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Thinking and Culture 1 Shared Understanding
Culture is based on shared understanding. It thus requires thinking (for understanding) and communication (for sharing).
Since language is so powerful for thinking and communication it is a powerful cultural medium.
2 Computers can think faster and more accurately than humans. Since they lack the motivation to think about specific things they are only tools in the need to be used.
Human’s mind ought to chose among the chaotic brew of sensory impressions.
3 People think about people much more than any other things. Most human thoughts are about social and cultural life (cf. Dunbar on gossiping).
The human mind is mainly used for the purpose of participating in culture and society. 4 Four competing goals involved in thinking
1. Truth (e.g. scientist).
2. Reach a particular conclusion (e.g. lawyer).
3. Speed: make quick choices.
4. Economy: not to work too hard.
These goals are incompatible with each other. Thus they must compete.
5 Circumstances favor one or the other.
These goals don’t answer the question about the purpose of thinking. They merely describe everyday conduct of thought. Main purpose: allowing the interaction with others (cf. Dunbar on gossiping). E.g. people read novel (about other people) rather than scientific books. Novel are pseudogossiping…
6 Thinking and cultural differences
Cultural variations are a minimal part of the importance of culture. What matters for evolution and adaptation is how cultures are the same.
Evidence for cultural differences focus on Eastern (Asian) vs. Westerns (European and North American) thinking. The former think more holistically (seeing how things fits together) while the latter more analytically (focusing on things in isolation).
7 This difference probably originates in different social organizations. Westerns societies were influenced by the Greeks who developed early notions of democracy, freedom, and individuality. Asian societies were influenced by the ancient Chinese civilization which emphasized network beliefs, e.g. that people social roles existed in a structure of interdependent reciprocal social duties, ….
Neither style is better overall.
8 Intelligence allows culture to be the most powerful biological weapon
By sharing and transmitting information we’ve been able to outclass other species.
But culture requires intelligence.
Intelligence refers to mental abilities. E.g.: processing information, learn and retain it, problem solving, …
9 Intelligence allows to compete with other species and within the group (intelligent people often do better).
Intelligence is mainly a single overarching factor: all mental abilities are interrelated.
Intelligence is mainly genetically transmitted: (e.g.: adopted children are more similar in IQ to biological parents than to the adopted ones).
10 Environment and intelligence
The environment doesn’t provide a positive effect, but a negative one.
Although parents cannot do much to increase a child’s intelligence they can do much to decrease it.
E.g.: abuse, sexual molestation, starvation, … all contribute to reduce IQs.
11 Evolution and Intelligence
Intelligence is a wonderful all purpose tool, but evolution does not promote multipurpose devices: it develop specific solutions to specific problems. Thus intelligence must have evolved as a specific solution to for specific problems of special importance to cultural animals. 12 Evolutionary Psychologists Cosmides & Toby argue that the thinking structure evolved specifically to deal with problems of social exchange. A system of exchange among strangers requires people to play their part. But natural selfishness may prompt some to take advantage without contributing. Thus the advanced cultural brain was likely to keep a special lookout for cheaters.
13 Cheaters detectors
One doesn’t reason equally well about all problems even if they have similar logical structures. The human mind is not naturally inclined to search for logical fallacies, but for the kinds of problems which violate the basic rules of social exchange. It is naturally inclined to search for cheaters.
14 This confirms the view that the mind evolved for participation in cultural systems that rely on social exchanges.
Intelligence couldn’t do much without relying on language and meaning. 15 Brain and Meaning
Human thinking doesn’t reduce to the firing of brain cells. Cf. unconnected computer vs. connected computer. With a computer connected to the net one can do much more. The brain allows its owner to participate in culture: this is what it is designed to do.
16 Meaning and language are social (abstract) entities and we are designed to participate/exploit them.
Intelligence works together with meaning and language.
In that sense the brain was a prerequisite for language. On the other hand, once the brain reached the required level, language greatly increased what it could do. In that sense language is a prerequisite for enabling the brain to begins fulfilling its potential (like the net with a connected computer).
17 Essence of meaning
1. Connection: meaning connects things (e.g. ‘flower’ connects a variety of plants together)
2. Distinction: ‘flower’ distinguishes flowers from other things in the world. 18 The simplest of the thought involves making a basic distinction or connection. Pavlov’s dogs can make connections.
But the average 16 year old has a vocabulary of 40.000 words + other 40.000 words for names of people and idioms. 19 Learning 80.000 words in 16 years = learning 5000 words each year = learning 13 new words each day. On top of that one learns/develops the grammar.
The real power of combining symbols depends on language and can only exist in a community of minds. This means that one must recognize other minds: mindreading ….
20 Humans qua Cultural Animals
Humans are designed by nature to participate in a community.
This requires mindreading which is a specific aspect of human functioning.
Importance of share attention (Tomasello): knowing oneself to be part of a group of individuals who have similar minds is humanspecific.
21 Recent studies (Decety and Co.) show that babies as young as 3 months recognize between light movement as humans and random light movements. If so the brain has an innate capability and tendency to read intention into the behavior of others. Primates don’t share knowledge deliberately. They lack the capacity to recognize that communicative behaviors are intended to share some useful information.
22 Humans tend to find patterns and connections
It helps to predict events and thus to exercise control. Humans even tend to find patterns and connection when there are none.
Hence, superstition and magical thinking.
E.g. people refused to wear a sweater that had supposedly been worn by Hitler even if it was clean etc.
Are one of the most basic units of thought. We share them with animals: rats that receive food every time a light fires come to expect food once the light fires. People spend more time analyzing event that violate expectancies. 24 These violations operate as an important alarm calling the conscious system into action.
Emotions are also affected by expectancies. People react with stronger emotion when an event is unexpected. 25 Simplifying
In our thinking we tend to simplify and use dichotomies (good/bad, to blame/not to blame, ….) even if there are degrees of goodness/badness, ….
Part of the simplifying process is required by the decision making, which is often dichotomous (buy this item or not, accept that job or not, ...). 26 Reality, especially social reality, is essentially probabilistic. Yet people prefer the black and white categories. Many errors (e.g. the betting fallacy—after 4 head you still get 50% probabilities of a head) can be understood as the failing to appreciate how probability works. 27 Thinking and Self
A great deal of thinking is linked to the self. This goes with the desire people have to feel well of themselves and the desire to be well regarded by others. Cf. selfesteem and belongingness.
28 Selfdeception It’s the desire to maintain a favorable image about oneself (it goes with selfesteem).
1. taking credit for success while refusing blame for failure,
2. be selective about feed back,
3. memory distorting by searching it in a biased fashion,
4. selfevaluation against select targets.
29 The average person ends up regarding him/herself above average.
Everyone is above average.
Depressed people see the world more accurately, while healthy happy people distort it.
Distortions of selfknowledge also concern relationships: people tend to believe that their relationships are strong and good.
30 Why people overestimate their good qualities?
Probably because nature installed the pattern of emotional reaction as our continuous striving for acceptance, but human being have found a shortcut to feeling good. Thus instead of actually becoming a good person one merely convinces oneself of being good. 31 Since people daily behavior is organized toward the pursuit of good emotions and the avoidance of bad ones, people often take shortcuts when they can get these positive feelings on the cheap.
Selfdeception and inflated selfesteem fall in the category of shortcuts. 32 Evolutionary psychology perspective
We deceive ourselves in order to deceive other people better (Alexander & Trivers). Quest for status
It is finely built into our psyche.
People in all cultures want to wow their neighbors to rise in local esteem. 33 Avoidance of ridicule
As high public esteem can raise genetic reward, lover public esteem can be genetically calamitous. Hence we try to avoid being ridiculed. Paranoia may be a high pitch of this motive. A drop in status carries a cost.
34 Self advertisement in social circles
It often involves deception, i.e. over selfevaluation, selfinflation.
E.g.: tendency to attribute success to our skills and our failure to circumstance, luck, enemy, ….
Honesty of evaluation is beyond the reach of most mortals. (Wright. 1994.The Moral Animal)
35 Low selfesteem
Evolved as a way to reconcile people to subordinate status when reconciliation is in their genetic interest.
A way to show/behave submissively so one isn’t erroneously perceived as a threat and treated as such.
A way to keep people from aspiring to more than they can attain. 36 Truth and honesty are never favored by natural selection. It simply doesn’t care, i.e. it doesn’t prefer honesty or dishonesty.
“Like a lawyer, the human brain wants victory, not truth; and, like a lawyer, it is sometimes more admirable for skill than for virtue” (Wright. 1994: 280) There’s an evolutionary advantage of moral self
The huge size of human memory is another indication that we are cultural animals. We need a big memory because the cultural world provides a great deal of information; far more than the physical world humans inhabits. E.g. knowing people in our group, their habits, relations, …
38 Longterm memory vs. working memory.
The former encompasses information that can be retrieved over long period of time, while the latter includes the immediate memory at work.
Elaboration of information, processing of information and interpretation allow information to be stored in the long term memory. 39 Since we process information differently we remember and describe the same event differently. Since children lack the acute capacity to process information, the are memory amnesiac. Memory works on reconstruction on the basis of bits of information: it is the realm of whatmust
havebeen rather that what was.
40 Memory mistakes
1. Memory fades.
2. People fail to pay attention to some details.
3. Information may be in memory but people fail to retrieve it. 41 4. Memory may be misattributed.
5. Memory can be vulnerable to suggestion, so people may remember something that never happened.
6. Memory can be distorted by biased factors. Memory distortion operates in favor of self
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This document was uploaded on 10/26/2011 for the course PHIL 3501 at Carleton CA.
- Fall '07