Friday, May 16, 2008

Human mental abilities: The result of "cultural cross-fertilisation"?

Hot on the heels of BoBos author David Brooks acknowledging that materialist neuroscience is failing (!), New Scientist's Andy Coghlan argues, in "How Culture Made Your Modern Mind,"

IT IS one of the hottest questions of our time: how did our cognitive abilities explode, leaving other animals for dust intellectually?

Now a new explanation is emerging. Controversially, it challenges the idea that biology alone is what drove the evolution of intellectual skills. What if we acquired abilities such as the capacity to invent, converse or work in unison as a result of a continual process of cultural cross-fertilisation with the world we inhabit, and through the way we interact with other people and material things?
Well, Andy, I don't doubt that your current idea is way closer to the mark than the crass materialism for which New Scientist is legendary.

You replace what we know can't be true with something that at least begins to resemble reality.

Humans, of course, influence each other. Most important skills require a definite knowledge base. For example, historically, everyone wanted harder, sharper tools, but skills in forging iron and smelting steel must be developed, taught, and learned.

But why did this happen for human beings, and not for rats, mice, moles, and voles? And how? The answers may not fit into a materialist scheme.

On the other hand, maybe New Scientist will come up with a study next month "demonstrating" that the rudiments of human cognition are latent in the rat holes, mouse nests, and molehills that surround us after all.

As if.

Note: When I was working on my share of The Spiritual Brain, New Scientist was one of my favourite venues for materialist theories about the human mind that do not really work. During that entire, exhausting project, New Scientist never failed me. If NS starts to smarten up, I will need to either find another source of materialist silliness, or write about something else.