Cognitive Gadgets: The Cultural Evolution of Thinking

Heyes, Cecilia

My comments 2022-07-03


Many features of Homo sapiens have been considered as special of significant as the source of what makes humans different from animals. Often, the features that are typically discussed, e.g. sociality, language, mind-reading, and so on, are just assumed to be part of the genetic endowment of Homo sapiens. Cecilia Heyes argues that culture is much more important in the formation, maintenance and transfer of these features than typically assumed.

I am in general sympathetic to Heyes thesis. Culture is a absolutely essential aspect of what it is to be human, and any account that does not contain that realization is severely flawed. But the arguments made in this book do not quite convince me. They are interesting and worth discussing, and she does make a number of good critical points about competing theories, such as Noam Chomsky's account of language. But I close the book with a feeling of not having gotten a very good idea of how the cognitive gadgets actually work, in part because I wish there had been a more concrete discussion of a few examples. To be sure, she discusses several examples, such as language, but somehow these discussions are on a level of abstraction that does not quite hit home. Somehow, I am left unsatisfied.