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The Evolved ApprenticeHow Evolution Made Humans Unique$
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Kim Sterelny

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780262016797

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: January 2015

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262016797.001.0001

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Accumulating Cognitive Capital

Accumulating Cognitive Capital

(p.23) 2 Accumulating Cognitive Capital
The Evolved Apprentice

Kim Sterelny

The MIT Press

The core project of this chapter is to develop an incremental model of the evolution of human social learning, showing how social learning can be critical to agents’ lifeways before they have evolved adaptations for such learning, and to ground that model in the historical and ethnographic record. The model begins by developing an insight of Eva Jablonka: a low probability behavioural innovation by adults can change the lifeway of a group, changing the trial-and-error learning experience of juveniles, so turning a low probability innovation into a routine consequence of juvenile exploration of their environment. The initial exploitation of stone tools was plausibly such an innovation: important enough to transform adult foraging behaviour, thus giving their young ample opportunities to experiment with stone, and with discarded tools and their products. Once social learning is important, that change will select for cognitive changes. Initially minor ones: changes in social tolerance, patience, juvenile interest in adult activities. These changes increase the stability and bandwidth of social learning, powering feedback loops between the ecological importance of social learning, social practices which support and guide that learning, and cognitive adaptations which reinforce and amplify it. Apprentice learning is socially supported and structured learning-by-doing, and the chapter argues that much human learning has this hybrid character, and that this has been an ancient, growing, and transforming feature of our lineage.

Keywords:   Lineage explanation, cumulative cultural learning, gene-culture coevolution, niche construction, apprentice learning model, Ratchet Effect

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