The New York Times reports on newly discovered rock art in Borneo, dated to 40,000 years old and providing further evidence that figurative art was not born in Europe. The idea that a full-fledged capacity for complex culture evolved in Europe is a traditional one, based on the fact that, until some time ago, the earliest finds of complex artifacts (art, stone tools, and so on) were from Europe. However, the idea is problematic because it fails to explain why every extant human population has the same cultural capacity, as there is no record of gene flow from Europe to all the rest of the world successive to the appearance of European complex culture. A few years ago, we analyzed evidence of cultural capacity and we came to the conclusion that this capacity is probably as old as the human species. The new find in Borneo joins the ones we had examined in pointing in this direction. In fact, we argued that even Neanderthals may have had the same cultural capacity as Homo sapiens, in agreement with the discovery 40,000 year-old paintings that may have been made by Neanderthals (announced as our paper was being published).
A summary of our paper on the origin of human cultural capacity is in a previous post.
Part of the Cultural Evolution Seminar Series at Brooklyn College
Download Video (360MB)
Abstract: Much human cultural evolution stems from the creative innovations of individual persons, whose novel ideas or productions are valued and propagated by society. In this talk, I first describe the nature of the creative process as it is understood by psychologists. Next, to understand how the creative process impacts cultural evolution, I examine the possibility that the creative process itself is not historically invariant, but rather that it evolves over time. In elaborating this idea, I apply two biological frameworks: the ‘evolution of evolvability,’ whereby the evolutionary process itself becomes better at evolving over time, and ‘ontogenetic heterochrony,’ whereby small changes in the timing of developmental events can lead to profound morphological novelty. The application of these frameworks to human creativity provides a unified framework for understanding creativity, as well as informing cultural evolution – past, present, and future.
Aaron Kozbelt is Professor of Psychology at Brooklyn College, CUNY. His research program, focusing on creativity and cognition in the arts, derives largely from his outside interests. In addition to his training in psychology, he has spent more than 20 years as a practicing visual artist, and his initial research forays grew directly out of his experiences as an artist. Kozbelt has also incorporated his long-standing interest in classical music into a line of archival research examining patterns of creativity over the lifespan of classical composers. More recently, he has started research on creative cognition, humor production and sexual selection, and metacognition and evaluation in creative problem solving.
Here I am on the Riva di Ca' di Dio in Venice visiting the 53rd International Art Exhibition. The black shirt and the tie entitle me to comment on the artworks with authority.
The shiny cube I'm leaning on is a showcase for Nikola Uzunovski's My Sunshine project. Nikola, an applied artist, wants to improve the quality of life at northern latitudes (or deep mountain valleys). The problem with these places is that, although they may well be wonderful in all other respects, they get light for a rather short time in winter. In the best of cases, lack of sunlight makes you a bit sleepy, in the worst case it makes you clinically depressed.
Nikola's solution is a device that lengthens the day: a mirror that floats up in the sky, electronically controlled to shine the sun's image on an otherwise dark spot on earth.
How does it work? Simply, the device exploits the fact that up in the sky the day lasts longer than at the earth's surface – as shown in the diagram at left (please do not blame Nikola for that). The mirror, floating inside a helium filled balloon, reflects 90% of the afternoon rays onto the earth below creating a virtual sun.
My sunshine is a step toward bringing Italian climate to Swedish civilization – the Eden of humanity. Bringing Swedish civilization to Italian climate, unfortunately, remains a daunting challenge for artists and scientists alike.