April 13, 2009

Tracking Developmental Complexity in Cognition and Culture

I have long held the (unpopular) opinion that individual human development does not capitulate species evolution - at least not entirely, because of symbolic or cultural factors. I would also argue the even more criticized (at least by so-called integralists) opinion that cultural evolution, generally, does not capitulate individual level development. It seems clear to me that human individuals cannot skip 'stages' of development, but social groups can.

For example, social groups can evolve in hybrid ways - such as a tribal, ethnocentric social group adopting complex knowledges, practices and technology (cell phones, blogging, etc) before ever adopting conventional national identities and politics. Put simply, a person can be socialized within life conditions which blend tribal identities with modernist politics and postmodern technology. Therefore the individuals who comprise such a group never have to 'develop' through a 'stage' of pure tribalism, but instead become adult-s within ("skip" directly into) a hybrid sociality with modernist sensibilities.

Briefly, in a related sense, I also argue that it is also quite obvious that conventional-operational level cognition (con-op) is not the same as traditionalist level culture (BLUE vMeme). And the usual 'integral' explaination for this evokes "multiple lines of development". But I do think it is possible for someone to be a conventional-operational thinker and still espouse beliefs or philosophies (cultural content) at much 'higher' levels of sophistication. Hence we find "integral" dogmatists - con-op thinkers - defending 'integral' paradigms. But i digress.

These criticisms have been at the core of my ongoing angst with most Integral Theory, at least as it has so far been presented. [note: Wilber has made some important differentiations/clarifications on these issues (e.g., why a "we" is not an "I") in his most recent work. see: Integral Spirituality, p 149-152]

Below cognitive scientist Merlin Donald pulls apart some of the most interesting conceptual entanglements surrounding notions of individual development and human evolution. He explains with his usual scientific rigor why development and evolution are not the same process. Enjoy.
The Virtues of Rigorous Interdisciplinarity

by Merlin Donald

Evolution is one thing, and development is quite another. They involve a different kind of dynamic, and their empirical methodologies are far apart. But, on the other hand, they also have important areas of overlap, especially in the domain of theory.

This is due to the fact that both evolution and development use time as an organizational and exploratory principle. Only temporal analysis can reveal the details of emergent structure and dynamic processes. This is especially important in the case of human cognition, which defies reduction to a static model.

Cognitive processes unfold on two time scales, the first (development) measured with fractions of a single lifetime, and the other (evolution) measured in multiples of many lifetimes. Evolution is ruled by mechanisms that are distinct from those that govern development; the former act on entire populations, whereas the latter act on individual organisms. However there are direct linkages between evolution and development.

Development processes are subject to natural selection, and development must be an integral component of any comprehensive theory of evolution. Evolutionary theories must be compatible with development facts, because it is the developing organism in the real world that undergoes evolutionary change.

There is a feed back loop from development to evolution...
Read More (PDF): Here

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