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3 Cognition, Innovation, and Evolution

3 Cognition, Innovation, and Evolution

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of evolution is neither straightforward nor continuous, as it

has neither a purpose nor a goal (Sterelny 2001). Le´viStrauss (1952) remarked that “advancing humanity can

hardly be likened to appear climbing stairs and, with each

movement, adding a new step to all those he has already

mounted. . .it is only occasionally that history is ‘cumulative,’ that is to say, that the scores add up to a lucky combination.” The period of the replacement 50,000 years ago,

which saw the intermingling of diverse foraging cultures as

sapiens became dispersed throughout Europe, may have

been one such rare and lucky combination.

Although evolution is a process of chance and is unpredictable, it is also true that through scientific investigation of

the past, we are able understand something of the complex,

interwoven chains of causality that have led to important

evolutionary transitions. The accumulation and rigorous scientific vetting of empirical and substantive knowledge are

the only means we have of understanding the complicated

pathway(s) of our evolution. Social learning is one of the

core drivers of human cultural evolution, and an understanding of the processes of learning and the contexts in which it

occurs today can help us make sophisticated inferences

about our past as well as provide clues about where we

might be headed in the future.



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