The Origins Of Domain Specificity

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Published on February 4, 2009

Author: poetrosakranse



Review and Critique of “The Origins Of Domain-Specificity: The Evolution of functional organization” by Cosmides. Leda, and John Tooby (1994)

Presentation by Christine Rosakranse
For Human-Media Interaction,
Professor Carlos Godoy, RPI


While the work of Cosmides, Leda & A Short John Tooby represents an excellent Critique and resource for journeying into cognitive Caveat science, the organization of the paper itself is not as straightforward as would be optimal. Therefore, for this presentation, certain points have been reordered to fit a more logical progression. Also, being such a rich topic for discussion, I would have found a glossary of terms to be most helpful, but previous experience in this realm was probably assumed by the authors. Questions for discussion will be permitted at the end of the presentation.

What is Domain Specificity? “Domain-specificity is a theoretical position in cognitive science that argues that many aspects of cognition are supported by specialized, presumably evolutionarily specified, learning devices.” --Wikipedia “The work on domain specificity in cognitive development has not been, for the most part, motivated by evolutionary considerations or, indeed, by any larger program intended to discover how the human mind regulates behavior. Instead, it was spurred by philosophical arguments that combinatorial explosion will prevent a blank slate - or its technologically modern equivalent, the general-purpose computer - from learning anything in real time (e.g., Carey, 1985; Keil, 1989; Markman, 1989).” --The Origins of Domain Specificity

And how did that happen?

The evolutionary process acting The Evolution on our hunter-gatherer ancestors of Mind led to certain evolved adaptations. Hence, this is an adaptationist approach to cognitive evolution. Key – design changes that enhanced their own propagation Function of a design -> were those that were then ex. sexual jealousy -> selected for.

Defined as an evolutionary recurrent problem whose solution promoted An Adaptive reproduction. Problem Beyond the basics, Our diverse range of adaptations including: information include a myriad of necessary tasks, gathering, inference & from “solicitation of assistance from decision making one's parents, to language acquisition, to modeling the spatial distribution of local objects, to coalition formation and cooperation, to the deduction of intentions on the basis of facial expressions, to avoiding incest, to allocating effort between activities, to the interpretation of threats, to mate selection, to object recognition.”

Time for a little contrast

Domain-Generality vs. Domain-Specificity A domain-general psychological architecture cannot guide behavior in ways that promote fitness for these reasons: 1. “Fit” behavior differs Reason 1: from domain to The definition of domain, so there is no error is domain- domain-general dependent. criterion of success or failure. ex. Vervet Monkeys (ex. sex w/ kin)

Domain-Generality vs. Domain-Specificity 2. Adaptive courses of action can be neither Reason 2: deduced nor learned by Many relationships general criteria, because necessary to the they depend on statistical successful regulation relationships between of action cannot be features of the observed by any environment, behavior, individual during and fitness that emerge their lifetime. over many generations and are, therefore, not observable in a single lifetime.

Now for the Really Interesting One

Domain-Generality vs. Domain-Specificity 3. “Combinatorial Reason 3: Due to explosion” paralyzes the permutations of any truly domain- possible outcomes, general system when alternatives encountering real- increase world complexity. exponentially as the problem complexity increases.

Certain constraints on the system Domain- decide what adaptations can be Specific selected for (evolvability Reasoning in constraints from recurring Children conditions). Because the world has certain “enduring properties” we can go beyond what is perceptible to develop an accurate model of reality. (ex. Chomskyan psycholinguistics)

Evolution, domain specificity, and culture

Not everything is taught. Some comes about from natural Go Team selection. Human! We develop these mechanisms according to the “local situations”. Also, the existence of domain- specific mechanisms signifies that there is a level of universal human mental content – a universal human quot;culturequot; (e.g., Universal Grammar, social exchange logic, object permanence, theory of mind) !!!!!!

Optimal foraging theory suggests (1) that we should have domain- Example – specific information-processing Food Sharing mechanisms governing foraging and sharing (2) these mechanisms should be sensitive to information regarding variance in foraging success, causing us to prefer one set of sharing rules for high variance items and another set for low variance items. Ex. The !Kung San

Anthropology and psychology have The Future of the same basis in theory: a Domain- description of the reliably Specific developing architecture of the Research human mind, a collection of cognitive adaptations. This approach represents a link between mind, culture, and the world. Domain-specific performance is the signature of these evolved mechanisms, a signature that can lead us to a comprehensive mapping of the human mind.

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