Mind and Cultural Evolution Research Cluster

Mind and Cultural Evolution Research Cluster

This research cluster explores the neural and cultural basis of mental phenomena such as: consciousness, self, agency, language, the emotions, and skills. Our research is interdisciplinary, drawing on work in philosophy, anthropology and cognitive science. In particular we focus on the evolution and development of mental phenomena in the context of rich socio-cultural niches.

Current projects

The Enculturated Brain: How Culture Transforms the Brain and Extends our Cognitive Capacities (2013-2017)

Richard Menary

ARC Future Fellowship (2013-2017). Awarded $589,656.

Summary: This project aims to advance our understanding of the influence of the cultural and social environment on our cognitive capabilities. Its significance lies in producing a theoretical model of how human brains have evolved to be culturally situated. The outcome will be a model that explains how as a species: our brains evolved in richly social and cultural environments; how each human brain develops in such an environment; and, how culture transforms the brain. The cultural transformation of our brains results in culturally extended cognitive systems. This will be a significant innovation in our current understanding of how brains, bodies and culture transform our basic cognitive capabilities.

Changing your mind by changing your brain: An interventionist perspective on cognitive neuroscience (2014-2018)

Colin Klein

ARC Future Fellowship (2014-2018). Awarded $609,220.

Summary: Functional neuroimaging provides a tremendous amount of information about the brain, but what it shows about the mind is less clear. Addressing this fundamental philosophical question requires developing a detailed account of theory-testing in cognitive neuroscience. This project aims to connect neuroimaging to theories of explanation that focus on the way one variable can make a difference to another. By linking neuroimaging to facts about manipulable relationships between the brain and the mind, it will also provide a bridge between neuroimaging and complementary technologies for directly intervening on the brain. This, in turn, will provide a platform from which to explore the theoretical and ethical consequences of direct brain manipulation.

What is this thing called race? (2015-2018)

Adam Hochman

Macquarie University Research Fellowship (2015 - 2018). Awarded $292,495.

Summary: Academic debate about the reality of race is raging once again. There is an emerging consensus amongst scientists and philosophers regarding the facts about human biological diversity. However, this is not moving the debate toward a resolution because scholars are employing different definitions of ‘race’. This project aims to show that those who argue for the reality of race get the meaning of ‘race’ wrong.

Solving the puzzle of the emergence of individuals in evolution (2017-2020)

Pierrick Bourrat (Macquarie)

Macquarie University Research Fellowship (2017 - 2020).

Summary: This interdisciplinary project will make progress on the concept of individuality and how it relates to the formal aspects of evolutionary theory. It aims to provide a general framework to understand the origins of individuals in evolution and more particularly the transitions from uni- to multicellular organisms. The question of the transitions in individuality is one to which current evolutionary theory does not adequately respond. The project will use a wide range of tools (such as statistical modelling, computer simulations and collaborative experimental work) which, once integrated into this framework, will lead to an improved understanding of the processes involved in the emergence in evolution of new kinds of individuals.

Completed Projects

Causal Foundations of Biological Information (2013-2016)

Karola Stotz (Macquarie); Paul Griffiths, Arnaud Pocheville (Sydney)

Templeton World Charity Foundation (2013-2016). Awarded $1,255,579.

Summary:  Our leading big question is: Is biological information a substantive causal factor in living systems? The source of order and purpose in living systems has been the main question at the intersection of philosophy and biology since the 18th century. For many decades it has seemed evident that the answer must lie in some distinctive role for information in living systems. However, attempts to turn this idea into a rigorous theory have been disappointing. We have an original and promising strategy that learns from these past disappointments.

Our hypothesis is that 'Crick information' provides a common currency for the sources of order in living systems. Crick information is constituted by a distinctive kind of causal relationship. This relationship, which Crick originally identified between nucleic acids and their products, also describes the informing role of gene-regulatory mechanisms, of environmental signals that affect gene expression through those mechanisms, and the order that emerges from self organization. Living systems are informed by Crick information distributed between coding sequences, regulatory sequences, and the developmental environment, and assembled through gene regulatory mechanisms and the processes of morphogenesis.

Embodied Virtues and Expertise (2010-2013)

Richard Menary (lead investigator), Shaun Gallagher, Daniel Hutto, Christopher Winch and David Simpson

ARC Discovery project (2010-2013). Awarded $293,000. 

Summary: The main question that this project seeks to answer is: How do experts embody the knowledge and skills required for fluid and flexible skilled activity in real time? The proposed answer is a unique combination of embodied cognition and virtue epistemology which explains expertise in terms of embodied skills and reliable cognitive abilities, referred to in the literature as cognitive virtues.

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