choked out of existence. When the spread of higher ideals of humanity is not held to be important, the hardening method of national efficiency gains a certain strength; and for some limited period of time, at least, it proudly asserts itself as the fittest to survive. But it is the survival of that part of man which is the least living. And this is the reason why dead monotony is the sign of the spread of the Nation. The modern towns, which present the physiognomy due to this dominance of the Nation, are everywhere the same, from San Francisco to London, from London to Tokyo. They show no faces, but merely masks.

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Cultural neuroscience of the self: understanding the social grounding of the brain

Cultural neuroscience is an interdisciplinary field of research that investigates interrelations among culture, mind and the brain. Drawing on both the growing body of scientific evidence on cultural variation in psychological processes and the recent development of social and cognitive neuroscience, this emerging field of research aspires to understand how culture as an amalgam of values, meanings, conventions, and artifacts that constitute daily social realities might interact with the mind and its underlying brain pathways of each individual member of the culture. In this article, following a brief review of studies that demonstrate the surprising degree to which brain processes are malleably shaped by cultural tools and practices, the authors discuss cultural variation in brain processes involved in self-representations, cognition, emotion and motivation. They then propose (i) that primary values of culture such as independence and interdependence are reflected in the compositions of cultural tasks (i.e. daily routines designed to accomplish the cultural values) and further (ii) that active and sustained engagement in these tasks yields culturally patterned neural activities of the brain, thereby laying the ground for the embodied construction of the self and identity. Implications for research on culture and the brain are discussed.

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How Culture Wires Our Brains

Insights from cultural neuroscience.

Culture has been called “an amalgam of values, meanings, conventions and artifacts that constitute daily social realities” (Kitayama & Park, 2010). As a system of meaning and shared beliefs, culture provides a framework for our behavioral and affective norms. Countless studies in cultural psychology have examined the effect of culture on all aspects of our behavior, cognition, and emotion, delineating both differences and similarities across populations. More recently, findings in cultural neuroscience have outlined possible ways how cultural scripts that we learn during childhood and cultural practices that we observe as adults influence our brains.

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The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature

At once a pioneering study of evolution and an accessible and lively reading experience, The Mating Mind marks the arrival of a prescient and provocative new science writer. Psychologist Geoffrey Miller offers the most convincing–and radical–explanation for how and why the human mind evolved.

Consciousness, morality, creativity, language, and art: these are the traits that make us human. Scientists have traditionally explained these qualities as merely a side effect of surplus brain size, but Miller argues that they were sexual attractors, not side effects. He bases his argument on Darwin’ s theory of sexual selection, which until now has played second fiddle to Darwin’ s theory of natural selection, and draws on ideas and research from a wide range of fields, including psychology, economics, history, and pop culture. Witty, powerfully argued, and continually thought-provoking, The Mating Mind is a landmark in our understanding of our own species.

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Posted in Evolution, Human evolution, Mating | Tagged , ,