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Autocatalytic networks in cognition and the origin of culture.

Authors
  • Gabora, Liane1
  • Steel, Mike2
  • 1 Department of Psychology, University of British Colombia, Okanagan Campus, Kelowna BC, Canada. Electronic address: [email protected] , (Canada)
  • 2 Biomathematics Research Centre, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand. Electronic address: [email protected] , (New Zealand)
Type
Published Article
Journal
Journal of Theoretical Biology
Publisher
Elsevier
Publication Date
Oct 27, 2017
Volume
431
Pages
87–95
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1016/j.jtbi.2017.07.022
PMID: 28751121
Source
Medline
Keywords
Language
English
License
Unknown

Abstract

It has been proposed that cultural evolution was made possible by a cognitive transition brought about by onset of the capacity for self-triggered recall and rehearsal. Here we develop a novel idea that models of collectively autocatalytic networks, developed for understanding the origin and organization of life, may also help explain the origin of the kind of cognitive structure that makes cultural evolution possible. In this setting, mental representations (for example, memories, concepts, ideas) play the role of 'molecules', and 'reactions' involve the evoking of one representation by another through remindings and associations. In the 'episodic mind', representations are so coarse-grained (encode too few properties) that such reactions must be 'catalyzed' by external stimuli. As cranial capacity increased, representations became more fine-grained (encoded more features), which facilitated recursive catalysis and culminated in free-association and streams of thought. At this point, the mind could combine representations and adapt them to specific needs and situations, and thereby contribute to cultural evolution. In this paper, we propose and study a simple and explicit cognitive model that gives rise naturally to autocatalytic networks, and thereby provides a possible mechanism for the transition from a pre-cultural episodic mind to a mimetic mind. Copyright © 2017 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.. All rights reserved.

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