Thursday, September 01, 2005

Common evocations   posted by Razib @ 9/01/2005 03:16:00 PM

Salon has a long piece up about "alternative archaeology" (ie; Atlantis nuts) and its intersection with Creationism. It is basically an elaboration of the-enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend principle. Nevertheless, there is on point that I think deserves to be noted, the various skeptics of traditional archeology seem to be a reflection of "evoked culture" in conjunction with a contrasting strong faith in centrality of "epidemiological culture." Evoked culture can be thought of as the higher order manifestations of modal cognitive responses. Languages, music, art and religions are basically evoked from universal human environments and share general similarities even if they vary in the details. Epidemiological culture is more the realm of explicit concepts and ideas which are further removed from any inevitable cognitive response to the environment (ie; novel memes). To illustrate what I am trying to get at: the superficial similarities of pyramids across the world is often pointed out as evidence for a "root race" that formulated this meme. The underlying paradigm is hyper-diffusionism, human inventions and motifs are assumed to have been generated only once, after which they spread through movement of people or ideas. In reality I suspect that the construction of pyramids falls under a particular cognitive response (socially-environmentally cued and contextualized) that can be elicited from many humans without any inputs of pyramid memes, in other words, it is often simply evoked from our mental substrate by a particular milieu (stratified civilizations with economic surplus and an elite need to "impress" the lower orders). Ironically, I suspect that the alternative archaeology movement is not an example of a memetic or epidemiological movement itself, rather, it is an evoked cognitive response to particular needs and inputs (which explains its diversity, from fundamentalist Christians to Hare Krishnas to secular journalists). So, you have the peculiar case where an common evoked cultural response promotes a myth of epidemiologically shaped humanity.1

Note: Though the terms evoked culture and epidemiological culture have precise meanings in some Evolutionary Psychology circles I am using them loosely (ie; I don't necessarily think that massive modularity or specialized knowledge domains are necessary for evoked culture).

1 - Anthropologists like Dan Sperber, Scott Atran and Pascal Boyer basically imply that though the outward explicit form of modern religion is epidemiological its basic substrate is evoked. If asked I think most people would reverse the equation, though some religious thinkers do assert that belief in God and such things are "innate."