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Richard Moore (Warwick): “Learning (to learn) from others”
30 March, 12:00 pm – 1:30 pm
This event will take place online via Zoom.
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Please note that these events are routinely recorded, with the edited footage being made publicly available on our website and YouTube channel. We will only record the audio, the slides and the speaker and will not include the Q&A section. However, any question asked during the talk itself will feature in the final edit.
Abstract: In this talk I argue that two skills identified as central to human cognitive uniqueness – pointing and imitation – may result from a common underlying cause in human history. While they are typically argued to be the result of independent adaptations for cooperative communication and high-fidelity social learning, I will suggest that there are relatively weak grounds for thinking they derived from independent biological changes rather than a single cultural or ecological change.
I will argue that the development of both pointing comprehension and imitation likely resulted from an ecological change in our ancestral environment, which led our ancestors to look to each other, rather than to their environment, as sources of information about the world. I’ll explain why both ape emulation and pointing failure can be thought of as resulting from individualistic information gathering strategies, and sketch a scenario that would have made such strategies non-viable. I’ll also present some empirical data collected by my collaborators and I, and argue that it supports a new explanation of why great apes are typically poor at pointing comprehension – one in line with the hypothesis I develop here.
Finally I’ll argue that since both pointing and imitation have been trained with enculturation, they should not be assumed to result from biological adaptations in the hominin lineage.
Richard Moore is a philosopher and cognitive scientist who studies the nature and origins of uniquely human forms of cognition and culture. He’s currently Future Leaders Fellow in Philosophy at the University fo Warwick.