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Philosophy of Mind 101: Cooperation and Cultural Cognition


This 101 series enucleates the topics of the inquiries on philosophy of mind and cognitive science from a critical perspective. It covers the topics of behaviourism, mind-body identity, functionalism and computationalism theories thoroughly; and brings more recent concepts, methodologies, and the theories to light. Throughout the series, these theories will be critically analysed. This elaboration as well as the critical analysis is planned to help the reader to have an understanding and comprehension of the mental world, concepts and processes, and different approaches to this realm. The main concerns of this series ask questions such as 'what is the mind?' , 'how does it work?', 'why does it work?', 'what is its purpose if there is one?'. Questions regarding how one understands the world around them amazed thinkers throughout history. This series will take the reader to a journey of different theories and perspectives regarding the mind and mental beings.

'Philosophy of Mind 101' will be mainly divided into the following chapters of the content:

  1. Philosophy of Mind 101: The Inquiry on Mind and Body

  2. Philosophy of Mind 101: What is the Function of the Mind?

  3. Philosophy of Mind 101: Are You A Computing Machine?

  4. Philosophy of Mind 101: "We"; Do We Exist?

  5. Philosophy of Mind 101: Cooperation and Cultural Cognition

  6. Philosophy of Mind 101: Inquiries & Conceptual Theories of Mind

Philosophy of Mind 101: Cooperation and Cultural Cognition

The topic of this episode of the series, Philosophy of Mind 101, is the theory of cultural cognition and how cultural cognition is depicted as the phenomenon that generates and shapes cooperation. The main issue that the theory of cultural cognition focuses on is how the human mind came to be so powerful in the transfer of the information of mental activities, and it contends to find out what it is that is different from other animals or apes that enables human mind in such a development. In the light of this inquiry, this article is going to describe and elaborate on the methodology of the theory, demonstrate what the assertions of the theory about the formation of such an intelligence are. Later theories of cognitive sciences are built through employment of this path of evolution and cultural development in the field of the relation of cognition, culture, and cooperation. In this thought, human evolution is taken to be more progressive and more complicated from other life-forms, other animals, and other primates. The root of this progress is proposed to be the ability of intention reading that is thought to be developed by different factors. Moreover, experimentation in this field consist of creating a narrative through objects, storytelling, or showing videos of instances and inspecting whether the observer who is tested could read the intentions through the instances that are created in the stories. This article is also going to elaborate on how the methods of experimentation could be developed.

Unknown. (n. d.). Ability to Read Minds. [Digital Art].
Figure 1. Unknown. (n. d.). Ability to Read Minds. [Digital Art].

Firstly, the theory is required to be explained in a descriptive way, in order to investigate the methodology and argumentation of the theory in a critical manner. In this way, the basic terminology covers the concepts such as cooperation, cultural cognition, language, attention, intention, goal, plan, and being animate actors. Cooperation is acting together to accomplish a task. Human cooperation, which is shaped by human cognitive capabilities, is more diverse than cognition of different species (Tomasello, 2001). Cognition is the faculty of mind that encapsulates the whole process of the experience of perception, learning, memorizing, remembering (Tomasello, 2001). In this sense, cultural cognition is the type of cognition that is thought to be unique for humans. While culture is the behaviour and activities of humans that include social behaviour, institutions, knowledge, beliefs, norms, customs, traditions, arts; cultural cognition is the type of cognition in various types of mechanisms of perception through perspective that is built by the culture (Heyes, 2012b). In this sense, the theory regards what distinguishes human cognition as the way it recognizes other minds, and how humanity behaves in a collective manner. The way to test human cognition is through testing these abilities, and these abilities consist of the conceiving of animate action, goal pursuit, and plan choosing of others (Tomasello, 2001). Animate action is action that is performed autonomously. So, making a distinction whether the action is autonomous, or it occurs spontaneously is a property of human cognition (Tomasello, 2001). Pursuit of goals is another property of human cognition (Tomasello, 2001). The ability to conceive an entity being goal-oriented is a way that leads to conceiving the goals of others and shapes the cultural collectivity around common goals and cooperation (Tomasello, 2001). Awareness of the others as choosers of plans directed towards a state or an entity is another element of human cognition that leads to cooperation. Cultural cognition and cooperation entail these faculties (Bandura, 2002). Thus, reading minds, or intentions is necessary for human-level cooperation and cultural cognition.

Jedika. (n. d.). The Construction of One Mind. [Painting].
Figure 2. Jedika. (n. d.). The Construction of One Mind. [Painting].

The factors that could be effective in this development, which are considered to be in the root of the progress of humanity, are suggested to be language, relatively more excess mutual benefit exchange of entities than other species, intention reading, and differentiation and distinction of goal-oriented plans. There are different approaches to where language lies regarding these categories, such as language is the key element in the formation of these faculties of cognition, language is a part of these faculties, and language is a tool that is the result of these faculties (Tomasello, 2001). However, this is an issue for a different discussion, language could be regarded as a key element in the formation of the cultural cognition and a tool that can enable cooperation by communication through the medium of representation of meanings. The schools of thought that are linked with reductionism propose language is the most effective one and a root for the others in these factors. On the other hand, another branch of thought is related to emergentism, which proposes that these factors go hand in hand in the evolution of cultural cognition and society to this development. While these factors could be regarded as correct assumptions for the development of humanity, a different position for the inspection of this theory of evolution of cognition could be an approach that takes the development or cognitive abilities of each species as distinctive so that inquiry can be eluded from the anthropocentrism in the thought that is considering the development of humanity as the most successful or the most complicated one.

Lavdaniti, Anastasia. (n. d.). The Doors of Perception. [Drawing].
Figure 3. Lavdaniti, Anastasia. (n. d.). The Doors of Perception. [Drawing].

Ontogenetic development of an organism is the development of an organism to the extent that it performs its defined behaviour of the species that it is involved, and phylogenetic development of an organism is the development of the behaviour of the organism regarding the group of the close relatives according to the evolution of the species (Tomasello, 2001). So, for ontogenesis hypothesis employed in the theory of cultural cognition, the development can be observed by the inspection of the younger individuals. The inspection of the development of the cultural cognitive behaviour of humans is experimented via experimentation on children regarding the ontogenetic hypothesis and on the apes that are considered as sharing the close common ancestorial link with humans considering phylogenetic hypothesis (Tomasello, 1997). According to the experiments, cultural cognitive capacities develop in a three phased process. In the first phase, sharing emotions and behaviour develop. At the early ages, the infant can understand the emotional states and animate behaviour of itself and others. In the second stage of development of cultural cognition, the individual develops the ability to share and acknowledge common goals and common perceptions. In the third phase, individual develops the ability to share and perceive common intentions and common attention. Through these phases, cognition of the individual develops in a way that the surrounding culture reinvents the focus, and the attention in their cognitive process, so that they can perceive common focal entities and types of behaviour with the other subjects of the same culture (Heyes, 2012b). On the other hand, for phylogenetic hypothesis, the shared cognitive traits of humans with the evolutionary relatives are the similar group forming behaviour. Although, formation of small groups is a common trait, competition for shared goals is more common for other apes (Tomasello, 1997). For the theory, this is the way that human traits differ, form cultural cognition and culture, to make a huge difference and change the world, and the ontogenetic hypothesis puts forth how this trait develops.

parablev. (May 28, 2020). On the Edge of Harmony. [Digital Art]. (Retrieved: January, 2023).
Figure 4. parablev. (May 28, 2020). On the Edge of Harmony. [Digital Art]. (Retrieved: January, 2023).

The argumentation of the theory could be criticized in the point that assumes human development and cognition as the most beneficial one which leads to the anthropocentrism. The issue for this assumption is that the classification of human evolution and homo sapiens as the most superior in evolution of all species and also the relative ones leads to the bias of other developments to be in a way that they are necessarily on the path of the evolution of humans. This bias encloses the scope of life and evolutions of other species in a process. However, the superiority of humans only entails the assumption if humanity is taken as a reference point in evolution and strictly applying this reference point to the other parts of the evolution of species. If different traits were to be accepted as superior, or taken as reference point, humans could seem very weak in the ranking of the species. Moreover, the ranking itself does not have any point in the explanation of the cognitive development or development of mental faculties because in this theory, if humans are superior, then the inspection of other species would merely caricaturize. If the ranking is not real, than the superiority is not valid so that evolution of other species. Even if the species share common ancestors, they do not have to follow this path, and would not signify the development of cultural cognition and corporation of humans, but the study of other species would provide the traits of others. Sharing common traits with other species is not the point here, but the interactions with other faculties of the different species could make the similar faculties differently and leading to different uses of same faculties, thus different properties from human cognition. On the other hand, the experimentation methods could be developed for the phylogenetic hypothesis in the sense of observing the variables with little possible intervention, so that the intention reading is not confused with simple imitation of the desired action in the experiment. And also for the interactions of collaboration and cultural cognition to be observed, the same instance of experiment has to be conducted with more than one individual where the individuals could be both actors and observers at the same time.

To conclude, human cognition is an intermingled process with culture and cultural cognition that includes traits such as acknowledgement of the other and the cognitive traits of the other. These traits of human cognition do have effects that make interactions within the species specific to the species, and these traits result in the generation of collective actions and collective goals. However, this does not mean that other species have specific ways to collaborate and reach common goals. Evolution of different species lead to different traits, and cognition is a trait that evolves differently for different conditions. Therefore, special traits occur in different environments.

Bibliographic Sources

Baird, J. A., & Moses, L. J. (2001). Do Preschoolers Appreciate That Identical Actions May Be Motivated by Different Intentions? Journal of Cognition and Development, 2(4), 413–448.

Bandura, A. (2002). Social Cognitive Theory in Cultural Context. Applied Psychology, 51(2), 269–290.

Boesch, C. (2007). What makes us human (Homo sapiens)? The challenge of cognitive cross-species comparison. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 121(3), 227–240.

Heyes, C. (2012a). Grist and mills: on the cultural origins of cultural learning. Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences, 367(1599), 2181–2191.

Heyes, C. (2012b). New thinking: the evolution of human cognition. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 367(1599), 2091–2096.

Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (1991). Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation. Psychological Review, 98(2), 224–253.

Mehler, J., & Bever, T. G. (1967). Cognitive Capacity of Very Young Children. Science, 158(3797), 141–142. doi:10.1126/science.158.3797.141

Patricia Marks Greenfield & Jerome S. Bruner (1966) Culture and Cognitive Growth, International Journal of Psychology, 1:2, 89-107, DOI: 10.1080/00207596608247117

Tomasello, M. (2001). The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition (Reprint). Harvard University Press.

Tomasello, M., & Call, J. (1997). Primate Cognition (1st ed.). Oxford University Press.

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