Sunday, November 21, 2010


I've linked Mark Changizi before, and this is a new interview with him previewing his book due to be published next year. He has some very interesting ideas and I look forward to seeing him lay them out in a more full and detailed manner.

What is new here is my view of how culture goes about making language and the arts good for our brain: Culture’s trick is to make language and the arts “mimic nature,” just the thing our brain *is* designed to absorb.

I refer to it as “Nature Harnessing.” . . .

 . . . Writing has culturally evolved so that written words tend to look like visual objects in natural scenes (in particular, natural scenes with opaque objects strewn about).

Speech has culturally evolved so that spoken words tend to sound like natural auditory events (in particular, events among solid objects).

And music has culturally evolved to sound like humans moving in our midst — music is a fictional auditory story of a person moving about in our vicinity.

The strategy in each case is to understand the structure found in the natural environment, and check whether this “natural signature” is found in the cultural artifact. . . .

 . . . So, in my view our visual and auditory systems (and all sensory systems) have an essential plasticity needed to learn to recognize the natural environments the animal inhabits. But these mechanisms will generally be comparably terrible at learning utterly unnatural kinds of stimuli.

To get language and music into us, I claim, the key plasticity that mattered was not some special human plasticity, but “cultural plasticity,” i.e., the ability for cultural evolution to “learn” how to harness us.

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