From Pan to Homo sapiens: evolution from individual based to group based forms of social cognition

Mind and Society 19 (1):121-161 (2020)
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The evolution from pre-human primates to modern Homo sapiens is a complex one involving many domains, ranging from the material to the social to the cognitive, both at the individual and the community levels. This article focuses on a critical qualitative transition that took place during this evolution involving both the social and the cognitive domains. For the social domain, the transition is from the face-to-face forms of social interaction and organization that characterize the non-human primates that reached, with Pan, a hiatus due to the centripetal effects that highly individualized behavior has on a social system. The transition is to the relation-based forms of social organization that evolved in the hominins ancestral to Homo sapiens and are universal in human societies today. For the cognitive domain, this transition involves going from behavior responding mainly to phenomenal level sensory inputs to behavior formed in accordance with the concept of a relation, initially abstracted from behavior patterns, then extending the concept of a relation beyond abstraction from behavior patterns to the concept of a relation generated recursively through constructing the relation of a relation. This extension made possible the construction of systems of relations; initially genealogical systems of relations constructed culturally using the logic of recursion, and subsequently, the symbolic, computational systems of kin term relations referred to by anthropologists as kinship terminologies. The latter are “constructed realities” in the sense this term is used by cultural anthropologists. It follows that the evolution of relation-based systems of social interaction is not adequately accounted for through population model evolutionary accounts such as the Dual Inheritance Theory of human evolution since “constructed realities” constitute collectively and publicly shared cultural knowledge rather than the individually and privately possessed knowledge that is assumed in the population model framework for human evolution.

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Dwight Read
University of California, Los Angeles


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