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 Michael Tomasello’s Book (2008) “Origins of Human Communication” (Part 1 of 12)

0083 In 2008 AD, Michael Tomasello, then co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, publishes the work before me (MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts).

This book is the second marker in Tomasello’s intellectual journey.  I start following his journey with Looking at Michael Tomasello’s Book (1999) “The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition” (appearing in Razie Mah’s January 2024 blog).  That is the first marker.

0084 The second marker starts as an academic presentation in 2006.  His Jean Nicod Lectures, in Paris, concerns his work on great ape gestural communication, human infant gestural communication and human children’s language development.  These lectures attempt to construct one coherent account of the evolution of hominin communication.

Oh, that terminology.  Where Tomasello inscribes, “human”, I say, “hominin”.

0085 From my examination at the first marker, I already have a guess about Tomasello’s vision.

Here is a picture.

0086 Note that the titles of the levels have changed.

Also note that human ontogeny2c or models of child development currently built by psychologists2c, associates to phenotypes and genetics.  Joint attention2a or models in evolutionary psychology concerning hominin cognition2a,associates to adaptations and natural history.

0087 Tomasello uses the word, “origins”, in his title.  Does this suppose that human communication may be regarded as a phenotypic trait or as an adaptation?  Or maybe, the conjunction is “and”.

In the above figure, I get the idea that the phenotype virtually contextualizes the adaptation.  But, that is not really the case.  The phenotype2b virtually situates a species’ or individual’s DNA2a.

Here is a diagram.

0088 Not surprisingly, this diagram in genetics has the same two-level relational structure as Darwin’s paradigm for natural history.

0089 What does this imply?

A mystery stands at the heart of evolutionary biology.

The adaptation is not the same as the phenotype.

Yet, together, they constitute a single actuality, which may be labeled a genus, a species or an individual.

Two category-based nested forms intersect in the realm of actuality.  It is like two streets that meet.  The intersection is constituted by both streets.  As far as traffic goes, intersections are sites of dangerous contradictions.  Traffic from one street should not collide with traffic from the other street.  I suppose that the intersection of adaptation and phenotypecarries irreconcilable contradictions as well.

0090 Perhaps, Tomasello’s vision may be resolved by considering both joint attention2a and human ontogeny2c as adaptations, even though the latter is technically, phenotypic.

I suggest this because selection is the normal context for all three levels in Tomasello’s vision.  Since natural selection goes with adaptation, the vision is one of natural history.

0091 That implies that the potentials for all three levels are like niches.

Human ontogeny2c is an adaptation that emerges from and situates the potential of human culture2b, where human culture2b is like an actuality independent of the adapting species of individuals undergoing development3c.

Human culture2b is like an adaptation that emerges from and situates the potential of joint attention2a, where joint attention2a is like an actuality independent of the adapting ways of doing things3b.

Joint attention2a is like an adaptation that emerges from and situates sociogenesis1a, where sociogenesis1a is the potential of… what?… I have run out of actualities independent of the adapting species.

0092 Here is where the foundational Tomasello-Mah synthesis enters the picture.

Ah, so here is a problem.

Tomasello’s vision of the origins of human communication conceals the actuality underlying sociogenesis1athe potential1a giving rise to joint attention2a.  The human niche is the potential of triadic relations.

0093 What about the subscripts in the preceding paragraph?

They belong to Tomasello’s vision.

0094 This subscript business can be confusing.

To me, the concealment in Tomasello’s vision is not necessarily a drawback.  Rather, it presents an opportunity to re-articulate Tomasello’s arc of inquiry using the category-based nested form and other triadic relations.

0095 In the prior series of blogs, examining a book published in 1999, I introduced an interscope for the way humans think that derives from work by medieval schoolmen, the so-called “scholastics” of the Latin Age.

Here is a picture of the scholastic version of how humans think, packaged as a three level interscope.


Looking at Thomas Michaud’s Essay (2021) “Anatomy of the Progressive Revolution” (Part 1 of 9)

0001 The article under consideration appears in a special issue of Studia Gilsoniana (volume 10(5), pages 1107-1120), covering economics and politics.

I downloaded the article from academia.edu.

The article addresses issues raised in How To Define the Word “Religion”, as well as in contributions to the Intimations of Political Philosophy series.

0002 The structure of Michaud’s argument follows Greek textual structure.  Greek textual structure seeks certainty by eliminating possibilities.  

Here, Michaud presents two options: (A) the traditional view of religion as the foundation of morality and culture and (B) the Progressive view, where politics transforms culture by imposing revolutionary ideological social justice through a collectivist economy.  Then, Michaud questions the Progressive stance (B) by considering one implication, the integrity of the individual as a person.  This leaves (A) as the only viable option.

0003 Of course, I oversimplify.

Why am I interested in this essay?

Features in Michaud’s argument may be re-conceptualized as category-based nested forms.

See A Primer on the Category-Based Nested Form and A Primer on Sensible and Social Construction, available at smashwords and other e-book vendors under the author, Razie Mah.


Looking at Thomas Michaud’s Article (2021) “Anatomy of the Progressive Revolution” (Part 2 of 9)

0004 In the twilight of the Age of Ideas, a traditionalist slogan captures the order of social things.  Politics is downstream of culture.  Culture is downstream of religion.  To that, Michaud adds two more.  Morality flows from religion.  Economics goes with politics.

Surely, America’s founders, living in the heyday of the Age of Ideas, would sympathize with this snapshot, which may be encapsulated in a hierarchical diagram.

Figure 01

0005 How does the following flow diagram associate to a category-based nested form?

Religion is the normal context3.  A normal context3 belongs Peirce’s category of thirdness.  Thirdness brings secondness into relation with firstness.

Morality and culture are both actual2.  Actuality2 belongs to the dyadic category of secondness.  Secondness consists in two contiguous real elements.  Here, the two real elements are morality and culture.  I can write the actuality2 as morality [contiguity] culture2.

0006 What label describes the contiguity?

This is a great question.  It is at the heart of a series titled, “Peirce’s Secondness and Aristotle’s Hylomorphism”.  I could label the contiguity, “substantiates”.  But, here, I will use a less technical term, “sustains”.

0007 Finally, the possibilities inherent in ‘politics and economics’ underlie culture.

0008 Thus, I arrive at the following category-based nested form.

Figure 02

Looking at Thomas Michaud’s Essay (2021) “Anatomy of the Progressive Revolution” (Part 3 of 9)

0009 Where does the individual fit into this category-based nested form?

The individual resides on a lower form.  Looking up, “he” sees a relational dynamic within the social paradigm.

Figure 03

0010 The hierarchical flow in the traditional slogan becomes a double dynamic, where the normal context3 flows into one dyadic actuality2 and the potential1 rises into the other dyadic actuality2.  The category-based nested form displays its own transcategorical flows.  Religion3 motivates morality2.  Politics and economics1 enlivens culture2.

What does this imply?

The traditional slogan depicts a flow down a hierarchy.  This flow conveys an aura of determinism.In contrast, the corresponding category-based nested form presents two transcategorical flows.  One flows “down” from normal context3 to actuality2.  The other flows “up” from potential1 to actuality2.  These flows convey a picture of dynamism.


Looking at Thomas Michaud’s Essay (2021) “Anatomy of the Progressive Revolution” (Part 4 of 9)

0011 The progressive agenda showcases a similar hierarchical flow diagram.

Figure 04

0012 Politics3 can change a culture and save it from itself.


In the normal context of politics3, economic interventions2 transform the culture… or rather… its morality into one that conforms to the ideological ideals of an educated, judicious and articulate cadre of enlightened, “woke” and true believers1.

Here is a picture.

Figure 05

0013 Michaud elaborates nine points.

First and second, the Progressive’s devotion to political ideologies exhibits a type of religious zeal.  Yet, the progressiveself-identifies as “not religious”.  Progressive political movements3 are thus “not religious” religious enterprises3.

Third, fourth, sixth, seventh and eighth, economics is a tool for progressive revolutionary politics.  Economic interventionis a lever that transforms culture.  This requires the use of sovereign power.

Today’s progressives desire to identify and privilege groups who are victims of past and present exploitation, both real and imagined.  This fortifies allegiance of such groups (remember, this is democratic politics) and encourages individuals to identify as members of a victim group.  State education, the justice system and corporate media serve as ideological apparatuses that convey moral and cultural information to acolytes.

Fifth, the morality of social justice does not conform to traditional morality, because, in both theory and perception, people following traditional morals victimize(d) now-privileged groups.

Ninth, the progressive agenda is a permanent revolution.

0014 These nine points suggest that there are levels in the progressive agenda that are not envisioned in the traditional flow diagram.

Politics3 belongs to the situation level.

Social justice and permanent revolution are located above the situation level.

Progressive affiliation, victim group, individual, and identity reside below the situation level.

Figure 06

Looking at Thomas Michaud’s Essay (2021) “Anatomy of the Progressive Revolution” (Part 5 of 9)

0015 Now, I associate the elements above and below the situation level to nested form.  The result is an interscope, as described in A Primer on Sensible and Social Construction.

0016 The perspective levelc stands above the situation levelb.

On this level, an unnamed, “not religious” normal context3c brings the actuality of a permanent revolution2c into relation with the potential of ‘social justice’1c.

The potential of ‘social justice’1c contextualizes the entire situation levelb.

0017 The content levela stands below the situation levelb.

On this level, the normal context of affiliation3a brings the dyadic actuality of group [contiguity] individual2a into relation with the potential of ‘identity’1a.

How should I label the contiguity between the two real elements of group and individual?

I choose the word, “subsumes”.

The group [subsumes] the individual2a.

0018 These associations yield a three-level interscope for the progressive agenda.

Figure 07

Looking at Thomas Michaud’s Essay (2021) “Anatomy of the Progressive Revolution” (Part 6 of 9)

0019 At this juncture, I stand at the threshold of the section titled, “Progressive Depersonalization”.

Michaud claims that the progressive agenda depersonalizes the individual.  He starts with the ironic, progressive slogan: The personal is the political.

0020 In order to appreciate this slogan, I start with the virtual nested form in the realm of actuality.  A virtual nested form is a feature of a three-level interscope.  It consists of a column in one of the three elements.  

Here is a picture of the virtual nested form in the realm of actuality for the progressive interscope.

Figure 08

0021 This virtual nested form may be spoken as follows.

The normal context of permanent revolution2c virtually brings the dyadic actuality, economics [transforms] morals & culture2b, into the potential of group [subsumes] individual2a.

This nested form operates as a demiurge.  A demiurge is a gnostic divinity that is forever building its world.  It is typically opposed to another demiurge that is forever building an opposite world.  So, it is always one demiurge against another.

0022 Of course, I can easily guess the identity of the opposing demiurge.

The opposing demiurge is the one that victimizes individuals who do not conform to morality or culture, thereby inspiring them to identify with a victim group.

Here is a comparison of the actuality2 of the traditional slogan and the actuality2b of the situation-level of the progressive agenda.

Figure 09

0023 Clearly, economic intervention2b is a tool for the permanent revolution2c to use, in order to transform the ways that traditional morality sustains culture2b.

Also, of all the groups that subsume the individual2a, none can involve traditional morality and culture2.

0024 Why?

In Christian morality, the individual is called into mystical union with Jesus Christ, one of the three Persons of the Triune Godhead.  So, the “group2a” is actually the divine oikos, or the economy of God.  This is discussed in the second interlude in How To Define the Word “Religion”.

The individual2a does not adopt an identity1a.  The individual2a becomes an identity1a.

0025 What is identity1a?

Ah, in the Christian schema, identity1a is the person that I call “me”.  It1a is not a group2a affiliation3a.

In Jungian terminology, the assumption of the individual into the divine oikos is called, “individuation”.  It is not called, “subsumption”.

0026 So, Michaud is on target in claiming that the progressive agenda depersonalizes the individual.

It does so by re-defining the word, “identity”.

In the progressive ideation, identity1a is the potential underlying group affiliation3a and supports the subsumption of the individual into a political group2a.

The personal2a is subsumed into the political2a.


Looking at Thomas Michaud’s Essay (2021) “Anatomy of the Progressive Revolution” (Part 7 of 9)

0027 The personal is the political.

In the progressive agenda, the content-level actuality2a is a dyad, group [subsumes] individual2a.

The word, “individual”, no longer means a person who stands before God.   The individual reduces to someone carrying a group identification tag.

Similarly, identity1a potentiates group affiliation3a, not the person that I call “me”.

0028 Michaud calls this, “depersonalization”.

With this in mind, I consider the virtual nested form in the realm of possibility for the progressive interscope.

Figure 10

0029 The normal context of social justice1c virtually brings the actualities of ideological apparatuses (such as state education, justice system and corporate media, to name a few)1b into relation with the possibilities inherent in identity1a.

If “justice” is a virtue for traditional folk, then “social justice1c” is a hegemonic, demiurgic alternative.  Social justice1ccontextualizes the actuality of economics [transforming] morals [&] culture2b and answers the question, “When is justice (in the traditional frame) injustice (in the progressive frame)?” 

0030 Here is one of the resulting twists.

The category-based nested form for the traditional view appears below.

The arrows, however, depict trans-categorical flows from the progressive point of view.

Figure 11

0031 Is this a misperception?  Or, is this an accusation?

To the progressive, there is one deterministic flow to the traditional schema.  Religion3 flows through morality and culture2 and pours into alienating political systems and exploitative economic arrangements1.

To the traditionalist, there are two transcategorical flows.  Religion3 flows into morality2. Politics and economics1 enliven culture2, through cooperative and laborious human action.