Retuning cognition with a pair of rocks: Culture, evolution, technology

March 29, 2019 - March 30, 2019
Center for Philosophy of Science, University of Pittsburgh

1008 Cathedral of Learning
Pittsburgh 15260
United States

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University of Pittsburgh
University of Chicago
University of California, Los Angeles
Indiana University


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Interest in cultural evolution is growing exponentially, but the literature on the evolution of technology and its developmental and evolutionary impacts on cognition is not yet sufficiently connected with research on cultural evolution. This is crucial because cognition is not just a transmitted tool: at least sometimes changes in cognition transform the worldview, capacities, and motivations of the agent, making new adaptive radiations possible, and sometimes this is a direct response to the evolution or co-evolution of technology.

So, how does technology affect the nature, properties, and capacities of cognition? We can very quickly point to computers and the internet, but that would not analyze this relationship. Technology is not just a product of cognition, to be transmitted and elaborated through cultural means. It may also be a cognitive amplifier, yet still, a wholly external tool, such as pen and paper, which provides a larger working memory for production and experiment. Or a written language might drive the reworking of neural circuitry either (developmentally) to better recognize symbols or (evolutionarily) to better acquire the capacity to do so. Technology may also include systematic practices with a couple of rocks used to rework another to make an Oldowan flake, or perhaps requiring a coevolving language to communicate the much more complex array of actions facing the Acheulean toolmaker.

And if technology yields an expansion of the cognitive niche, the question arises—of whom? Is it of an individual who has mastered an elaborate flaking technology yielding a new diversity of tools and of the affordances they provide. Or is it of the whole interacting population of critical mass, with diverse normatively standardized practices, maintaining and elaborating a complex repertoire for fabricating, hunting, and perhaps celebrating their niche and its inhabitants? Or it is of multiple overlapping specialized groups in between? Perhaps an analogy is useful: In what ways is a society like a distributed brain?

We seek papers from those who share these puzzles with us and are interested in some aspect of the development and evolution of technology, cognition, culture, and the socially integrated and diverse structures (now so explosively elaborated by the internet!) that scaffold and articulate our complex worlds.

Keynote Speakers: Colin Allen (University of Pittsburgh, History and Philosophy of Science), Jacob Foster (UCLA, Sociology), Karin James (Indiana University, Psychology), James Evans (The University of Chicago, Sociology), and Cecilia Heyes (University of Oxford, Theoretical Life Sciences)

Submission Deadline: January 7, 2019

Program Committee: Edouard Machery (Pittsburgh, Center for Philosophy of Science), Jacob Neal (Pittsburgh, History and Philosophy of Science), Morgan Thompson (Pittsburgh, History and Philosophy of Science), Antonella Tramacere (Pittsburgh, Center for Philosophy of Science), and Bill Wimsatt (Pittsburgh, Center for Philosophy of Science)

Please submit an abstract of no more than 1,000 words. Abstracts will be refereed blind and notifications will be sent February 1, 2019.

Abstract submission is electronic and must be made through Easy Chair. 
Please go to:

We encourage early career scholars and scientists working on such topics to apply. We particularly welcome submissions from members of underrepresented groups. To facilitate participation, we can offer a small number of awards for full or partial support for hotel rooms during the conference. When submitting your abstract, please indicate in the PDF if you are interested in being considered for a full or partial hotel room award. Accepted presenters will receive additional instructions for consideration for an award.

Further inquiries may be addressed to Morgan Thompson (

Center for Philosophy of Science

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Eric Campbell
University of California, San Diego
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