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The basic argument of the previous chapters was that the reason why anthropologists cannot ignore the work of cognitive scientists, and for that matter vice versa, was that what they study is a phenomenon that is both cognitive and historical. If we attempt to separate the two, as the opposition between ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ attempts to do, we are left without a subject matter. The attempt on the part of anthropologists to ignore the cognitive simply leads them to making assumptions in their writing which, because they are merely implicit, are not critically examined. The purpose of this chapter is twofold. First, it shows the presence of these unexamined and therefore dangerous cognitive assumptions in texts which make no reference to empirical or theoretical work in psychology. Secondly, it will show how, if we scrutinise the implicit psychological assumptions present in the anthropological work and place these side by side with what we know from cognitive science, we can not only question some of the propositions that have been made as they stand, but also reveal hidden riches in the anthropological accounts that enable us to formulate questions for future research in both anthropology and cognitive psychology. This chapter is thus a demonstration of the value of studying people in society as a single historical and psychological process.
Such an exercise has also another purpose. Even though I argued in the conclusion of the previous chapter that the work of the cognitive scientist and the interpretative anthropologist was closer than both sides imagine, the reader of the book might well ask how one can go one step further and suggest how the two disciplines can co-operate in practice in what they each have to say about cognition. Here, I focus on the particularly important issue of time and I propose how co-operation between cognitive and social sciences can move forward our understanding of issues central to both types of disciplines in a way that cannot occur when they work separately. This does not, at first at least, require new types of research by either psychologists or anthropologists but a critical re-examination of findings already obtained. By criticising the achievements of the different disciplinary specialists in the light of knowledge that comes from the other we can, simply by this means, move things forward.
This provocative new study one of the world's most distinguished anthropologists proposes that an understanding of cognitive science enriches, rather than threatens, the work of social scientists. Maurice Bloch argues for a naturalist approach to social and cultural anthropology, introducing developments in cognitive sciences such as psychology and neurology and exploring the relevance of these developments for central anthropological concerns: the person or the self, cosmology, kinship, memory and globalisation. Opening with an exploration of the history of anthropology, Bloch shows why and how naturalist approaches were abandoned and argues that these once valid reasons are no longer relevant. Bloch then shows how such subjects as the self, memory and the conceptualisation of time benefit from being simultaneously approached with the tools of social and cognitive science. Anthropology and the Cognitive Challenge will stimulate fresh debate among scholars and students across a wide range of disciplines.
The anthropological stress on the fact that humans live within a culturally and therefore historically constructed world was justified by the rhetorical trick of continually reiterating the refutation of the errors of early evolutionists. The constructivist claim then appears as the child of the old controversy but, left at that, it also automatically raises difficult problems, both theoretical and methodological. These problems have been pointed out, sometimes very emphatically, most often by researchers with a natural science background. This fact has meant that the criticisms of the culturalist turn have themselves been caught just as much within a nature/culture dichotomy.
The theoretical problem of the culturalists has recently been reformulated in a particularly clear way by the psychologist Steven Pinker as it relates to the mind (Pinker 2002). He convincingly argues that if we live in completely historically or culturally constructed worlds, this would mean that these would vary totally from culture to culture. Strange implications of such a position would then inevitably follow. First of all, it would be impossible to say anything general about the human mind and so psychology as a unified science, in spite of its apparent advances, would actually be a waste of time. Secondly, it would mean that humans are totally and absolutely different from other living species because, according to such a theory, humans are born without any cognitive predispositions. If they were, then the idea of total cultural construction would have to be severely qualified since the mind would be constrained by these predispositions.
In chapter 5, I argued that anthropologists often mistakenly identify what are imaginative meta-representations as though these were more basic understandings of time which organise inference and ordinary action. Similarly, in the previous chapter, I argued that anthropologists often mistake imaginative meta-representations of the individual, the self or the person for that knowledge of oneself and others which organises more ordinary and more basic inference and action. Through such misrepresentation, anthropologists are easily led to produce falsely exoticising accounts resulting in such arguments that there are two fundamentally different types of people in the world. These mistakes are indirectly and partly caused by thinking of ‘culture’ as a self-contained independent system opposed to ‘nature’. This is the negative part of the argument. More positively, however, and also in the two previous chapters, I drew attention to elements which are often ignored as a result of the exclusive consideration of these imaginative meta-representations. The reason for these omissions comes in part from the fact that these occasional meta-representations come ready made in explicit and well-formulated language and are thus easily reproducible in ethnographies.
The implicit or the unexpressed is, by definition, much more difficult to reproduce and isolate. What is involved simply cannot be grasped in other ways than in practice and together with other, more fundamental, levels which are constitutive parts of the processes of minds and bodies; processes which are in some cases more or less similar to processes occurring in other primates and even in more remotely related animate beings.
Memory, working memory and the implicit in practice
The point of this chapter is to show how the type of arguments that have been presented up to here modify a topic which social and cultural anthropologists, as well as other social scientists, have discussed extensively. This modification is not a matter of dismissal of the work of these disciplines but rather a reformulation. Chapter 6 concluded by stressing how human beings exist within two continuities. One is internal and extends from levels of being that are normally totally inaccessible to consciousness to the fully explicit and even the meta-representational. The other continuity is that which is created by the interpenetration of individuals which allows different individuals continually to transform each other. Our knowledge, including our concepts and schemas, derive from a multiplicity of sources both internal and external and, as we saw in the previous chapter, this knowledge is more or less explicit and more or less accessible to consciousness. This chapter will consider how it is stored.
Memory in the individual has inevitably the same layered character as the blob or the knowledge examined in the earlier chapters. Information is similarly stored in similarly varied forms ranging from the implicit to the explicit and from the totally inaccessible to the fully accessible to consciousness. This information can be internal and bounded within the individual or it can be shared. When it is widely shared it becomes the phenomenon that anthropologists have traditionally called ‘culture’. However, throughout this book, for reasons discussed in chapter 4, I have avoided the term. This has been because although the term helps us focus on the continuity between individuals it makes us, at the same time, forget the internal continuity. By contrast, I have stressed how both continuities must be thought together since this is how we actually are.
The preceding chapter has shown that the combination of studies produced by anthropologists with those of other cognitive scientists such as psychologists or neurologists seems, at first, impossible since what they propose appears contradictory. However, we saw that if we introduce the notion of different yet interconnected levels the apparent contradiction disappears and a richer picture is revealed. This chapter continues the argument that such an approach is also valuable when it is applied to the very core of our studies: that is what makes human individuals. Again we shall see that what appears at first as incompatible conclusions emanating, on the one hand, from psychologists and neurologists and, on the other, from social and cultural anthropologists, becomes, when theoretically combined, a dynamic whole.
The history of the social sciences and especially that of modern anthropology has been dominated by a recurrent controversy about what kind of phenomenon people are. On the one hand, there are those who assume that human beings are a straightforward matter. They are beings driven by easily understood desires directed towards an empirically obvious world. The prototypical examples of such theoreticians are Adam Smith, Herbert Spencer or more recently the proponents of rational choice theory. These early social science theories have also been the assumptions underlying most cognitive science; in some cases this has been quite explicit (Tooby and Cosmides 1990; Boyd and Richerson 2005). By contrast, these positions have been criticised, again and again, by many modern social scientists, more particularly social and cultural anthropologists. They have stressed that in theory there can be no place for actors who are simply imagined as ‘generic human beings’ since people are always the specific product of their particular and unique location in the social, the historical and the cultural process. Among the writers who have made this kind of point are Durkheim, Dumont and more recently Michel Foucault and the post-modernists.
Everybody recognises that the way people behave is in terms of how they know things to be. But where does this knowledge come from? How does it develop in the individual? These very general questions are a good beginning for understanding the need for a psychological input to the social sciences since learning, storage and use of this knowledge is both a mental and a social process.
There can only be three possible sources to the knowledge held by people. (1) It can come from an innate capacity, transmitted genetically from the parents, which either the child already possesses at birth, or which develops later, as he or she matures, much in the way that boys develop facial hair at adolescence. (2) It can come from the individual learning from the environment as she interacts with it. (3) It can come from learning from other individuals through some process of communication. For any part of knowledge we may be dealing with a combination of all three.
The purpose of this chapter is to show in more detail how the history of social and cultural anthropology has always involved suppositions and implicit theories about the nature of human mental processes whether the practitioners of these disciplines are aware of this and whether they like the idea or not. This involvement of anthropology with psychological issues is as true of periods when cultural and social anthropologists were most hostile to natural science as when they saw their subject as part of it. Because these largely implicit theories underpin all work in the anthropological disciplines, the effect of not examining them critically is that it leaves us at the mercy of their subterranean determinations.
Probably the most damaging legacy of the lack of examination of the implicit psychological underpinnings of social and cultural anthropology has been that it has transformed what should have been a fruitful controversy about the effects of the specialisation of the human brain on history into a highly misleading and sterile one about whether humans were to be seen as either ‘cultural’ or ‘natural’ beings. This opposition still haunts the discipline. What follows is an explanation how this has come about, how it has damaged theoretical reflection and how it can be avoided.
Social and natural scientists have come to hate each other. They cannot understand each other's purpose. They consider each other's methods either sloppy or dangerous. They are repulsed by each other's style and mode of presentation. They even dress differently. They often come from different social and educational backgrounds. Yet it was not always so and what follows will show this need not be so in the future though the antipathy is not a simple matter of misunderstanding. It goes very deep.
This book attempts reconciliation, focussing on those benefits which some social scientists, especially anthropologists, can derive from taking into account the work of cognitive scientists for the kind of issues which are central to their disciplines. It starts by explaining the historical and philosophical root of the divorce between the two types of studies and how misleading this has been. But the central purpose will be to demonstrate that cognitive issues are not on the periphery of such social sciences as anthropology, history or sociology. Instead, it will be to show that they are relevant and helpful for the most central and familiar topics which, among others, cultural and social anthropologists deal with. Of course, natural scientists and especially cognitive scientists would also greatly benefit from a deeper understanding of what the social sciences have to say but this would be the subject of another book.
The target paper claims to contribute to the conceptualisation of kinship but is, in fact, only concerned with descriptive kinship terminologies. It uses Optimal Theory to analyse this vocabulary but it is not clear if this is to be understood as a psychological phenomenon. Jones does not make clear how this special vocabulary might relate to kinship in general.
On what expertise can a social anthropologist draw that might be useful for the interpretation of an archaeological site such as Çatalhöyük? When facing that question, the anthropologist must accept the uncomfortable fact that he or she has probably much less relevant expertise than the professionals already working, either directly or indirectly, at the site. Not only do they use wonderful techniques in order to obtain data from the remains they uncover, they have also been trained in interpreting their findings with a good deal of theoretical sophistication, which is the fruit of the history of their discipline. Furthermore, they dispose of much more expert general knowledge about the geographical and historical context. They therefore know best how to squeeze interpretation from their material. The social anthropologist coming into such a project will, simply because he or she is innocent of the history of archaeology, run the risk of appearing a blundering, ignorant amateur who, as amateurs often do, simply repeats the mistakes of the past that the discipline has subsequently and painfully learned to avoid. Thus, is not a social anthropologist, let loose on a 21st-century archaeological site, likely to simply prove to be a 19th-century archaeologist in matters of interpretation? The risk is great. The amateur's temptation to attribute fanciful meaning to this or that aspect of the findings on the basis of undisciplined analogies is evident. Characteristic of such mistakes is the assumption that features, or objects, that look vaguely the same as those used by contemporaries must have had similar associations in the past.
In order to avoid the worst pitfalls of this sort of jaunt in another discipline, a severe self-examination on the part of the anthropologist seems therefore necessary. He or she must ask: What might I bring to the process of interpretation that others cannot do better? In what way can I avoid incompetent or misleading attributions of meaning? The answers must come from what the anthropologist can pretend to know better than the archaeologists. In my case I have tentatively two things to offer. First, a theoretical approach that I consider might be helpful even though it is not widely shared and, second, detailed knowledge of a couple of contemporary societies and cultures in Madagascar.
We welcome the critical appraisal of the database used by the behavioral sciences, but we suggest that the authors' differentiation between variable and universal features is ill conceived and that their categorization of non-WEIRD populations is misleading. We propose a different approach to comparative research, which takes population variability seriously and recognizes the methodological difficulties it engenders.
Huntington's disease (HD) is a genetic disease which is transmitted as an autosomal dominant trait. It is a chronic degenerative disease of the CNS characterized by movement disorder, cognitive deterioration and personality change. While found in all parts of the world HD is most commonly found in Caucasians of whom about 1:10 000 individuals are affected. Onset is subtle and insidious and occurs most frequently between 30 and 50 years of age. Juvenile onset is seen in about 10% of cases and about 20% have onset at over 50 years of age with diagnoses as late as the eighth decade reported. The disease progresses inexorably, culminating in death usually 15 to 25 years after observed onset. Late onset HD tends to progress more slowly than early onset forms of the disease. There is thus far no effective treatment or cure for the disease.
HD is commonly known for its jerky, dance-like (choreic) movements. Movement may, however, also be rigid, especially in the juvenile form and the later stages of the adult form. Cognitive deficits (dementia) commonly associated with HD include difficulty with memory (primarily a retrieval problem), attention and concentration. While the dementia of HD is primarily subcortical and is non-aphasic, it includes many additional cognitive functions such as cognitive speed and fluency verbal fluency, difficulty persisting with, or initiating, a task and with change of set (see also ‘Dementias’).
Becoming affected with HD may have a tremendous impact on the psyche. Organic change is compounded with psychological trauma.