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::: center home >> events >> conferences >> 2018-19 >>Retuning cognition


Retuning cognition with a pair of rocks: Culture, evolution, technology
March 29 - 30, 2019
Center for Philosophy of Science
1008 Cathedral of Learning
University of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh, PA USA



Interest in cultural evolution is growing exponentially, but the literature on the evolution of technology and its developmental and evolutionary impacts on cognition is not yet sufficiently connected with research on cultural evolution. This is crucial because cognition is not just a transmitted tool: at least sometimes changes in cognition transform the worldview, capacities, and motivations of the agent, making new adaptive radiations possible, and sometimes this is a direct response to the evolution or co-evolution of technology.

So, how does technology affect the nature, properties, and capacities of cognition? We can very quickly point to computers and the internet, but that would not analyze this relationship. Technology is not just a product of cognition, to be transmitted and elaborated through cultural means. It may also be a cognitive amplifier, yet still, a wholly external tool, such as pen and paper, which provides a larger working memory for production and experiment. Or a written language might drive the reworking of neural circuitry either (developmentally) to better recognize symbols or (evolutionarily) to better acquire the capacity to do so. Technology may also include systematic practices with a couple of rocks used to rework another to make an Oldowan flake, or perhaps requiring a coevolving language to communicate the much more complex array of actions facing the Acheulean toolmaker.

And if technology yields an expansion of the cognitive niche, the question arises—of whom? Is it of an individual who has mastered an elaborate flaking technology yielding a new diversity of tools and of the affordances they provide. Or is it of the whole interacting population of critical mass, with diverse normatively standardized practices, maintaining and elaborating a complex repertoire for fabricating, hunting, and perhaps celebrating their niche and its inhabitants? Or it is of multiple overlapping specialized groups in between? Perhaps an analogy is useful: In what ways is a society like a distributed brain?

Keynote Speakers: Colin Allen (University of Pittsburgh, History and Philosophy of Science), Jacob Foster (UCLA, Sociology), Karin James (Indiana University, Psychology), James Evans (The University of Chicago, Sociology), and Cecilia Heyes (University of Oxford, Theoretical Life Sciences)

Further inquiries may be addressed to Morgan Thompson (mot14@pitt.edu)

Program Committee: Edouard Machery (Pittsburgh, Center for Philosophy of Science), Jacob Neal (Pittsburgh, History and Philosophy of Science), Morgan Thompson (Pittsburgh, History and Philosophy of Science), Antonella Tramacere (Pittsburgh, Center for Philosophy of Science), and Bill Wimsatt (Pittsburgh, Center for Philosophy of Science)

Sponsored by the Center for Philosophy of Science











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