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Evolution and Devolution of Knowledge: A Tale of Two Biologies

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  • [Scco:Cogpsy] Cognitive Science/Cognitive Psychology
  • [Scco:Cogpsy] Science Cognitive/Psychologie Cognitive
  • [Scco:Devpsy] Cognitive Science/Developmental Psychology
  • [Scco:Devpsy] Science Cognitive/Psychologie Du Déveleppement
  • [Scco:Ethology] Cognitive Science/Ethology And Comparative Psychology
  • [Scco:Ethology] Science Cognitive/Éthologie Et Psychologie Comparative
  • [Scco:Evolpsy] Cognitive Science/Evolutionary Psychology
  • [Scco:Evolpsy] Science Cognitive/Psychologie évolutionniste
  • [Scco:Naivepsyandsimu] Cognitive Science/Naïve Psychology And Simulation
  • [Scco:Naivepsyandsimu] Science Cognitive/Psychologie Naïve Et Simulation
  • [Scco:Reasonning] Cognitive Science/Psychology Of Reasoning
  • [Scco:Reasonning] Science Cognitive/Psychologie Du Raisonnement
  • [Scco:Socialpsy] Cognitive Science/Social Psychology
  • [Scco:Socialpsy] Science Cognitive/Psychologie Sociale
  • [Shs:Langue:Psyling] Humanities And Social Sciences/Linguistics/Psycholinguistics
  • [Shs:Langue:Psyling] Sciences De L'Homme Et Société/Linguistique/Psycholinguistique
  • [Shs:Langue:Semantics] Humanities And Social Sciences/Linguistics/Semantics
  • [Shs:Langue:Semantics] Sciences De L'Homme Et Société/Linguistique/Sémantique
  • [Shs:Langue:Socioling] Humanities And Social Sciences/Linguistics/Sociolinguistics
  • [Shs:Langue:Socioling] Sciences De L'Homme Et Société/Linguistique/Sociolinguistique
  • [Shs:Phil:Epistemo] Humanities And Social Sciences/Philosophy/Epistemology And Philosophy Of Science
  • [Shs:Phil:Epistemo] Sciences De L'Homme Et Société/Philosophie/Épistémologie Et Philosophie Des Scie
  • [Shs:Phil:Metaphysics] Humanities And Social Sciences/Philosophy/Metaphysics
  • [Shs:Phil:Metaphysics] Sciences De L'Homme Et Société/Philosophie/Métaphysique
  • [Shs:Phil:Perception] Humanities And Social Sciences/Philosophy/Philosophy Of Perception
  • [Shs:Phil:Perception] Sciences De L'Homme Et Société/Philosophie/Philosophie De La Perception
  • [Shs:Phil:Mind] Humanities And Social Sciences/Philosophy/Philosophy Of Mind
  • [Shs:Phil:Mind] Sciences De L'Homme Et Société/Philosophie/Philosophie De L'Esprit
  • [Shs:Anthro_Se] Humanities And Social Sciences/Anthropology
  • [Shs:Anthro_Se] Sciences De L'Homme Et Société/Anthropologie
  • [Shs:Eco] Humanities And Social Sciences/Economics
  • [Shs:Eco] Sciences De L'Homme Et Société/Économie
  • [Shs:Evolution] Humanities And Social Sciences/Social And Cultural Evolution
  • [Shs:Evolution] Sciences De L'Homme Et Société/Évolution Sociale Et Culturelle
  • [Shs:Scipo] Humanities And Social Sciences/Political Science
  • [Shs:Scipo] Sciences De L'Homme Et Société/Sciences Politiques
  • [Shs:Socio] Humanities And Social Sciences/Sociology
  • [Shs:Socio] Sciences De L'Homme Et Société/Sociologie
  • Biology
  • Ecology
  • Geography
  • Psychology


Anthropological inquiry suggests that all societies classify animals and plants in similar ways. Paradoxically, in the same cultures that have seen large advances in biological science, citizenry's practical knowledge of nature has dramatically diminished. Here we describe historical, cross-cultural and developmental research on how people ordinarily conceptualize organic nature (folkbiology), concentrating on cognitive consequences associated with knowledge devolution. We show that results on psychological studies of categorization and reasoning from “standard populations” fail to generalize to humanity at large. Usual populations (Euro-American college students) have impoverished experience with nature, which yields misleading results about knowledge acquisition and the ontogenetic relationship between folkbiology and folkpsychology. We also show that groups living in the same habitat can manifest strikingly distinct behaviors, cognitions and social relations relative to it. This has novel implications for environmental decision making and management, including commons problems.

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