10-12_CultureExists_3_-_6

10-12_CultureExists_3_-_6 - 10/7/2009 Culture exists Many...

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10/7/2009 1 Culture exists Three sources of variation Much variation is not environmental Much variation not due to institutions Technology is not environment Much variation is not genetic Much variation is not evoked People can’t reinvent cultural adaptations Culture usually evolves by the accumulation of small variations Many evolutionary psychologists believe that most culture is shaped by information rich modules. Cultural transmission is an inferential process. Learners observe behavior and infer mental representations that generated behavior. Observed behavior not sufficient to determine representations. Much culture is genetically encoded information evoked by environmental cues. People can’t learn any old thing—drawn to ―attractors‖ created by mental modules. The complexity of cultural variation lies in these attractors, not the gradual accumulation through cultural evolutionary mechanisms Noam Chomsky’s theory of language acquisition is the canonical example Chomsky argued that people come equipped with an innate ―universal grammar‖ Chomsky doesn’t say where UG comes from Evolutionary psychologists add that innate grammar is an evolved mechanism Noam Chomsky’s theory of language acquisition is the canonical example The data that children get is far too sparse for them to learn all the details of syntax using general purpose learning mechanisms Instead, the language they hear ―evokes‖ the complexity inherent in the universal grammar Language variation comes from the ―setting‖ of a relatively small number of parameters by variation in input Pascal Boyer’s work on religion provides an example of evoked culture In Religion Explained Pascal Boyer argues that some religious belief is evoked not culturally transmitted. Example: the Fang, a group in Cameroon studied by Boyer, believe in ghosts. Ghosts are malevolent spirits who live in the forest The have various supernatural powers Boyer argues that most of what the Fang believe about ghosts is not transmitted, it is evoked innate knowledge So, for example, once a child here’s even a snatch of a story about an encounter with a ghost, she fills in all the details based on her ―sentient being‖ psychology A thought experiment: Your task is to survive in the Colorado Desert of the American Southwest. You get 6 months of
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10-12_CultureExists_3_-_6 - 10/7/2009 Culture exists Many...

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