Unravelling Past Cognition: Approaches Across Disciplines

AbstractThroughout its own history, cognitive science has paid little interest to the historical dimension of its key topic. Most cognitive scientists tended to treat cognition as if it always and everywhere were the same (Bender, 2019). But present-day cognition in humans (as well as in any other species for that matter) is a product of evolution – sometimes of different kinds of evolution – and has been subject to substantial change (Heyes, 2018). About 6 million years ago, the human line dissociated from its closest relatives, setting off on a different evolutionary track. Several hundred thousand years ago, early Homo sapiens learned to control fire, invented complex compound tools such as bow and arrow, and began to use abstract symbols and language (Wadley, 2013). Even today, these achievements strike us as truly impressive, yet they also raise tantalizing questions: What made them possible? Did they emerge all of a sudden, subsequent to genetic mutations, or did they emerge gradually, through cultural cumulation? Which factors spurred them on, which role(s) did culture play in this, and how are these innovations linked to language?

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