Monday, May 01, 2006

Social Learning

At a time when the news seems to be bad so much of the time, I have to admit that science gives me hope.

Here's a great article in Scientific American that makes a startling claim as to what it was that made primates so smart- namely, that it was culture that gave us smarts, and not vice-versa.

"For slowly developing animals that live in socially tolerant societies, natural selection will tend to reward a slight improvement in the ability to learn through observation more strongly than a similar increase in the ability to innovate, because in such a society, an individual can stand on the shoulders of those in both present and past generations. We will then expect a feed-forward process in which animals can become more innovative and develop better techniques of social learning because both abilities rely on similar cognitive mechanisms. Hence, being cultural predisposes species with some innovative capacities to evolve toward higher intelligence. This, then, brings us to the new explanation for cognitive evolution. "

This goes with my recent posts as well because it suggests that we actually evolved through what they call social learning in the paper. Anyway, this article is very exciting!


The Pagan Temple said...

That makes a lot of sense. Also, I have wondered if the ingestion of psycedelic substances humans came across on the course of their migrations might have had a little to do with it.

Rufus said...

I think you might want to look at Terrence McKenna's stuff on this topic.

Another good book on it is "Breaking Open the Head"