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Cognitive Gadgets: The Cultural Evolution of Thinking
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2020 > BS 168 with Cecilia Heyes

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Ginger Campbell (gingercampbell) | 321 comments Mod
I have just posted BS 168 with Cecilia Heyes, author of Cognitive Gadgets: The Cultural Evolution of Thinking.

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Please post your feedback and comments.


message 2: by Bryan (new) - added it

Bryan (bryankam) | 2 comments I really loved this conversation with Cecilia Hayes.

When Heyes spoke about how parents might allow infants to associate internal sensations with perceptions via imitation, this really reminded me of a Seth/Tsarkis paper from 2018 called "Being a Beast Machine," specifically Box 5, "The Development of the Interoceptive Self" which I've pasted below.

In particular, I'm really curious whether selfhood, the experience of being/having an individual, separate self, might itself be a cognitive gadget, rather than a cognitive instinct. In that case it would not just be language that could be lost, but even individuality. Heyes' work combined with Seth's seem to suggest how selfhood might be "transmitted."



From Seth/Tsarkis "Being a Beast Machine":

Box 5. Development of the Interoceptive Self

If interoceptive inference is needed for keeping the organism within regimes of physiological viability, at the beginning of human life this process is critically dependent on caregivers. Human infants are born lacking the ability to perform autonomously the actions needed for addressing their internal sensations and needs. From eating and drinking to thermoregulation and sleep, their bodily regulation depends on others; specifically, on intersubjective carer–infant- embodied and affective interactions.

Such intersubjective approaches have recently been extended to interoception [19]. The development of visceral and emotional neural circuitry depends on a caregiver–infant relationship [100,101], often conceptualised as homeostatic regulation [101]. The first months post-partum are characterised by relative instability of key cardiovascular variables (e. g., heart rate variability, vagal tone) that become moderately stable by the end of the first year [100]. Importantly, their levels depend on caregiving [102] such as parent–infant contingency during interaction [103] and are predictive of self- regulation abilities at the age of 3 years [104].

Beyond homeostasis per se, such interactions enable the infant to learn to associate specific homeostatic needs (e.g., pain) and their behavioural expression (e.g., crying) to contingent allostatic responses from the carer (e.g., soothing rather than feeding; see [19]). Given the infant’s inability to perform the required allostatic actions, it is the caregiver’s task to do so (see Glossary and also [105]). This depends on their ability to correctly infer the hidden causes of the infant’s putative interoceptive prediction error and provide an appropriate response. The accumulation of such responses, derived from precise interoceptive predictions performed by the carer on behalf of the infants, will eventually lead to the construction, by the infant, of a predictive model of their interoceptive body. Consequently, imprecise inference of the infant’s hidden causes of interoceptive changes may hinder the development of an allostatically adequate model. On this view, early coupled intersubjective embodied iterations provide the necessary precision- weighting, so that it is with others that we develop a sense of ourselves from within.

It has been recently shown that parental interoceptive sensitivity, measured neurally (as reflected in anterior insula activity) as well as behaviourally, during the first months of parenting was predictive of their children's somatic symptoms 6 years later [106]. These findings provide tentative support to the crucial role that carer–child interactions play in supporting interoceptive development, and they chart two pathways that may shape interoceptive sensitivity cross- generationally. The first pathway, consisting of the amygdala and oxytocin system, supports attention to arousal modulations in response to social cues. The second pathway, involving anterior insula, supports higher-order inter- oceptive representations that underpin embodiment and self-awareness.

Such interoceptive approaches to self-development coupled with new methods for assessing interoceptive sensitivity in infants, such as the Infant Heartbeat Task (iBEAT [20]), will enable us to study the ontogenetic development of interoception, mentalisation and metacognition of bodily experience [92,107] and will advance our understanding of developmental disorders such as autism [90,108], eating disorders [109], and affective disorders [18].


message 3: by Gino (new)

Gino Fortunato | 1 comments As always, this was an interesting pod. There is one comment in the pod that doesn't make sense to me. It has to do with reading. The comment was that reading can not have an evolutionary basis because its <5000 years old and that's not enough time to build the genetics. But isn't the relevant time frame that it took to create the capability that we could? It's the evolutionary changes that happened that allow us to read that are relevant, right? Once we as a species can read, the pressure to evolve to the capability is removed since we can already do it. (i think!)


message 4: by Bryan (last edited Mar 03, 2020 02:21AM) (new) - added it

Bryan (bryankam) | 2 comments Gino wrote: "As always, this was an interesting pod. There is one comment in the pod that doesn't make sense to me. It has to do with reading. The comment was that reading can not have an evolutionary basis bec..."

Good question! I think the argument on the podcast was that <5000 years is not enough time for the genetics to change, therefore the capability must have already been there, and it probably depends on fairly minimal sequencing tools in the brain. In other words, it's a cognitive gadget, built on top of more general purpose cognitive instincts. So yes, you're right that the relevant question is the development of those more general capabilities.

Most people agree that reading is a hack on other underlying capabilities, given that people who are not trained to read remain illiterate. There is nothing in the genes that leads inevitably to reading.

But the more controversial question is speaking. People like Pinker argue strongly (in The Language Instinct) that speaking is hardwired. If you put two children on an island with no adults, they will create a new language, because the basis for speaking (as opposed to reading) is genetic. This means Pinker is arguing for a "large toolkit," i.e., a lot of stuff that is hard-wired.

If I understood correctly, Heyes originally assumed that this view, which is widely held among linguists probably including Chomsky (but less so among cognitive scientists/neuroscientists), was true. Spoken language could not be "lost." But when she began to investigate it, it looked like areas of the brain that we thought were dedicated solely to language are actually more general purpose sequencing areas.

Funnily enough, I was reading David Epstein's Range (which is excellent) and he mentions this researcher named Charles Limb. I looked him up, and he wrote a paper on how musical improvisation uses areas of the brain that were previously thought to be language areas. This supports Heyes' hunch, which is that spoken language depends on the kinds of general capacities that probably developed for other reasons than just speaking. And this would be evidence that the capacity for speaking is not in the genes, but rather it is taught, like reading.


message 5: by Mitchell (last edited Mar 03, 2020 10:46PM) (new)

Mitchell | 22 comments Gino wrote: "There is one comment in the pod that doesn't make sense to me. It has to do with reading. The comment was that reading can not have an evolutionary basis because its <5000 years old and that's not enough time to build the genetics."

The way to think about the origin of reading is as the result of the human capacity for symbolism. We know that apes and some other animals have the ability to associate symbols with objects or even concepts, but humans are far better at it. Language is all about associating words with meaning. We humans are so facile with symbolic language that we can garner meaning from thousands of sound combinations, but this symbolic feature is not restricted to language. As Bryan pointed out, music has symbolic characterstics as well and so does reading. It's not that they are themselves innate, but rather they are built on the innate capacity for symbol-making.

That being said, not everybody has the same potential to absorb and manipulate symbols thru reading. Dyslexia and related conditions show that the human brain is in the throes of a several million-year evolution in which different traits are being tried out as the brain grows. Brain wiring differences result in all kinds of "phasias" or other so-called disorders to see which provide fitness value under the auspices of natural selection. However, those differences may be adaptive in other social/cultural environments, but not so much in our modern, technological one. One of the smartest people I know is severely dyslexic, so we shouldn't be judgmental.

Bottom line: the capacity for symbolism is genetic, and our ability to communicate thru language, reading/writing, etc, leverages this core inborn feature.


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