Scuola Universitaria Superiore IUSS Pavia
Centro di Ricerca in Neurocognizione, Epistemologia e Sintassi teorica (NEtS)
Iuss Philosophy Seminars
The Mark of the Mental (MOM) Project
“ENCULTURATED ARITHMETICAL COGNITION”
February 22nd 2021, 14.30
Regina Fabry – Ruhr University Bochum
How is it possible that most human organisms acquire competence in arithmetic? Our scientific knowledge about the phylogenetic development of human cognition suggests that there was not sufficient evolutionary time for the biological evolution of dedicated and genetically inheritable neural circuitry and action patterns that contribute to arithmetical cognition. Call this the ‘evolutionary recency problem’. At first glance, this problem poses a challenge to naturalistic accounts of the acquisition and subsequent improvement of arithmetic capacities. In this talk, I will argue that this challenge can be overcome if we assume, based on Menary’s (2015) work, that arithmetical cognition is the result of enculturation. The concept of ‘enculturation’ captures the transformation of individual cognitive capacities through the acquisition of culturally evolved cognitive practices. Cognitive practices can be defined as the embodied, socio-culturally shaped interaction of a human organism with environmental resources.
On a personal level of analysis, enculturation is a process of cultural learning that usually leads to the acquisition of competence in arithmetical practices. On a sub-personal level, enculturation is realized by learning driven plasticity and learning driven bodily adaptability. Learning driven plasticity, and the empirical evidence supporting it, is not consistent with modularist theories of mental architecture. However, we can arrive at a better understanding of this principle by taking neural reuse theory into consideration. According to this theory, cerebral regions are reused or re-exploited during ontogeny and thereby contribute to multiple neural circuits. This theory finds a wealth of support in empirical research on the neuronal realisation of arithmetical cognition. Learning driven plasticity is closely coordinated with learning driven bodily adaptability across ontogenetic time. Learning driven bodily adaptability, I will show, implies that there is an interesting, empirically supported functional relationship between finger gnosis, finger counting, and arithmetical practices. The core claim of this talk will be that this enculturation account can pave the way towards a better understanding of the phylogenetic and ontogenetic conditions of arithmetical cognition and can help resolve the evolutionary recency problem.
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