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2 The Ability to Objectify: A Difference in Learning Ability Between Modern Humans and Neanderthals

2 The Ability to Objectify: A Difference in Learning Ability Between Modern Humans and Neanderthals

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Sociocultural Cultivation of Positive Attitudes Toward Learning: Considering. . .


Fig. 23.1 Ratchet effect of

cultural learning (Tomasello

1999, p. 38)

1. Childhood cultural learning: The ratchet of cultural


Childhood cultural learning denotes the process in which

children or novices learn cognitive skills through cultural

learning. Through this process, the pool of cognitive

skills and knowledge about previously invented products

are faithfully transmitted over generations and preserved

as resources for future innovation. This process functions

as the “ratchet” of cultural evolution.

2. Individual or collaborative creation: The driving force of

cultural evolution

In this process, individuals or groups of individuals modify existing cognitive skills and products or invent new

ones on the basis of an accumulated pool of cognitive

resources such as tools, technical processes, symbolic

communication devices, and social institutions. This process advances the rate of cultural evolution and thus can

be understood as its driving force.

23.2.2 Two Mental Abilities of Modern Humans

As I have demonstrated elsewhere (Omura 2014a, b, 2015),

a close examination of Tomasello’s hypothesis according

to Bateson’s (1972) model of the evolution of learning

reveals that modern humans possess two species-unique

mental abilities corresponding to two stages of cumulative

cultural evolution. These abilities are the theory of mind

(Tomasello 1999) and the mental objectification (Bateson

1972). The Ability to Engage in Theory of Mind:

Essential to Cultural Learning

According to Tomasello, cultural learning comprises three

types of learning, imitative, instructed, and collaborative

learning, and is based on “the ability of individual organisms

to understand conspecifics as beings like themselves who

have intentional and mental lives like their own” (Tomasello

1999, p. 5).

In imitative learning, “youngsters actually reproduce the

behavior or behavioral strategy of the demonstrator, for the

same goal as the demonstrator” (Tomasello 1999, p. 26).

Instructive learning denotes the learning process that “comes

from the ‘top down,’ as knowledgeable or skilled individuals

seek to impart knowledge or skills to others” (Tomasello

1999, p. 33). In collaborative learning, novices learn through

collaboration with knowledgeable and skilled individuals.

These types of cultural learning would not be possible without learners’ ability to understand the intentions behind

others’ behaviors.

Tomasello then points out that it is the power of cultural

learning to function as the ratchet of cultural evolution that

enables modern humans to accumulate modifications to their

past skills and abilities over time. He also notes that this

ability is restricted to modern humans. Thus, he concludes

that differences in learning between modern humans and

other animal species lie in the ability to engage in cultural

learning. This capacity is, in turn, based on the learners’

ability “to understand conspecifics as beings that follow

intentional and mental lives similar to their own,” in

Tomasello’s words. This may also be understood as the

ability to exercise a theory of mind.

270 The Ability to Objectify: Essential

to Creation

According to Bateson’s (1972) model, objectifying previously

learned skills through cultural learning is essential for creatively

modifying existing cognitive skills or inventing new ones.

During infancy, modern humans learn conventional technical processes, socially acceptable behaviors, conventional

methods of understanding the world, and other forms of

“character” (Bateson 1972, p. 303), style, or culture via

cultural learning. Cultural learning thus enables subsequent

generations to develop creative modifications and inventions

by drawing from the accumulated pool of cognitive

resources without having to invest the time and effort

of inventing skills from scratch. However, the attainment

of knowledge via cultural learning is likely to persist

throughout a learner’s life, through reflectively unexamined

learning processes and unconsciously automatized skills.

This often results in cultural bias in learners and primes

them to adhere to knowledge gained through this process

and conservatively resist change. Cultural learning thus

often impedes possibilities for creative modification and


Therefore, Bateson (1972) asserts that “throwing these

unexamined premises open to question and change” is necessary for achieving “freedom from the bondage of habit”

(p. 303) and for creatively modifying existing cognitive

skills or inventing new ones. In other words, it is necessary

to detach from and consciously objectify one’s habits,

including unexamined premises and unconsciously

automatized skills. If conventional techniques and methods

of understanding the world are not consciously objectified

and their underlying premises remain unconsciously

automatized and unexamined, then modifying or changing

these perspectives is impossible. Thus, modern humans must

develop not only the ability to engage in a theory of mind on

which cultural learning is based but also the ability to objectify conventional habits learned via cultural learning.

According to Bateson (1972), this ability is acquired

through resolving what he called “double binds,” (p. 303)

the paradoxes among unexamined premises learned during

cultural learning or between premises and circumstances.

Thus, the ability to objectify conventional habits requires

the patience to persist in resolving paradoxes. This tenacity

and ability to hold two equally viable ideas in mind are

illustrated beautifully in the example of “the Zen candidate

who has been assigned a koan (paradox) [and] must labor at

his task ‘like a mosquito biting on an iron bar’” (p. 303).

Thus, these two abilities that have allowed modern humans

to acquire the species-unique mechanism of cumulative cultural evolution bestowed upon them remarkable creative

abilities that led to explosive improvements in cognitive

skills. Through their theory of mind, modern humans could

avoid investing time and effort in inventing solutions for

K. Omura

every problem encountered. However, this simultaneously

resulted in rigidity and strict adherence to preexisting, conventional problem-solving methods even as conditions

changed. Thus, the ability to objectify enabled modern

humans to disassemble skill sets gained via cultural learning

and thereafter rearrange or add new components to modify

them or to invent new ones. This is the unique feature of

human evolution that Tomasello revealed. Modern humans

can develop the necessary cognitive skills required to create

complex products, such as technologies, communication

devices, and social institutions, through cumulative cultural

evolution, based on two major abilities: (1) the ability to

engage in theory of mind and (2) the ability to objectify.

23.2.3 The Ability to Objectify: A Difference

in Learning Ability Between Modern

Humans and Neanderthals

If we accept that cumulative cultural evolution comprises two

stages based, respectively, on the ability to engage in theory of

mind (the basis for cultural learning) and the capacity for

objectification (the basis for creation), and if there are

differences in learning ability between modern humans and

Neanderthals, no other logical choice exists other than inferring that Neanderthals lack the latter ability even if they

shared the former with modern humans. This is because the

ability to objectify what has already been learned via cultural

learning without the ability for cultural learning is logically

impossible even if the converse is possible. Thus, it is reasonable to hypothesize that the difference in learning ability

between modern humans and Neanderthals lies in objectification, which Neanderthals lacked but modern humans acquired.

This hypothesis seems further supported by the archaeological fact that stone-crafting techniques believed to have

originated with the Neanderthals (e.g., the Levallois technique) were maintained for several hundred thousand years

without any innovations (Mithen 1996). This can be

reasonably explained by the hypothesis that Neanderthals

acquired the ability to engage in theory of mind, but lacked

the ability to objectify—that is, as a culture, they were able to

preserve existing techniques, but they were unable to modify

them.2 Thus, based on Bateson’s model, Tomasello’s model


As Sterelny (2012) pointed out on the basis of the recent archaeological findings, the stone tool kits of Neanderthals have been turned out to

be more complex than ever presumed: for example, composite tools

such as spears with a stone head believed to have originated with them

were discovered. As I showed elsewhere (Omura 2014b, 2015), however, it is possible to produce such composite tools using the techniques

based on only the ability for cultural learning without the ability to

objectify: for example, some component processes are added to either

the outset or end of the whole sequence of processes already established


Sociocultural Cultivation of Positive Attitudes Toward Learning: Considering. . .


Fig. 23.2 Hypothesis on the evolutionary process from Neanderthals to modern humans

Fig. 23.3 Hypothesis on the evolution of learning

and automatically operated as a conventional technique, with the result

that composite tools like spear with a stone head are invented without

objectifying and manipulating the sequence of processes, although in

this case the productivity is more limited than in the case where the

sequence is objectified, disassembled, manipulated, and reassembled

on the basis of the ability to objectify. It can be inferred that this might

be the case in some complex stone-crafting techniques of Neanderthals.

If so, it is likely that, as I point out at the end of this article, the cultural

tradition and social institution different from the ones of modern

humans were evolved in the case of Neanderthals, though it remains

to be explored what kind of culture and institution were evolved. It also

remains to be explored whether Homo preceding Neanderthals acquired

the ability to objectify or not, and if they did, to what extent they did.

can be modified to include the evolutionary process from

Neanderthals to modern humans, as in Figs. 23.2 and 23.3.

Hypothetically, Neanderthals might have acquired cultural learning, but they did not acquire the objectification

required for creation. Ultimately, because of their lack of

objectification ability, Neanderthals might not have been

able to modify their original artifacts and practices creatively. In contrast, modern humans acquired both cultural

learning and objectification and thus fully realized cultural

evolution. In short, the ability to objectify distinguishes

modern humans from Neanderthals.


K. Omura

So, how do modern humans acquire the ability to objectify? To address this question, I next examine Canadian Inuit

children’s learning processes.


Training for Handling Dilemmas: Inuit

Adults’ Teasing of Children

As explained in the introduction, Inuit adults commonly and

regularly tease children. In this section, I first introduce the

Inuit life cycle to situate children teased in their social

environment and then examine examples of teasing to reveal

its characteristics.

23.3.1 Inuit Adults’ Teasing of Children in Life


On the basis of Condon’s (1988) investigations into

Inuit youth and my research, the Inuit life cycle can be

summarized as follows:

1. Babies (nutarannuat or inuuhaat)

This stage begins at birth and ends when the child begins

playing around the neighborhood at about 3 or 4 years of

age, though this varies by individual (this is also the case

in all stages). At this stage, the Inuit consider infants to

have no reason (ihumaqanngittuq) and thus protect them

and lavish them with love.

2. Children (nutaraat)

This stage begins when an infant begins playing around

the neighborhood and speaking; it extends until the child

is considered to have reason, at some point between 3 or

4 and approximately 13 years old. At this stage, children

are still considered to lack reason so they cannot control

their desires, but naively follow them. Thus, they are

considered likely to act indiscreetly and selfishly and

easily lose their tempers when their desires are not met.

3. Teenagers (inuuhuktut or maqquktut)

This stage begins when a child is considered to have

reason and extends until she/he is socially independent,

between approximately 13 and 20 years old. Although

teenagers are considered to have reason and are thus

capable of controlling their desires and beginning to act

in a socially acceptable manner, they are still economically and socially dependent on their parents. They begin

to learn subsistence techniques and knowledge for themselves, according to a gendered division of labor, while

helping their parents. Male teenagers go hunting with

their fathers and elder brothers, while females help their

mothers and elder sisters process game, manage food

sharing, rear infants, and keep house.

4. Adults (inirniit)

This stage begins when an individual is considered economically and socially independent and thus mature

enough to marry, around the age of 20.

5. Middle Age (inirnirvinguliqtut)

Adults at this stage are considered fully mature and


6. Elders (innatuqat)

This stage corresponds approximately to people over

70 years old. At this stage, individuals are highly

respected as executive advisors of the extended family

because of their resourcefulness and deep stores of


Babies are not teased because they cannot understand the

language with which teasing is conducted. Rather, babies are

indulged: They receive every indulgence from the people

around them, including children, teenagers, adults, and

elders. They are never left alone except while sleeping;

they are always cradled in caregivers’ arms, fondled, smiled,

babbled at, and coaxed to smile; their desires are always

satisfied as long as those desires do not endanger them. This

indulgence of babies greatly contrasts with the teasing of

children. Likewise, teenagers are not teased because adults

cease teasing when children stop taking teasing seriously

and ignore it (Briggs 1979a, 1998). According to the Inuit,

these behaviors signify that they have acquired reason and

become teenagers.

Moreover, it is only adults and elders considered to

have mature reason (ihumaqaqtiaqtuq) who tease children.

Although children often try to tease their peers, imitating

adults’ teasing, they are sternly forbidden to do so. Because

they lack reason, their mutual teasing tends to escalate into

serious fights (Briggs 1979a, 1998). Thus, adults forbid them

to tease each other and immediately intervene if they attempt

to do so. However, teenagers, who are not yet socially

independent, rarely tease children. Although they enjoy

watching adults’ teasing of children and laugh along with

them, they rarely take the initiative in teasing, nor do they

take any positive part in it. They seem to restrain themselves

from actively teasing children.

Thus, the children at stage 2 are commonly and regularly

teased by fully mature adults, the middle-aged, and elders.

How, then, are children teased? In the next section, I introduce some typical examples reported by Briggs (1979a).

23.3.2 Some Typical Examples of Inuit Adults’

Teasing of Children

As mentioned in the introduction, since 1989, I have

observed many cases of adults’ teasing of children while

staying at my Inuit mentor’s house. However, I have never


Sociocultural Cultivation of Positive Attitudes Toward Learning: Considering. . .

seen a lovelier and more perfect example than what

Briggs (1979a) reported. In reference to her report, I here

introduce some typical examples of teasing to consider its


Example 2: “You’re No Good!” #1 (Briggs 1979a, p. 33)

A dialogue between a father and his 2-year-old son

(a favorite):








(in a voice which imitates disgusted, hostile rejection) “You’re no good!”

(with angry snap) “You!” (i.e., it’s you who are no


(imitating son’s voice) “You!”



(same voice) “You’re no good!”

(voice of disgust) “You’re no good!”

. . .And so on until the son eventually begins to shout the

words angrily at his father, who finally laughs and says,

affectionately, “Ait!” and desists.

she does not like him; then, he says again, “Because you love

me!” Again she answers “A!” maliciously looking the other

way. Then he returns to his first call, “I love my Jasslin,” and

continues in just the same way again and again until she

loses her temper and begins to cry or goes away.

Example 4: “This Is the Last One—Eat It” #1 (Briggs

1979a, p. 27)

A mother and her 5-year-old son are in a boat, on their way

to a new campsite, where they will find a number of relatives

already gathered. The boat is in sight of the camp, but the

motor has stopped and the passengers are waiting for the

men to start it again. The 5-year-old is restless.



Example 3: “You’re No Good!” #2 (Briggs 1979a,

pp. 33–34)

Between a visitor and a 3-year-old boy:















(in friendly, questioning voice) “Are you good?”

(raises his brows affirmatively) (The fact that he

raises his brows silently, instead of saying “yes,”

means that he is uneasy, afraid, ilira.)

“You are? You’re good?”

(raises brows)

“Are you bad?”

(raises brows)

“You are? You’re bad?”

(raises brows)

“Are you loved?”

(raises brows and smiles shyly but happily)

“Oh, you are? Even though you’re no good?”

(raises brows)

“Is your brother loved?”

(raises brows)

. . .And so on. Eventually, the visitor tires of the game and

desists, or the boy runs out.

I have quite commonly encountered such teasing, in

which adults intentionally and repeatedly ask children offensive questions to annoy them. For example, whenever a

hunter sees his niece, he puts her through the following

catechism: He says, “I love my Jasslin,” and she answers

“A!” uncomfortably turning her face away from him because


(takes a candy bar out of her bag and hands it

to her son, saying in an exaggeratedly happyexcited-secret-persuasive voice) “Eat it up! Eat

it all alone! Eat it quickly; then the others won’t

have any; you will be the only one!”

(smiles happily and takes the candy. He takes half

of it and offers the other half to his mother, but

she is not looking at him now and doesn’t notice.

He holds it toward her for a few seconds, then

takes it back, takes a huge bite out of “her” half,

and offers the remaining morsel to her again. She

takes it and eats it, without comment)

Example 5: “This Is the Last One—Eat It” #2 (Briggs

1979a, pp. 27–28)

A mother and her 3-year-old daughter are visiting in a tent

where there are a number of other people. The 3-year-old’s

sister, aged 4, is outside, playing with other children.




(hands a candy to 3-year-old daughter and says

in exaggeratedly happy-excited-secret-persuasive voice) “Eat it quickly and don’t tell your

sister, because it’s the last one!”

(breaks the candy into two pieces, eats one, and

takes the other outdoors to her sister)

(says to the audience, with a pleased (and perhaps amused) smile) “She never keeps things

for herself; she always shares.”

I also often saw teasing in which children were forced to

decide whether to share their food with others.

Example 6: “Shall I Adopt You?” (Briggs 1979a,

pp. 31–32)

A visitor—usually, but not necessarily, a woman—who is

sitting beside the mother and baby on the sleeping platform

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2 The Ability to Objectify: A Difference in Learning Ability Between Modern Humans and Neanderthals

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