An Interview with Mark Changizi: Culture Harnessing the Brain

Daniel Lende in Neuroanthropology:

Daniel Lende: So, Mark, tell me about your forthcoming book Harnessed.

Harnessed Mark Changizi: Language and the arts are the centerpieces of what we humans are proud of. They are what we gloat to the other apes about. But how did we come to have language and art, and thereby stand so markedly apart from the rest of the animal world?

Answers traditionally come from one of two opposing poles.

The first view is that language and/or the arts are results of natural selection, and so we now have instincts for them: language instincts, music instincts, art instincts.

The opposing view is that, instead, we evolved to be highly plastic general-purpose learners who can train ourselves on loads of cultural artifacts evolution never intended for our brain, language and the arts among them.

There is a third option, however. It agrees with the ‘instinct’ view in positing that humans aren’t especially plastic. And it agrees with the ‘general-learner’ view in positing that culture matters. It is that language and the arts culturally evolved to be shaped “just right” to fit into our minds. Cultural — not natural — selection is the “brains” behind our human gloating rights. This kind of ‘cultural-selection’ view also is an old one.

What is new here is my view of how culture goes about making language and the arts good for our brain: Culture’s trick is to make language and the arts “mimic nature,” just the thing our brain *is* designed to absorb.

I refer to it as “Nature Harnessing.”

More here.