Social Brain, Distributed Mind

Thu 25 - Fri 26 Sep 2008, 10:00 - 18:00

The British Academy, 10 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5AH

British Academy Centenary Research Project Symposium

The purpose of this meeting is to bring together two powerful approaches that deal, respectively, with explaining the evolution of human brains (the social brain hypothesis) and understanding cognition as a distributed system (the concept of the distributed mind). Our objective is to compare interdisciplinary perspectives on these key issues across a range of disciplines (Archaeology, Psychology, Philosophy, Sociology, Geography, Anthropology and the Cognitive and Evolutionary Sciences) that span the Academy’s remit and extend beyond to the biological and earth sciences. A particular focus will be provided by the role that material culture plays as a scaffold for distributed cognition and how almost three million years of artefact and tool use provides the data for tracing key changes in areas such as language, technology, kinship, music, social networks and the politics of local, everyday interaction in small-world societies. Another focus will be on how, during the course of hominin evolution, increasingly large spatially distributed communities created stresses that threatened social cohesion.

Archaeology is unique among the human sciences in its focus on material culture and the time depth of its available data, and therefore has an unparalleled opportunity to address these issues. The study of temporal trends in the distribution of mind across the material world offers the possibility of remarkable insights into the evolution of human cognition and social lives that further our understanding of the relationship between mind and world. The key question is how the material record contributed to and can be made to inform on the process by which hominin ‘brains’ became recognisably human ‘minds’.

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