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
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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.