Looking at Michael Tomasello’s Book (2014) “A Natural History of Human Thinking” (Part 9 of 22)

0245 Can intentionality evolve?

Well, is intentionality an adaptation?

Or, is it a phenotype?

0246 Tomasello’s discussion suggests, to me, that shared intentionality (a cognitive trait) and joint attention (a behavioral trait) are different manifestations of the same adaptation.

The cognitive development of newborns and infants demonstrate a phenotypic expression of these adaptations.  But, the phenotype requires the presence of human culture in order to actualize.

Consequently, for Tomasello, human culture2b virtually situates the adaptation of joint attention2a.  Plus, the phenotype of early human cognitive development2c virtually puts human culture2b into perspective.

0247 Here is a diagram of Tomasello’s vision.

0248 Of course, there is a problem.  For biologists, phentoype2b virtually situates the individual’s, species’, or genus’ DNA2a.

Here is a diagram.

0249 Another problem is that adaptation2b virtually situates an actuality independent of the adapting species2a.

Here is a picture.

0250 All biologists face this conundrum.  A phenotype2b is not the same as its corresponding adaptation2b.  Each demands its own discipline, genetics for phenotype2b and natural history for adaptation2b.  Yet, both these terms apply to the same actuality2, whether one calls that actuality2, “individual”, “species” or “genus”.

The category-based nested forms for natural selection3H and body development2V intersect.

Here is a figure.

0251 According to the masterwork, How To Define the Word “Religion” (by Razie Mah, available at smashwords and other e-book venues), intersections characterize the message underlying the word.  Intersections are mysterious.

0252 Biologists are forced to deal with intersections in their subject matter. But, as scientists, they want to avoid mysteries.  Consequently, the biological literature strains to show that the phenotype and the adaptation are same, even though they are not the same. But, if they not the same, then either genetics takes precedence over natural history or visa versa.

0253 Tomasello’s arc of inquiry says that genetics takes precedence over natural history.

Oops, I meant to say, “…phenotype2c puts adaptation2a into perspective.”

Okay, I bet that he would claim that innate cognitive developments are… um… adaptations.

0254 Tomasello’s arc of inquiry, starting in 1999 with the publication of The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition and ending in 2019 with the publication of Becoming Human, contains rich illustrations of the cognitive behavior of human newborns and infants as… well… as… a frank admission that observations and measurements of the cognitive behaviors of great apes leads to models that do not get very far past individual intentionality.

0255 Indeed, descriptions of the elaborate experiments performed by cognitive scientists working with great apes in captivity show that apes recognize the intentions of others and… well… are not much interested in sharing their own intentions.  Unless of course, when intentions come into conflict, as in “I got the banana and I can see that you want the banana but I’m going to eat it now.”

0256 Finally, another aspect of Tomasello’s choice concerns the way that the eras of individual, joint and collective intentionality map onto the archaeological record.   Tomasello misses the obvious connections that are rendered in this examination.


Tomasello’s vision elevates phenotype over adaptation.

0257 Tomasello’s vision is very clever, because it situates joint attention2a with culture2b and contextualizes culture2b with human cognitive development2c, which requires human culture in order to actualize.

But, in doing so, Tomasello’s work loses a certain… how shall I say it?… flavor.

It is the flavor that everyone who opens a book about who we are and how we came to be wants to taste.

I want to put the scroll in my mouth and taste the sweetness of mystery, not the blandness of explanations that… in one fashion or another… confuse the distinction between phenotype and adaptation.

0258 With this admonition in mind, I offer a libation.

If Tomasello presents a mystery, here is the genetics paradigm.

Here is the Darwinian paradigm.

0259 Here is (my estimation) of Tomasello’s vision as a mystery.

0260 Place this intersection into the slot for species impressa2a and taste how we (humans) are happening3a and how the Lebenswelt that we evolved in fashions ‘us coming to be’1a.

Taste the mystery.