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What makes us smart?

Henrich, Joseph and Muthukrishna, Michael ORCID: 0000-0002-7079-5166 (2023) What makes us smart? Topics in Cognitive Science. ISSN 1756-8757

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Identification Number: 10.1111/tops.12656


How did humans become clever enough to live in nearly every major ecosystem on earth, create vaccines against deadly plagues, explore the oceans depths, and routinely traverse the globe at 30,000 feet in aluminum tubes while nibbling on roasted almonds? Drawing on recent developments in our understanding of human evolution, we consider what makes us distinctively smarter than other animals. Contrary to conventional wisdom, human brilliance emerges not from our innate brainpower or raw computational capacities, but from the sharing of information in communities and networks over generations. We review how larger, more diverse, and more optimally interconnected networks of minds give rise to faster innovation and how the cognitive products of this cumulative cultural evolutionary process feedback to make us individually “smarter”—in the sense of being better at meeting the challenges and problems posed by our societies and socioecologies. Here, we consider not only how cultural evolution supplies us with “thinking tools” (like counting systems and fractions) but also how it has shaped our ontologies (e.g., do germs and witches exist?) and epistemologies, including our notions of what constitutes a “good reason” or “good evidence” (e.g., are dreams a source of evidence?). Building on this, we consider how cultural evolution has organized and distributed cultural knowledge and cognitive tasks among subpopulations, effectively shifting both thinking and production to the level of the community, population, or network, resulting in collective information processing and group decisions. Cultural evolution can turn mindless mobs into wise crowds by facilitating and constraining cognition through a wide variety of epistemic institutions—political, legal, and scientific. These institutions process information and aid better decision-making by suppressing or encouraging the use of different cultural epistemologies and ontologies.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2023 Cognitive Science Society LLC.
Divisions: Psychological and Behavioural Science
Subjects: R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0321 Neuroscience. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry
P Language and Literature
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Date Deposited: 13 Jul 2023 09:39
Last Modified: 26 May 2024 05:54

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