Wednesday Round Up #47

Behavior needs neural variability

Human and non-human animal behavior is highly malleable and adapts successfully to internal and external demands. Such behavioral success stands in striking contrast to the apparent instability in neural activity (i.e., variability) from which it arises. Here, we summon the considerable evidence across scales, species, and imaging modalities that neural variability represents a key, undervalued dimension for understanding brain-behavior relationships at inter- and intra-individual levels. We believe that only by incorporating a specific focus on variability will the neural foundation of behavior be comprehensively understood.

Human biology is a matter of life or death: Effective science communication for COVID‐19 research

Making science relatable involves using real‐world examples and emotional appeal (Martinez‐Conde & Macknik, 2017). Cognitive sciences research suggests that human minds are adapted for learning more easily from a story than from, say, a report (Gottschall, 2012). The emotional upheaval of the pandemic is one of the most dominant themes of this crisis, making the emotional salience of the science of COVID‐19 an easy way to reach people as well as an important one. Developing a narrative of human biology research as it pertains to COVID‐19 provides a compelling story and relatable examples—two key components for effective science communication.

It is also critical to address uncertainty when sharing science stories. A common concern among non‐scientists is a lack of comfort with uncertainty (Funk, 2017).Uncertainty drives scientists to conduct research, but for non‐scientists uncertain situations are generally negative (eg, waiting on medical results or worrying about job security or ability to pay bills during a pandemic). Therefore, human biologists and other scientists need to be explicit and transparent about the importance of inductive research as preludes to deductive studies and the steps needed before findings can be applied for any greater good.

Algorithms of Oppression: Safiya Umoja Noble

Back in 2009, when Safiya Noble, a visiting professor, conducted a Google search using keywords “black girls,” “latina girls,” and “asian girls,” the first page of results were invariably linked to pornography.

About Race Podcast – Things Can Only Get Better

Simon: For over 20 years I’ve headed Operation Black Vote. I’m its director, one of the founders. Primarily we try to tackle persistent deep rooted institutional race inequality. Nothing changes unless we act, and we act as a caucus, as a powerful group. Politically, economically, socially, culturally and so our activities in terms of our communities is 1, voter registration, citizenship, political understanding; how the system works how we can effectively access it and the third element is nurturing talent to become leaders. MPs, councillors, school governors. 10 percent of all BME MPs are from Operation Black Vote.

The burgeoning reach of animal culture

Before the mid-20th century, it was generally assumed that culture, behavior learned from others, was specific to humans. However, starting with identification in a few species, evidence that animals can learn and transmit behaviors has accumulated at an ever-increasing pace. Today, there is no doubt that culture is widespread among animal species, both vertebrates and invertebrates, marine and terrestrial. Whiten reviews evidence for animal culture and elaborates on the wide array of forms that such culture takes. Recognizing that other species have complex and varied culture has implications for conservation and welfare and for understanding the evolution of this essential component of animal societies, including our own.

Adaptive Behavior journal, Special Issue on 4E cognition in the Lower Palaeolithic
Intro Abstract:

This essay introduces a special issue focused on 4E cognition (cognition as embodied, embedded, enactive, and extended) in the Lower Palaeolithic. In it, we review the typological and representational cognitive approaches that have dominated the past 50 years of paleoanthropology. These have assumed that all representations and computations take place only inside the head, which implies that the archaeological record can only be an “external” product or the behavioral trace of “internal” representational and computational processes. In comparison, the 4E approach helps us to overcome this dualist representational logic, allowing us to engage directly with the archaeological record as an integral part of the thinking process, and thus ground a more parsimonious cognitive archaeology. It also treats stone tools, the primary vestiges of hominin thinking, as active participants in mental life. The 4E approach offers a better grounding for understanding hominin technical expertise, a crucially important component of hominin cognitive evolution.

One Open-Access Paper:
Ergonomic clusters and displaced affordances in early lithic technology

Traditional typological, technical, and cognitive approaches to early stone tools have taken an implicit Cartesian stance concerning the nature of mind. In many cases, this has led to interpretations of early technology that overemphasize its human-like features. By eschewing an epistemic mediator, 4E approaches to cognition (embodied, embedded, enactive, and extended) are in a better position to make appropriate evaluations of early hominin technical cognition that emphasize its continuity with non-human primates and ground a description of the evolution of hominin technology. This essay takes some initial steps in that direction by shifting focus away from tool types and knapping patterns toward a description based on ergonomics and Gibsonian affordances. The analysis points to the evolutionary importance of two hitherto underappreciated aspects of hominin technical systems—the emergence of ergonomic clusters instantiated in artifact form and the development of displaced affordances.

The material difference in human cognition

Humans leverage material forms for unique cognitive purposes: We recruit and incorporate them into our cognitive system, exploit them to accumulate and distribute cognitive effort, and use them to recreate phenotypic change in new individuals and generations. These purposes are exemplified by writing, a relatively recent tool that has become highly adept at eliciting specific psychological and behavioral responses in its users, capability it achieved by changing in ways that facilitated, accumulated, and distributed incremental behavioral and psychological change between individuals and generations. Writing is described here as a self-organizing system whose design features reflect points of maximal usefulness that emerged under sustained collective use of the tool. Such self-organization may hold insights applicable to human cognitive evolution and tool use more generally. Accordingly, this article examines the emergence of the ability to leverage material forms for cognitive purposes, using the tool-using behaviors and lithic technologies of ancestral species and contemporary non-human primates as proxies for matters like collective use, generational sustainment, and the non-teleological emergence of design features.

Special Issue: “Embodied Belonging”

In this introduction, we propose the notion of ‘embodied belonging’ as a fruitful analytical heuristic for scholars in medical and psychological anthropology. We envision this notion to help us gain a more nuanced understanding of the entanglements of the political, social, and affective dimensions of belonging and their effects on health, illness, and healing. A focus on embodied belonging, we argue, reveals how displacement, exclusion, and marginalization cause existential and health-related ruptures in people’s lives and bodies, and how affected people, in the struggle for re/emplacement and re/integration, may regain health and sustain their well-being. Covering a variety of regional contexts (Germany/Vietnam, Norway, the UK, Japan), the contributions to this special issue examine how embodied non/belonging is experienced, re/imagined, negotiated, practiced, disrupted, contested, and achieved (or not) by their protagonists, who are excluded and marginalized in diverse ways. Each article highlights the intricate trajectories of how dynamics of non/belonging inscribe themselves in human bodies. They also reveal how belonging can be utilized and drawn on as a forceful means and resource of social resilience, if not (self-)therapy and healing.

The Myth of Modern Water
A presentation by Prof. Heather O’Leary and Prof. Christian Wells on April 22 (Earth Day).

The belief that household water is safe and universal in high-income countries is a product of “modern water”—a set of neoliberal ideas, discourses, and practices associated with Western scientific models of water management that imagines water as clean, safe, trustworthy, affordable, and uniformly governed.

Yet, the reality for many marginalized communities in the U.S. is quite the opposite, where modern water often (re)produces infrastructural violence, or the ways in which infrastructures constitute the material channels for structural violence while materializing power relations.

A West African Window Into Human Evolution

What is clear is that the long-held simple unilinear model of cultural change toward “modernity” is not supported by the evidence. Groups of hunter-gatherers embedded in radically different technological traditions may have occupied neighboring regions of Africa for thousands of years, and sometimes shared the same regions. Long isolated regions, on the other hand, may have been important reservoirs of cultural and genetic diversity. This matches genetic studies and may have been a defining factor in the success of our species. Our findings are a reminder of the dangers of ignoring gaps on the map.

How hard is cognitive science?

Cognitive science is itself a cognitive activity. Yet, computational cognitive science tools are seldom used to study (limits of) cognitive scientists’ thinking. Here, we do so using computational-level modeling and complexity analysis. We present an idealized formal model of a core inference problem faced by cognitive scientists: Given observations of a system’s behaviors, infer cognitive processes that could plausibly produce the behavior. We consider variants of this problem at different levels of explanation and prove that at each level, the inference problem is intractable, or even uncomputable. We discuss the implications for cognitive science.

Homo Erectus – The First Humans

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