• Izat So
    88
    Our brains evolved to make use of the cultural tools available to us. Brains and culture coevolved. So, is the mistrust of cultural influence vs "strictly biological evolution" (surely an abstraction) based on fear of social control?

    Does this need to be rethought given it’s culture that gives us our cognitive tools, given culture is what enables us to be us?

    Have we conflated all social influence with genuinely nefarious projects of mind control from peer pressure to murderous cults?

    Does the term "social construction" need to be rethought rather than ruled out in favour of biological factors?


    (Several respectable sources in consilience on this point so not interested in questioning whether brains and culture coevolve. Has interesting implications all around, IMO.)
  • Coben
    847
    Could you give a more specific context for this? I can imagine being skeptical about certain types of cultural influence, but certainly not all. Pretty much any debate, it seems to me, counters some cultural values with other cultural values. I do think that culture can be extremely damaging, though it is in the specifics. Language is cultural and most don't want to give that up. Who holds the opposite view? A link perhaps?
  • Izat So
    88
    OK before we get there, consider it like this: Your brain wouldn't work without the "cultural software" that gets installed as you grow, the cultural software that has been undergoing more or less cumulative enhancements and modifications since we evolved into existence. It's not just a matter of values, it's much more fundamental. It's a matter of the very basics of social know-how, technical know-how, language, understandings of options available for action and consequences, cooperation and disruption, etc. If you weren't fully acculturated your brain wouldn't operate as a human brain evolved to operate. You would have fewer options by far. You would be far less adaptable.

    So in light of this I wonder why people are wont to insist on human nature being "hardwired" versus socially constructed. In a tweet from skeptic pundit, Michael Shermer from February 2018, he says

    If the argument that women "internalize their oppression" holds wouldn't it apply to men internalizing oppressive patriarchy? Where's volition, personal responsibility & choice? If it's all socially constructed then there can be no truth, no reality.

    He's either gone down a slippery slope or his last sentence is the premise for the preceding.

    He also says in a tweet from May 2018
    Here is the original paper of the 7 universal rules of morality: "Is it good to cooperate? Testing the theory of morality-as-cooperation in 60 societies" https://osf.io/9546r/ I would argue that this helps build the case for moral realism/naturalism & part of human nature.

    So taken together we can see Shermer thinks that moral realism and social constructivism are at odds. (Might be framed as absolutism vs relativism).

    But I'm saying that they're outdated views and more accurately, that we need to rethink this very deeply. We cannot conclude that being socialized is more inhibiting than freeing. And
    being skeptical about certain types of cultural influenceCoben
    would be something that cultural influence also enables. We require to be socialized to develop properly and have options available to us. But we need to get beyond a nature/nurture paradigm to think about this more clearly.

    At stake: ethics, free will and sources of human agency/individualism, theories of "hardwired human nature" and likely many other things I haven't thought of.
  • Terrapin Station
    12.5k
    OK before we get there, consider it like this: Your brain wouldn't work without the "cultural software" that gets installed as you grow, the cultural software that has been undergoing more or less cumulative enhancements and modifications since we evolved into existence. It's not just a matter of values, it's much more fundamental. It's a matter of the very basics of social know-how, technical know-how, language, understandings of options available for action and consequences, cooperation and disruption, etc. If you weren't fully acculturated your brain wouldn't operate as a human brain evolved to operate. You would have fewer options by far. You would be far less adaptable.

    So in light of this I wonder why people are wont to insist on human nature being "hardwired" versus socially constructed.
    Izat So

    I'm glad you explained this more. My first reaction to your fist post in the thread was, "What are you talking about? What mistrust over cultural influence?" But then, later in that same post, you mentioned "mind control" and "murderous cults," and I thought, "Hmm . . . okay, so I guess we're just talking about paranoid/conspiracy-theory-prone people?"

    But what I quoted above gives more insight into what you were hoping to get at. The problem, though, is this:

    I'm not someone with "cultural mistrust."

    But I'm someone who doesn't at all agree with these statements:

    * "Your brain wouldn't work without the 'cultural software' that gets installed as you grow."

    * "Your culture literally gives you your values." (That's not quoting you, but it seems like something you're more or less claim.)

    * "Your culture literally provides the entirety of language for you, including meaning." (Ditto re my parenthetical above.)

    My disagreement with those statements has nothing to do with "cultural mistrust." It has to do with a belief that those statements get wrong how brains work as well as the ontology of things like values and meaning, and what it's possible/not possible to do with value and meaning, which results in getting wrong how language works, etc.

    I'd definitely agree with claims that cultural and environmental influences are significant factors in the way that people turn out. But that doesn't mean that someone's brain wouldn't work sans culture, etc.
  • Terrapin Station
    12.5k
    Re the developmental issue, by the way, what a lot of people with objections to what seems to be an "it's all socially constructed" view are getting at is this: historically, it seems inexplicable to claim that it could all be socially constructed, because it would be difficult to account for how anything got started.

    For example, if values can only obtain culturally, then how would the first cultural instantiation of a value begin? It couldn't begin by someone having a personal disposition towards one behavior over another, because that would negate our premise. We'd have to claim that values somehow arise not in persons' individual dispositions, but somehow pop into existence due to people interacting with each other, where they supervene in the interaction somehow. But how? Ontologically, how in the world would that work?

    The same goes for social meaning, etc.
  • Willyfaust
    21
    Culture is a way to survive in the tribe, to belong. Cultivation of cultural aspects evolve by external social dictates. Or the way the game has to be played.
  • Coben
    847
    OK before we get there, consider it like this: Your brain wouldn't work without the "cultural software" that gets installed as you grow, the cultural software that has been undergoing more or less cumulative enhancements and modifications since we evolved into existence. It's not just a matter of values, it's much more fundamental. It's a matter of the very basics of social know-how, technical know-how, language, understandings of options available for action and consequences, cooperation and disruption, etc. If you weren't fully acculturated your brain wouldn't operate as a human brain evolved to operate. You would have fewer options by far. You would be far less adaptable.Izat So

    I'm not a big fan of computer metaphors, but that might just be a tangential remark, we'll see. The cumulative enhancements and modifications may include things I would be critical or simply suffer without quite knowing why. When I read the OP and then this response I think of this as you saying we can't throw out acculturalization and the reason we might want to or the arguments to do this would be using the culture software. So kind of all or nothing. IOW it is silly to argue that the whole shebang is bad since even this argument is part of the whole shebang, and also because it gives us all sorts of useful tools. I certainly agree with that and would not suggest that we throw out the whole shebang.

    I do think parts are problematic and should be eliminated or modified. These vary culture to culture, subculture to subculture and even down to what specific individuals need, want, don't need, are damaged by, etc.

    But I'm saying that they're outdated views and more accurately, that we need to rethink this very deeply. We cannot conclude that being socialized is more inhibiting than freeing. And

    being skeptical about certain types of cultural influence
    — Coben

    would be something that cultural influence also enables.
    Izat So
    Not just socialization enables it. IOW I think parts can feel wrong. Adn not because of other cultural tools and ideas. IOW we are not infinitely malleable. I don't think, say a few hundred years ago, some women might have felt there was something wrong with footbinding or that men did not take them seriously as thinkers required other cultural ideas and tools to make them skeptical about the status quo. Some things fit us better than others. I am certainly using cultural tools right now to argue this, but I think our decisions to fight this or that cultural custom can come from the physical emotional - yes, I acknowledge that the physical emotional is not easily separable from the cultural. But that does not mean that what I am arguing is false, it just means it will not always be easy to tell what is inciting the reaction.

    But again, I want to point out that we could easily write at cross purposes here. When I am skeptical, as you quoted me above, about certain types of cultural influence, this does not mean cultural customs and tools are bad as a whole. That I want the raw human, whatever that is, some feral child become adult. I was saying that I think there are cultural aspects that I think are damaging and worse than others and/or it would better if I and many others simply were without. Not the whole thing, but specifics. Often a rather large array of these things. This may be a banal truth and really off topic from your perspective.

    In a sense I am just making sure you are not arguing that since we would need to use culture tools to criticize aspects of the culture, they are really fine and we shouldn't criticize them. Or that since we need the whole we must accept the parts, any of them. That any criticism of supposedly damaging cultural aspects is wrong headed per se.

    We require to be socialized to develop properly and have options available to us. But we need to get beyond a nature/nurture paradigm to think about this more clearly.Izat So

    Perhaps, I failed to get beyond the nature/nurture paradigm above with my arguments that we are not infinitely malleable and reactions based on feeling. (again I will acknowledge that we can react based on feeling due to cultural tools and customs. And since we grow up, especially these days, with mixtures of cultures and contradictory messages and beliefs, we are bound to be critical based on these contradictions freedom vs. duty as an example off the top of my head, or current ideas about branding oneself and being happy and messages that we should be intimate and open with others. But even beyond these triggers coming out of cultural contradictions, I do think some cultural ideas will fit us better than others. Danish kids have more trouble learning their language than Swedish kids have learning theirs. The former language is much less articulated, the latter follows spelling and is articulating much more clearly. The Danish cultural tools work less well, at least in the beginning, because the bodies can't use them as well. I think we will thrive more with some cultural tools than others - though this is very hard for us to work out hence the culture wars and a whole lot of ridiculous self-help books. I do think we will thrive with some set of cultural tools. I am not arguing we need to throw out the whole and I certainly don't want to.
  • Izat So
    88
    I'd definitely agree with claims that cultural and environmental influences are significant factors in the way that people turn out. But that doesn't mean that someone's brain wouldn't work sans culture, etc.Terrapin Station

    Yes, the brain would work but the person would be intellectually maimed until rehabilitated, which is sometimes not possible.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1XSxjnxgdFY

    it seems inexplicable to claim that it could all be socially constructed, because it would be difficult to account for how anything got started.Terrapin Station

    I don't think "socially constructed" is the right word. Culturally informed maybe? So I don't think that you'd have in mind something like a group of rational, thoroughly self-directed adults living alone and then coming together to decide how to live, do you? I mean, we have always been fundamentally social. Values emerge through interaction and they probably relate to the conditions for human flourishing - until they don't and the society fails.

    there are cultural aspects that I think are damaging and worse than others and/or it would better if I and many others simply were withoutCoben

    Agree. Glad I didn't grow up in a society that practiced human sacrifice or one that thought the shows they put on at the Roman Coliseum were quite acceptable entertainment.
  • Terrapin Station
    12.5k


    I wouldn't say that values "emerge through" interaction. They're just influenced by interaction. But they emerge from an individual's brain.

    Also, what counts as "flourishing" is subjective , at least insofar as we're attaching value connotations to "flourishing."
  • Izat So
    88
    Your assertions are thoroughly missing the perspective I’m sharing. If it weren’t for the ages of civilization behind you, which informed your upbringing and development, you’d do no better than a language-less feral child in forming opinions.
  • Terrapin Station
    12.5k
    Your assertions are thoroughly missing the perspective I’m sharing.Izat So

    I'm disagreeing with the perspective, because I believe it gets things wrong.
  • Izat So
    88
    No, you’re merely naysaying and as I’ve said in the OP I’m not interested in disputing the science ( neuro paleontology and other areas of research), just in exploring the implications.
  • Terrapin Station
    12.5k
    No, you’re merely naysaying and as I’ve said in the OP I’m not interested in disputing the science ( neuro paleontology and other areas of research), just in exploring the implications.Izat So

    I'm going to naysay something if I believe it's incorrect. And if you're going to interact with people in a philosophical context, you need to expect that, and you need to be able to support, against objections, claims you make or endorse. That's how the whole philosophy game works.
  • Izat So
    88
    I don't see that you have provided any supporting claims, hence "naysaying".
    So I don't think that you'd have in mind something like a group of rational, thoroughly self-directed adults living alone and then coming together to decide how to live, do you?Izat So
    Meanwhile, you have not yet explained what a non-socialized human would look like. And you have ignored the concrete evidence of the intellectual damage suffered by feral and abused children.

    So enjoy this instead:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vo6yAJo77-Y
  • I like sushi
    1.3k
    Why don’t you want to discuss this nonsense?

    Our brains evolved to make use of the cultural tools available to us.

    You cannot honestly expect people to just ignore the falsehood because you don’t wish to discuss it do you?

    If I’m being generous it is fair to say that the whole nature nurture question is merely a delineation of convenience. No serious behavioral biologist views this as an either or question - things moved on some times ago.

    I’m pretty sure Dawkins put this mor succinctly so I’d recommend using a quote from him next time - without brains there is no culture.
  • Izat So
    88
    I think you should read more. Try Merlin Donald's A Mind So Rare or perhaps try your like with a search like this one at google scholar: https://www.google.ca/search?q=brain+culture+coevolution+-+google+scholar&source=lnt&tbs=qdr:y&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjZ9Zfv6_DiAhWOvZ4KHYPFA8kQpwUIJg&biw=2246&bih=1329
  • I like sushi
    1.3k
    Oh right! It’s the wording you used. It looked like you were suggesting culture evolved prior to brains .., which makes no sense at all.

    The nature nurture delineation is one of convenience for studying. There is no clear line between the environment and the biological animal. We are what we are because of where we happen to be.

    There has been a pretty well known correlation between the prefrontal cortex and social skills for some time.
  • Izat So
    88
    Quite. Here is an interesting talk on the matter for anyone who is interested. https://vimeo.com/157414065 . Prof Donald is not particularly charismatic but his ideas are pretty interesting.

    Here's a 20 minute version if you haven't time for the whole lecture. It comes with a summary of his position as well: http://newlearningonline.com/new-learning/chapter-6/donald-on-the-evolution-of-human-consciousness
  • I like sushi
    1.3k
    Referring back to Dawkins, his point was that cultural ‘memes’ propagate in a manner independent of any genetic influence, yet they’re obviously reliant upon creatures - not just humans.
  • I like sushi
    1.3k
    You may be interested in a guy called Colin Renfrew (the ‘father’ of cognitive archaeology).

    Note: I watch that tomorrow. Thanks!
  • Izat So
    88
    I don't think you can always separate memes from genetic influence - how about "goat's milk is good for everyone" This affected genes that influence ability to digest milk but would not have been propagated if no adults could successfully digest milk. What becomes important to people has to be at least possible to have an effect on us. Of course no particular "idea" is directly due to genetics. To think that releases all memes in general from genetic influences would be kind of crazy.
  • I like sushi
    1.3k
    You write some confusing sentences:

    What becomes important to people has to be at least possible to have an effect on us.

    Strictly speaking that goes without saying. Generally speaking, which I can only assume you meant, it is untrue. Many people believe things have an effect on them that don’t have an effect on them - we’re not exactly infallible when it comes to assuming X does Y when X is merely coincidental. Our facilities to make the leap from absolute causation to possible causation - combined with an ability to seek evidence - is not exactly in keeping with the statement that what is important to us has a possible effect on us. What has an effect on us is certainly part of our investigation though.

    I don’t even understand your example of goat’s milk? What effected genes? Are you talking about epigenetic effects here? If not I’ve no idea what you’re referring to.
  • Izat So
    88
    of course you are right in that respect.

    Also false beliefs do have an effect, not the one we believe they have. Anti-Vax for instance.

    Here’s a link to an abstract explaining my milk example. in this case it refers to cows but same idea. https://www.nature.com/articles/ng1263

    BTW, Just in case anyone is confused by “culture” I don’t just mean arts and ideas. I mean technology, economy, language, public institutions, social norms, and the prehistorical and historical roots of all that.
  • I like sushi
    1.3k
    Still no idea what you mean? That study merely suggests a correlation. All that seems to say is where cows were domesticated lactose intolerance looks like it factors in to human survival rates ... dubious at best.

    Humans are domesticated too. I remember reading an article a while ago talking about how dogs are more related to humans than chimps simply because we’ve coexisted side by side for millennia. Is that the kind of thing you’re talking about? Selective breeding?
  • Izat So
    88
    It’s not mere coincidence if food availability has an effect on survival rates an on what genes are more likely to be passed on. I’m saying there is gene culture coevolution- mutual influence. Over 8 to 10 thousand years.
  • Izat So
    88
    Also dogs are evolved from wolves and came into existence through being domesticated over the course of about 40k years. They wouldn’t have existed without us. The are not more genetically related to us than chimps, that’s for sure!
  • Bitter Crank
    8.2k
    Our brains evolved to make use of the cultural tools available to us. Brains and culture coevolved.Izat So

    What "cultural tools" were available to the culturally naive brain? The answer has to be "zero". So... where did culture come from? The answer has to be, "Brains made culture."

    A long time ago, when our fictive Homo Erectus "Adam and Eve" found each other and mated--culture not required--thus spawning the Homo sapiens species, what cultural tools did they have available to them?

    Their Homo Erectus predecessors deployed some culture. They used fire and stone tools; their children needed care for an extended period of time. They had to cope with large predators and various environmental challenges using instinctive and learned behaviours. There were almost certainly more cultural practices (aka 'learned behaviours) but what other cultural features they possessed is unknown -- and is likely to stay unknown.

    The predecessors of Homo Erectus probably depended more on instinct and less on culture. If you go back in time, you will eventually reach an ancestor that didn't produce or use culture.

    Brains create culture and are then influenced by their own creations; it's a feedback loop. Creating stone tool culture improved one's survival. Better survival chances allowed brains to exploit more life opportunities, and we are off to the races.
  • Bitter Crank
    8.2k
    They [dogs] are not more genetically related to us than chimps, that’s for sure!Izat So

    Of course not. Dogs happen to be more ingratiating than chimps. Pleasing humans is their specialty. The very fact that chimps are not all that ingratiating, they being willing prone to throw their faeces at us, is evidence of their close genetic relationship to us, because we aren't all that ingratiating either.
  • Bitter Crank
    8.2k
    Oliver Sacks (and others) have reported that deaf children who are not taught any sort of language will create signs among themselves in order to communicate. It's an example of brains creating a culture feature from scratch. The cultural creation is not much of a language, but it is language, none the less.

    In his book "Seeing voices: A Journey Into the World of the Deaf" Sacks also shows how the lives of deaf people (adults, for instance) who have limited and ineffective spoken language imitation tools are enhanced by learning a full-fledged sign language.

    Language seems to be something we are genetically primed to produce. Some degree of cooperation also seems to be biologically programmed. (We are not the only animals that cooperate, and a good share of the time we don't even do it very competently.) Does brain = language = culture? I think so, since without language we don't seem to be able to function together.

    Our species-ancestors were perhaps able to function with much less language than we require--but all this is speculation, since we don't have any video tapes of our primitive forebears.
  • I like sushi
    1.3k
    I don’t know what you mean. Ifs buts and maybes are just that. Anyway, I watch that talk tomorrow and see if that helps shed light in what you mean.

    Thanks
  • I like sushi
    1.3k
    I don’t think Izat So is disputing that.
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