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Cognitive Gadgets: The Cultural Evolution of Thinking

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  97 ratings  ·  23 reviews
"This is an important book and likely the most thoughtful of the year in the social sciences... Highly recommended, it is likely to prove one of the most thought-provoking books of the year."--Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution

How did human minds become so different from those of other animals? What accounts for our capacity to understand the way the physical world works, to
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published April 16th 2018 by Belknap Press
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Feb 01, 2019 rated it did not like it
Could not go past page 60. The academic style, with teleosemantic use of words and references every other line (Nieto, 2019) killed my interest.
Patrik Lindenfors
Apr 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
All in all a fantastic book. And obviously correct in its conclusions (meaning that I agree). The book sets out to show how recent human evolution (last 300 000 thousand years, at least) to a large degree has taken place in the cultural realm rather than in the biological realm. According to Heyes, we don't only learn facts, but also what she terms "cognitive gadgets" - thinking tools such as reading, reasoning, how to imitate and how to "mind read". These abilities have evolved over time, meani ...more
Feb 14, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Meni je bila izvrsna. Potpuno novi pogled na odnos nature-nurture, mnogo profinjeniji, primjeren onome što smo do sada o tome naučili.
Like the closely related Natural History of Human Morality, this book presents a very important new idea in a relatively inaccessible form. The thesis perfectly answers a question that's been floating around in my mind for the past 6 months or so of learning about cultural evolution, essentially completing the puzzle (at least in outline) of human knowledge. Heyes offers a metaphor for the problem that is great for the first 5 times but does get a bit thin after the 20th: cultural evolution stud ...more
Simon Lavoie
Feb 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Oxford professor of psychology Cecilia Heyes makes the case for cultural evolutionary psychology as a research program and framework, which she forcefully posits on many key points as continuous or divergent with evolutionary psychology and with cultural evolutionism of the californian school (Boyd, Richerson, Henrich) or of the Paris school (Sperber, Boyer, Morin).

Heyes's main point is (in Augustine's terms) that evolution through variation, selection and inheritance not only accounts for gris
Sep 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
'The influence of cultural evolution is not confined to the grist of human thought. It has also shaped the mills. Distinctively human cognitive processes are products of cultural group selection. They are not cognitive instincts, but cognitive gadgets.

On the cognitive gadgets view, rather than taxing an outdated mind, new technologies - social media, robotics, virtual reality - merely provide the stimulus for further cultural evolution of the human mind.'
Virginia MD
Jan 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Cognitive Gadgets: The Cultural Evolution of Thinking by Cecilia Heyes

In a recent interview* Professor Cecilia Heyes told me that the goal of her book Cognitive Gadgets: The Cultural Evolution of Thinking is to ask why human lives are “so strange, relative to those of other animals.” She particularly wants to understand why our minds seem to be so different from that of other animals. Heyes has spent her career as a cognitive psychologist studying phenomena such as learning, so-called “mind read
Aug 30, 2018 added it
The debates over cultural evolution are fascinating, and much more interesting than the old school philosophy of mind debates that I grew up with in grad school.

Heyes's "outsider" view onto debates in linguistics is an interesting cross-disciplinary sociological report in itself.
Tiago Faleiro
Dec 27, 2020 rated it liked it
The book argues for cultural evolutionary psychology, which tries to bridge evolutionary psychology and cultural evolutionary theory. With cognitive science as the foundation, it argues that what makes us special is cognitive gadgets. Our cognitive ability is constructed through childhood with social interaction, and not as reliant on instincts as much as we think.

It goes over several fields arguing why the view that our cognitive framework is genetic is misguided. For example, in language, she
Jan 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Super thought-provoking and full of great new information, which is hard to do in mind/behavior books that usually repeat so many of the same stories with different emphases. If anything the problem with this book was that it went too fast. It did a great job of acknowledging competing theories and admitting humility towards its own stance, but I wish it had indulged itself in explaining/fortifying its own positions a bit more. Nonetheless, the evidence presented is highly compelling, particular ...more
Farhan Samir
Aug 15, 2020 rated it did not like it
Did not finish at around Chapter 5.

I saw Hayes' keynote presentation at a conference and was impressed by the lucidity of their talk, creativity of experimental setups, and ostensible impact of the results they presented so I thought to pick up their newest book.

I was as shocked at how unintelligibly this is written as I was amazed by the brief summary of their research at the conference. As an example, the new, impactful framework that is presented in the book is supposed to bridge the gap be
Dec 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science-soft
One of the most compelling books of cognitive science I've read in a long time. Heyes covers a huge amount of ground in a relatively short book: her core argument involves a novel view of the evolutionary basis of human behavior based on a comprehensive theory of metacognitive capacities (the "gadgets" of the title) and how they're passed on, but in demonstrating her idea of "cultural evolutionary psychology" she also gives compelling reinterpretations of how humans learn to pay attention, to im ...more
Jason Stiles
May 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book is not for the layman, but is still accessible. It describes the theory of cultural evolutionary psychology a.k.a "cognitive gadgets". The theory describes how the distinctively human characteristics of the mind (literacy, numeracy, language, mirroring, mind reading) can be developed from general purpose structures. This is divergent from other theories that rely more on cognitive instincts (genetics) to describe these same characteristics of the mind.

I was hoping to get some clues as
Robert Gebhardt
To be frank, I don't think I'm smart enough to understand this book. As least with regards to its subject matter. I probably should have given up after a chapter or two. I only stuck with it because what little I did understand was interesting, and I was curious about the chapter on language (which also confused me).

Keeping all that in mind, this is probably a moronic comment, but it seemed to me that many of her conclusions could have been reached by just noting the differences between various
Jul 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I learned things and changed my outlook on some topics - a valuable read.

(Although it dwells longer on what shade of belief each academic subdiscipline and school of thought holds than I really care about. I guess I at least finally learned about what exactly made Chomski so prominent in linguistics and how he's very likely wrong.)
Aug 25, 2020 rated it liked it
Hard to track with. Lots of domain specific terms used successively. I found myself zoning out a lot. Perhaps it was simply too erudite for me, I don't know. I do love a good Chomsky take down though. ...more
Sep 23, 2019 rated it it was ok
Don't recommend as an audiobook. Mixture of colloquial and academic. ...more
Aug 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Great theory combining evopsych and cultural evolutionary science. Definitely something to upset the older paradigms.
Sep 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
The engaging premise is clearly and humbly argued. It is also generously framed to guide a non-expert through academic debates and available evidence.
Brian Kloosterman
May 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
It's too short. More, please ...more
Jun 04, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook, library
An argument for nurture (culture) over nature (genes) as the primary influence for many of our patterns of thought.
Nov 24, 2018 rated it liked it
Great addition to the debate as to what exactly is human nature. The author refrains from going far in her conclusions, which is fine, but that would have been the most interesting part of the book so it's a bit of a letdown, but it's certainly an important book nonetheless. ...more
Aug 11, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
More of a survey.
Interesting bits -- maybe language doesn't have critical period or specialize neural hardware.
Petr Špecián
rated it really liked it
Nov 26, 2018
Tom Morgan
rated it it was amazing
May 09, 2018
rated it really liked it
Aug 29, 2018
rated it really liked it
Jan 06, 2019
rated it it was amazing
Aug 20, 2019
rated it really liked it
Nov 12, 2019
Ken Schneider
rated it it was amazing
Nov 26, 2018
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Brain Science Pod...: * BS 168 with Cecilia Heyes 5 26 Mar 03, 2020 10:41PM  

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“As I stated in Chapter 4, and justified in Chapters 5–8, I believe the genetic assimilation hypothesis is at odds with the evidence from cognitive science. Time and again the evidence indicates wealth, not poverty, of the stimulus: covariation between the development of distinctively human cognitive mechanisms and opportunities for learning (Chapter 2). This covariation does not rule out, in principle, the possibility that genetic evolution has speeded up the relevant learning processes. However, I have not been able to find positive evidence that this kind of genetic assimilation has occurred—for ex­ample, evidence that learning is faster in natural than unnatural conditions, or that identical twins are more alike than fraternal twins. Indeed, in cases where positive evidence of genetic influence has been sought, the signs have pointed in the opposite direction. For example, people are not slower to associate body movements with unnatural stimuli, events that our ancestors would not have encountered, and identical twins are no more alike in their imitative ability than fra­ternal twins (McEwen et al., 2007; see Chapter 6). So, the current evidence suggests that our cognitive gadgets have not been genetically assimilated. But if this is true, why is it true?” 0 likes
“There are a number of potential answers. It could be that cogni­tive gadgets have not been genetically assimilated because they are locally but not globally optimal, or that genetic assimilation has been obstructed by fitness valleys, or by lack of appropriate genetic variance (West­Eberhard, 2003; 2005). But my guess is that the most impor­tant factor is the speed of environmental change. Distinctively human cognitive mechanisms need to be nimble, capable of changing faster than genetic evolution allows, because their job is to track specific, la­bile features of the environment. For example, social learning strate­gies track “who knows” in a particular social group, something that changes with shifting patterns in the division of labor and, there­ fore, of expertise. Imitation tracks communicative gestures, ritual movements, and manual skills that change as groups and, through the cultural evolution of grist, new group markers, bonding rituals, and technologies. And mindreading, like language, must not only track ex­ternally driven change in the phenomena it seeks to describe—for example, economically and politically driven fluctuations in the de­gree to which behavior really is controlled by social roles and situa­ tions rather than beliefs and desires—but also self­generated change. Because it has regulative as well as predictive functions (McGeer, 2007), changes in mindreading can alter their explanatory target—the way the mind actually works” 0 likes
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