psychological foundations of culture...

Gessler, Nicholas (gessler@ANTHRO.SSCNET.UCLA.EDU)
Tue, 9 May 1995 13:14:00 PDT

I am not convinced that the popularity of a paradigm should be uncritically
used as a measure of its value, and as someone who is deeply committed to
some coherence and linkage between the different scientific disciplines, I am
quite open to attempts to reconcile the (real and perceived) differences
between adaptationist (grounded) approaches to culture and sui generis
symbolic (ungrounded) approaches to culture. Consequently, I was pleased to
pick up the following book yesterday:

Edited by Jerome H. Barkow, Leda Cosmides, and John Tooby. New York, Oxford,

I am admittedly only in the first chapter, entitled "The Psychological
Foundations of Culture." Nevertheless, I am pleased with what I have read so
far. Their thesis, in their words, is succinctly that:

"Culture is the manufactured product of evolved psychological mechanisms
situated in individuals living in groups. Culture and human social behavior
is complexly variable, not because the human mind is a social product, a
blank slate, or an externally programmed general-purpose computer, lacking a
richly defined evolved structure. Instead, human culture and social behavior
is richly variable because it is generated by an incredibly intricate,
contingent set of functional programs that use and process information from
the world, including information that is provided both intentionally and
unintentionally by other human beings." p. 24.

They then set out to explicate a number of mechanisms and case studies. This
approach might be called "multi-mechanismic" (my construction) and in that
respect shares the view of Minsky's SOCIETY OF MIND and a burgeoning variety
of multi-agent computational approaches.

If anyone could suggest some similarly grounded approaches, I would be most
appreciative in hearing of them.

Nick Gessler
UCLA - Anthropology