The CMB network met on Friday, December 11, 2020 (“Technology and the Evolution of Human Culture, Mind, and Brain”). Dietrich Stout provided an overview of his research and its relevance for the evolution of language and human cognition.

  • Both stone toolmaking and language use are skills.
  • Stone toolmaking involves dorsal stream of the brain (frontoparietal system, FPS), predictive processing, and perceptual motor simulation.
    • FPS is an action control system that affects:
      • Sense of agency
      • Self-awareness/-recognition
      • Internal model – disturbance in this affects sensory feedback (e.g., autism; altered states of consciousness)
  • Chunking is important in skill acquisition, that is, recognizing regular, reoccurring chunks of information in learning (power learning curve).
    • Chunk-based learning is selected on and evolving, which is related to elaboration of technology.
    • Hierarchical mental programs and action sequences (cf. language, e.g., Patricia Greenfield’s work looking at inferior frontal gyrus and syntactic sequencing)
  • Imitation may lead to transmission of culture in humans (“cumulative culture transmission”), especially for some performative actions, e.g., dance, but is not sufficient for learning more complex actions, e.g., stone toolmaking (cf., learning niche).
    • Stone toolmaking is highly complex and involves much more social interaction.
  • For stone toolmaking, experience affects brain structure, which affects aptitude.
  • Surprisal (in predictive processing) can be parsed in language and can also be parsed in actions, such as stone toolmaking, with appropriate parsing tools.
  • Having a particular brain structure – with or without expertise – may advantage or pre-adapt someone to learning a new skill (natural selection).
    • Those with skill expertise may have particular brain structures that favor some skill acquisition (jump start), but not general skill acquisition. One speculation there is a bit of genetic variation that leads to a skill difference. Context matters when/if this skill is enacted.
  • It is unclear if different neurons are being tapped to do different things.
  • There is an evolution story and a developmental story; they are not the same. Disaggregate these stories to try to figure out what is driving function now.
    • They influence each other over evolutionary time.
  • Regarding attention to inner versus outer-directed cues, stone toolmakers’ attention to external cues and objects are more translatable across different bodies (a cultural point).


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