Looking at Michael Tomasello’s Book (1999) “The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition” (Part 1 of 12)

0001 In 1999 AD, Michael Tomasello, then co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, publishes the work before me (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts).

To me, this work marks the start of the author’s twenty year journey, culminating in a theory of human ontogeny, published in 2019.  The word, “ontogeny”, refers to human development and associates to the human phenotype.

0002 What interests me in Tomasello’s journey?

As noted in Comments on Dennis Venema and Scot McKnight’s Book (2017) Adam and the Genome (available at smashwords and other e-book venues), “phenotype” and “adaptation” are not the same.  Instead, these labels apply to distinct actualities that coalesce into a single actuality.  One may call that single actuality, an individual, a species or a genus.  One may also call that single actuality, “a mystery”.

I am interested in the natural history side of the mystery of human evolution.  However, the genetic (or ontogenetic) side cannot be ignored.  Plus, natural history cannot be reduced to genetics, or visa versa

0003 Chapter one of Tomasello’s book is titled, “A Puzzle and a Hypothesis”.

Of course, a puzzle is not a mystery.  A puzzle can be resolved.  A mystery cannot.

The puzzle starts with genetics.  Geneticists have examined the DNA of chimpanzees, bonobos and humans and predict that the last common ancestor lives 6 or 7 Myr (six or seven million years ago).

In contrast, physical anthropologists (natural historians) propose the fossil record noted in the following figure.  With terminological sleight of hand, they refer to human ancestors as “hominins”, even though the old term for any bipedal primate (ape or human) is “hominid”. 

0004 Hmmm. Does the puzzle concern time?

According to genetics, the last common ancestor (LCA) between chimpanzees and humans lives 7 Myr (millions of years ago).  But, little significant shows up in the fossil record until 4 Myr.  Our lineage obviously evolves feet first.  As it turns out, starting around 5 Myr, the extent of tropical vegetation in Africa decreases due to desiccation.  Bipedality is an adaptation to mixed forest and savannah.

0005 The fossil record provides other clues, especially stone tools.

The first stone tools are Oldowan.  Oldowan stones tools are constructed on site.  They are used to scrape meat off of bone and to crack long bones (that are full of fatty marrow).

Acheulean stone tools appear later in the archeological record.  Acheulean stone tools are made beforehand and carried with some intention in mind.  They have the appearance of a giant tooth.  Notably, Acheulean stone tool technology remains unchanged for over a million years.  Innovations in stone-tools follow the domestication of fire.

0006 Surely, these two tables are puzzling.  In the first, the fossil record pertains to changes in hominin phenotypes.  In the second, the fossil record pertains to hominin adaptations, but these adaptations are not phenotypic. They are artifacts.  Are these adaptive artifacts cultural?  Are they behavioral?  I wonder, “Do the words, ‘culture’ and ‘behavior’, capture the matter and the form of these artifacts?”  It is as if an adaptation recognizes matter and generates form.

0007 What is the nature of the adaptation that maintains (and occasionally changes) artifacts, as if these artifacts are phenotypes?

Tomasello suggests that an adaptation is a novel form of social cognition.  Our lineage adapts to a new way of thinking about one another, eventually allowing sociogenesis, new styles of learning and cultural evolution.

0008 Tomasello proposes that there is one adaptation that potentiates subsequent adaptations.

Razie Mah proposes that there is one ultimate niche for our lineage.  The hypothesis is presented in the e-book, The Human Niche (available at smashwords and other e-book venues).

0009 Do Tomasello (in 1999) and Mah (in 2018) propose that our lineage is defined by the same adaptation… er… niche?

What is the difference between an adaptation and a niche?

To these questions, I next attend.


Looking at Michael Tomasello’s Book (1999) “The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition” (Part 12 of 12)

0072 Chapter five is titled, “Linguistic Construction and Event Cognition”.  The perspective-level linguistic communication2c participates in ongoing events2a.

Tomasello claims that joint attention is the key adaptation from which subsequent adaptations proceed.  Surely, the three-level interscope depicted above does not contradict this claim.

After all, the evolution of joint attention should precede the evolution of linguistic communication.

0073 However, there is a disjunction, because great apes show few (if any) tendencies that may be characterized by joint attention.  Even the occasional monkey hunt by chimpanzees is best characterized by several individuals deciding to pursue the same thing at the same time.  The monkey-prey is the focus of attention, but the attention is disjointed, not really coordinated.

So, there must be a period before the evolution of joint attention, where individual intentionality reigns, even when group action takes place.

0074 So, when are these eras happening?

Tomasello wants to place the evolution of joint attention before the time of Homo heidelbergensis, who appears in the fossil record between 800 and 400kyr (thousands of years ago).

To me, this makes sense only so far as this.

Homo heidelbergensis leaves traces of cultural behavior in the archeological record.

To me, such traces indicate that these hominins are in the subsequent build-on era.

So, Tomasello’s timeline may require clarification.

0075 Okay, now that I am nitpicking, I must ask, “Is there a problem with making joint attention2a the foundation of an evolutionary theory?”

Allow me to return to Tomasello’s vision.

0076 According to Comments on Dennis Venema and Scot McKnight’s Book (2017) Adam and the Genome (by Razie Mah, available at smashwords and other e-book venues), adaptation2 and phenotype2 belong to two independent scientific disciplines: natural history and genetics.  Since both belong to situation-level nested forms that rely on different potentials, one cannot situate or contextualize the other.  However, this is precisely what occurs in Tomasello’s vision.

Of course, Tomasello’s vision remains a breakthrough in the framework of modern science.  At least, the phenotype does not correspond to the adaptation.  Instead, the phenotype2c puts culture2b into perspective.  Then, culture2b virtually situates the adaptation of joint attention2a.

Yes, to repeat, the phenotype2c does not directly situate the adaptation2a.  Tomasello’s vision leads upwards from joint attention2a to human culture2b and then to human cognitive development2c. Cognitive development2c puts culture2b into perspective, just as culture2b virtually situates joint attention2a.

Tomasello’s vision is truly remarkable.

0077 And, it is difficult to achieve.

This book is the start of a twenty year journey.

0078 As noted in points 0055 through 0058, the last few chapters cover the cultural (situation) and ontogenetic (perspective) levels of Tomasello’s vision.  As far as I can see, these chapters labor to show how human ontogeny2c (the scientific study of human development) virtually contextualizes human culture2b (a somewhat vaguely defined term that refers to all situations where joint attention2a pertains).  In the process, Tomasello must also explain how human culture2b, especially spoken language and symbolic representation, virtually emerges from and situates joint attention2a.

How ambitious is that?

0079 Here a picture of the virtual nested form in the realm of actuality (the vertical column in secondness in Tomasello’s vision, portrayed as a nested form).

The normal context of the behavior of newborns and infants2c virtually brings the actuality of spoken language and symbolic representation2b into the potential of a foundational adaptation2a.

0080 Yes, this is very ambitious, and the final three chapters of this book strain to meet the challenge.  They should be read with this in mind.  The last three chapters are well composed.  Tomasello is an excellent writer.  He is very organized.  But, his exposition is like lifting a two-hundred pound octopus out of the water.  As soon as one arm is lifted, a different one slides back into the murk.

0081 Plus, there is the lingering issue of natural history.

Here is a picture with Tomasello’s guesses.

Tomasello makes two associations that make no sense at all, when considering joint attention2b as an adaptation to sociogenesis1b in the normal context of natural selection3b.  Sociogenesis1b is the human niche1b.  The human niche1b is the potential1b of triadic relations2a.  Consequently, the adaptation of joint attention2a should be marked in the archaeological record with the appearance of the Homo genus, around 1.8Myr (millions of years ago).

0082 With that in mind, I close this examination of the first step in Tomasello’s journey, scientifically exploring who we are.  The next step is a book that expands and clarifies this first step.  It is published nine years later.


Looking at Daniel Dennett’s Book (2017) “From Bacteria To Bach and Back” (Part 4 of 20)

0027 What about the other way around?

What if the specifying sign-relation is analogous to Darwin’s paradigm?

Well, let me just transfer the sign-labels from one to the other.

0028 Gibson’s term, “affordance”1b, replaces “niche”1b, as the potential of the specifying actuality2a.

To me, “affordance”1b suggests an immediate potential, which I associate to a proximate niche.  An affordance is like money in one’s pocket.  That is always good and should be sought after.  An affordance is like owing someone who wants to be paid.  That is always bad and should be avoided.

0029 So, what are biologists doing when they “reverse engineer” an apparent adaptation in order to explain it?

They start with something like a specifying sign-object2b and end up with something like a specifying sign-vehicle2a.  They reverse engineer something that is analogous to a specifying sign.  A specifying sign-interpretant (natural selection3band affordance1b) designs a sign-object (an adaptation2b) in regards to a sign-vehicle (an actuality independent of the adapting species2a).

The result?

An actuality independent of the adapting species2a (SVs) stands for an adaptation2b (SOs) in regards to natural selection3b operating on an afforance1b (SIs).

0030 If Darwin’s paradigm is like a specifying sign, then biologists work from something like a sign-object towards something like a sign-vehicle.

0031 The term, “design”, is a point of contention.

Replace the word, “adaptation2b” with the term, “designed product2b“.

For an engineer, the normal context is design3b.  Aristotle’s causes are material, instrumental, final and formal.  Design is a formal cause.  Note how all four of Aristotle’s causes come into play in the following figure.

For a biologist, the normal context is natural selection3b, the actuality is an adaptation2b and the potential is labeled “niche”1b.

For a philosopher or an engineer, the normal context is design3b, the actuality is a developed product2b, and the potential is labeled “afforadance”1b.

0032 In the final chapter of Dennett’s book, the author asks the question, “When will experts start using natural selection3b as one of their tools for designing3b in their various enterprises?”

What a wonderful question.

I think the answer has something to do with arrangements for payment1b.

Exactly who are engineers working for?

God or mammon?


Looking at Daniel Dennett’s Book (2017) “From Bacteria To Bach and Back” (Part 18 of 20)

0183 If human culture is to be modeled as the replicative success of memes, then what would empirio-schematic researchentail?

Well, if the term, “meme”, labels a cultural adaptation2b, in the normal context of cultural selection3b operating on various affordances1b, then the actuality independent of the adapting species2a must relate to the scholastic interscope of how humans think2a.

Indeed, I may highlight one particular element in the scholastic interscope2a, the species impressa2a, as the premier feature of the actuality independent of the adapting species2a.

0184 But, didn’t I offer the above content-level actuality2a as a technical definition for the term, “meme”?

So, how can the term, “meme”, also stand for a situationb-level actuality2 in the normal context of cultural selection3b?

If that is not confusing enough, consider that the content-level actuality2a also belongs to the manifest image (which is described by all three actualities of the scholastic interscope).

Plus, we are conscious of a manifest image, not its scientific image.

0185 Consciousness is the user-illusion of competition among neurons for active synapses3b.  Synaptic networks form and are maintained in response to memes.  The qualia that we feel are most likely memes, sign-objects of interventional signs substantiating sign-vehicles of specifying signs.

Consequently, another term for [substance] is [implicit abstraction].  The sign-objects of interventional signs (SOi) are like matter.  The sign-vehicles of specifying signs (SVs) are like form.

So, a meme may be denoted as SOi [implicit abstraction] SVs.

0186 Another word for [substance] might be, “projection”.

In projection, the situation-level potential1b projects continuity into the content-level contiguity.

For example, there is no motion in cinema.  There is only a rapid sequence of images cast upon a screen.  The user illusion projects (or implicitly abstracts) smooth motion in time.  This is only possible if the situation allows it.

Similarly, there is no sweetness to the fact that the neighbor’s cat is dead.  There is only a corpse in the refrigerator and Daisy’s querying gaze, asking, “When are you going to give the dead cat back to me?”

So, the term, “meme”, also labels a neural network2b, in the normal context of neural selection3b operating on the potential of creating and destroying synapses1b, in the process of situating a species impressa2a.

But, once again, didn’t I offer the above content-level actuality2a as a technical definition for the term, “meme”?

Yes, but neural networks are clearly implicated, since they constitute the adaptation2b, and the adaptation is um… what?… a meme?

0187 If that is not enough, the designs of the most intelligent human designer cannot be compared to the adaptivity that arises from a variation of Darwinian natural selection operating on units of culture, in all their varieties.  Why?  There is always a cultural… er… cognitive space that even the most neurotic and attentive-to-detail engineer cannot plan for.  

Consequently, cultural selection3b yields memes that survive and flourish on their own and some of these memes are so strange and resilient that they appear miraculous, even to the positivist intellect.  Therefore, they must be ruled out as “not scientific”.

0188 Here is one confounded empirio-schematic judgment characterizing this discussion.

Here is another.