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Unformatted text preview: 2 PSYCHOLOGY & CULTURE 1 Food consumption among animals is mainly a solitary activity
How many different people enable us to have dinner? Our dinner is highly dependent on other members of the species, from the bank manager to the food producer to …. For dinner to succeed culture must organize the behavior of a large number of individual (the complexity of the system).
2 Advantage of culture
It can organize and coordinate the action of many people. If culture is advantageous why it is human specific?
The downside of culture is that it demands a great deal of the individual. Each one should sustain her own niche in the system. Culture is expensive (e.g. large brain, …)
3 The level of collective organization is one of the important differences between social and cultural animals.
To sustain this level the individual must have a rich cognitive capacity. Meaning and Culture
Culture is made from meaning (storing and transmission of information). Hence the importance of language.
4 Language and Thought
SapirWhorf hypothesis: language shape thought. Cultural relativism: different languages entails different concepts (e.g. Eskimo words/concept for snow; colors division.
English, though, does not prevent us to discriminate different types of snow … Hence thought is not constraint by language the way the SapirWhorf hypothesis supposes. 5 The Universality of languages.
Languages are far more similar than it has been thought. E.g. all language have VP, NP, pronouns, adverbs … This suggests that the brain is designed to understand and categorize the world in a certain way. E.g. verbs for actions/events, nouns for objects ….
Translation is possible.
6 The SapirWhorf hypothesis is highly misleading. Almost every thought can be expressed in almost any language. What is extraordinary is the similarity among languages, not the difference.
Universality of concepts (only words are arbitrary).
The universe of possible ideas was there to be discovered. The brain didn’t create the structure of meaning. It merely evolved to discover it. (E.g. mathematical truths).
7 Language as a tool
It allows us to deal with the world which tends to present the same issues and problems everywhere.
By an large people have the same thoughts everywhere. The brain evolved via natural selection to make use of this tool. To enable people to access the universe of possible ideas and concepts and to use meaning to think and communicate.
8 Physical vs. Social Causality
They are different genuine influences of behavior.
Antireductionism: The social and psychological reality do not reduce to the physical one. E.g.: Imagine describing the second world war merely in terms of physical and biological activity. You would miss the point.
Thoughts cannot be reduced to brain and physical activities and psychology will not be able to be reduced to physics and neuroscience.
9 Culture is not a Physical Reality
It is grounded in a network or system of people. It is not contained inside a single brain. Individual brains are replaceable. Yet culture subsists. The meaning of a sentence, an event, an act is not something that has a chemical or molecular structure.
10 Meaning It can be represented in physical structures and the brain activity is necessary to represent it, but meaning is not contained in the brain activity.
Meaning exists in the social and cultural world/network. Remember: we live in 3 worlds; (i) physical, (ii) social, and (iii) cultural.
Meaning can only begin to influence the physical world when it is used and understood by a physical being. The basic elements of grammar and syntax are built into the human brain.
11 Ideas and Brains
Can ideas move molecules?
YES, insofar as there are people capable of understanding them and processing them in their brains. Yet ideas do have a reality that is independent of any particular brain.
12 Ideas are rooted in the culture which is held in common by a group of people. Human behavior also depends on meaning and social causes. Meaning is not a physical reality, but the share understanding of a cultural group. This does not entail that human behavior violates the law of physics, etc.
The content of one’s thought depends partly on nonphysical realities that are not parts of one’s brain (cf. externalism).
13 Sharedness as Essence of the Social.
Two people may understand the same idea by firing the same cells in their brain. Sharedness though is the nonphysical aspect.
Having something in common and understanding it in common is something missing from physical causality.
E.g. money: it is not a physical reality; its value depends entirely of shared understanding. Ten dimes equal a dollar but this equivalence can never be found in the molecular structure of the coins.
14 Social/Cultural reality
Money is real and certainly influence people behavior. Yet it is an abstract entity mainly existing only in bank accounts. It is because of the system, the culture, that we can trade a pound of potatoes for a dollar. The dollar coin has meaning which depends on collective shared assumptions and symbolic thoughts.
Law is another example of social/cultural reality.
15 The existence of culture
Heritable cultural differences can be crucial in understanding human behavior.
But we must keep in mind the Culture/culture difference, i.e. between culture as a universal and cultural difference (cf. universal grammar vs. French/German/… grammar). E.g.: Illinois farming from different immigrant groups living just a few miles apart. You cannot guess people’s origin from the dress or language spoken. But people from different background have different beliefs about farming which manifests in different behaviors. 16 The German origin farmers vs. the Yankees farmers
The formers value farming as a way of life and want their descendents to pursue the tradition. They have a differentiated culture. Allow more people to leave on the same acreage.
The latter regard faming as a profiting activity. They value education. They tend to monoculture. They can sell land if it is profitable ….
Many differences in human groups’ behavior result from conservative transmissible behavior based on a different stock of beliefs. This is a way of cultural transmission.
17 Culture can “resurrect”. E.g. Bolshevik’s revolution was a social revolution aspiring to a cultural revolution modeling the whole population on a single, Soviet, model. Yet, after the Russian break down, many old practices (e.g. religion) reappeared within the former republics.
Difference in behavior among groups does not usually rest on genetic difference.
18 Cultural transmission transcends family transmission (unlike genetic transmission). E.g.1: dialect transmission is a case of cultural transmission influenced by nonfamily environment. E.g.2: Adoption. Adopted kids from different races/regions adapt/acquire a new culture. Thus ethnic differences don’t rest on genetic differences. Cultural identity vs. Genetic idenity
19 Epidemiological vs. Evoked Culture (Cf. Cosmides & Toby)
Epidemiological: culture resulting from different values/ideas acquired.
Evoked: cultural differences that are not transmitted but evoked by a different environment, i.e. the same initial mechanism adapt differently to different environment. 20 Many evolutionary psychologists believe that most culture is evoked culture. E.g.: different religious practices are triggered by different environments, not by teaching. This model rest on modularity (various mind modules specialized for different tasks e.g.: language organ/ …) But cumulative cultural adaptations cannot be based directly on innate inherited features. Thus culture must be, in great part, epidemiological.
21 Social Causes.
They depend on language and meaning. Norms and values guide how people act.
Social causality, though, does not operate alone. It requires physical processes too (e.g. the brain must process the information). 22 Intertwining of physical and social causality. E.g. a football game (with social rules, physical activities, etc.)
Human action and psychology requires one to appreciate both physical and social causes. The molecular and electrical processes in the brain allows humans to understand and process meaning. So their behavior can be the effect of social causes.
23 Meaning and Representation
Meanings allows people (unlike animals) to represent and be influenced by things beyond their immediate surrounding and perceptual sphere.
Humans, unlike aunts for instance, can incorporate the past into the present (e.g. possibility o agriculture). 24 People are capable of understanding their world on the basis of invisible forces and facts. Animals cannot understand invisible causality. Time is an invisible reality informing and structuring our life, much more than it does with other species. 25 The Power and Limit of Culture
E.g.: alcohol intoxication. Drunkenness seems to operate as a kind of time out, an interruption of the normal set of rules. But which rules remain in force and which ones are suspended varies considerably among various groups (e.g. some groups become violent while other calm, etc.) 26 Only a mixture of nature and culture can begin to explain the impact of alcohol.
E.g.: advertising. Can influence some behavior but it cannot change it drastically.
Culture must work with the basic facts of human nature: it can exaggerate them or stifle them. It cannot change them (e.g. gender differences). 27 The Duality of the Mind
conscious vs. automatic (intuitive or reflexive system). Animals usually have only an automatic mind.
The human mind has two major processing systems at work with different properties. Both get the same input from the senses but what they do with the incoming information is different. 28 Automatic system
It does many small things at once independently of one another Conscious system
It does one thing at a time. It can process in dept and follow multiple steps (e.g. symbolic logic) Both systems use meaning, but only the conscious one is able to use the power of meaning and language (e.g. ‘green bred’/‘enemy loses’: only the conscious mind can make two positive/negative become negative/positive).
29 Limits and Advantages of the two Systems
Only the automatic system can do simultaneous things at once (e.g. riding a bicycle). The conscious system is limited in its capacities. It intervenes only when facing a problem (e.g. the route is blocked and need to figure another way …) 30 Limits/Advantages of automatic system: great capacity and highly efficient, but not very flexible. Involved in automatic actions. Limits/Advantages of conscious system: highly flexible but not very efficient. Involved in planning and dealing with the unknown.
The conscious system usually starts operating when the automatic one send out a distress signal.
It is not a side effect of the human psyche but an important achievement of it.
Hence nature must have developed it insofar as it was useful (linked to mindreading).
It allows us to reason.
It allows control processing (since it is highly flexible).
32 The relationship between conscious and automatic processes is not the one of master and servant. Many processes start as controlled and become automatic (e.g. learning of skills, automatization).
Automatic overlearned responses are executed in one part of the brain while new learning trough conscious supervision occurs elsewhere. The expert brain in thus not doing the same thing as the novice’s one, merely better.
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This document was uploaded on 10/26/2011 for the course PHIL 3501 at Carleton CA.
- Fall '07