International Society for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology

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TUESDAY, JULY 7  /  17:30 - 19:00  /  DS-1520
Individual papers
Human Nature, Language and Causation In the Mind

The evolutionary criterion of human nature

Jessica Laimann (University of Oxford, United Kingdom)

According to Edouard Machery’s evolutionary criterion of human nature, natural human traits are those traits which are common among humans ‘as the result of organic evolutionary processes.’ I discuss two different ways to interpret this criterion. First, a ‘nature versus learning’ approach that contrasts natural traits with learned ones; second, an approach referring to evolved human cognitive architecture. The first approach, I will argue, fails, whereas the second approach either results in an all-inclusive category of the natural that leaves no room to distinguish between natural and non-natural human traits, or results in a distinction that makes significant references to environmental factors, thereby suggesting an altogether different classificatory scheme.

Returning language to biology by the way of culture

Teresa Blasco Máñez (Universidad de Oviedo, Spain)

As we advance in our understanding of evolutionary biology and the mechanisms underlying language, the biological plausibility of the standard nativist hypothesis regarding the evolution of a dedicated language faculty becomes more amenable to criticisms. Indeed, cultural and usage-based approaches to language evolution have provided important insights as to how the emergence of particular linguistic features and structures can be delivered through iterated learning. Importantly, cultural transmission studies in songbirds have provided evidence for the emergence of systematically structured communication systems, supporting the view that the capacity for complex vocal control –traditionally regarded as an externalisation device– might actually bear a close relation to syntax. Both positions, however, attempt to explain linguistic structure by black-boxing cognitive development: nativists, on the one hand, by positing the sudden evolution of a syntactic component. On the other hand, cultural, evolutionary approaches tend to focus on external pressures shaping the communication system but abstract away from the organic processes that allow for their emergence. I address these issues by adopting an evolutionary developmental (EvoDevo) perspective on language structure. I argue that EvoDevo provides the conceptual toolkit for tackling –from an “internalist” perspective- the question of the emergence and impact of the capacity for complex vocal control, and the set of interrelated questions concerning language, such as the intersection between speech and grammar. By emphasizing the notion of cognitive development as activity-dependent and grounding it on sensory-motor processes, I show there is no clearcut divide between psychological development and brain development. This perspective allows us to shed new light on means to integrate ontogenetic data from other vocal learning species, and offers means to reframe Darwin’s “Musical Protolanguage” hypothesis for the evolution of language in contemporary terms.

Two-way causation in human mind biological organization

Ximena Gonzalez-Grandon** (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico)

The claim made in this abstract is that there is no current theory of human mind organisation when neural correlates are involved. Traditional theories deny the multi-level nature of biological interactions, with lower level molecular processes just as dependent on higher-level organisation and processes and viceversa when an agent is imagining, thinking or reasoning. I think one of the errors of classical cognitive sciences and philosophy of mind was to assume far too readily that causation is one-way. As Chalmers (2000:31) say, “A neural correlate of consciousness (NCC) is a minimal neural representational system N such that representation of a content in N is sufficient, under conditions C, for representation of that content in consciousness”. In this definition the causal-explanatory relationship is one-way, from internal neural events to conscious experience. I propose a two-way account using the tools of dynamical systems theory based on two enactive propositions: (1) that between neural events and mental activity are reciprocal (two-way) relationships, where relations co-emerge and co-specify because the functional components of the system are inseparable from the relations (the organization) they take part in, so they are defined by their relational and emergent ones (Bich, 2012, 2013; Longo y Montevil, 2013). And (2) that the mental processes cut across brain–body–world demarcations, rather than being neural events o correlates (Thompson y Varela, 2001, González, 2014; Peruzzi, 2013). According to this, a single descriptive modality express the inadequacy of a one-way causation model, and shows the necessity to move to explanatory models which accounts for both the concept of emergence and how the system is organized in different oranization levels and the reciprocity relationship between them.