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Research Forum – Nathalie Gontier (University of Lisbon): "Studying symbolic evolution: an epistemological analysis"

January 18, 2022, 16.15-17.45
Zoom: https://uni-bayreuth.zoom.us/j/96907647197?pwd=UjRsZDBZR2svd25BTEFLQjd5RVBJUT09

Aspects of human symbolism are studied by scholars active in the life and the behavioral sciences as well as the scientific-philosophical, sociological, anthropological, and linguistic sciences. These fields all take on an evolutionary approach to the study of human symbolism, but scholars disagree in their theoretical and methodological attitudes. Theoretically, symbolism is defined differentially as knowledge, behavior, cognition, culture, language, or social group living. Methodologically, the diverse symbolic evolution sciences establish their teachings upon diverging evolutionary biological schools and paradigms. By building upon the previous chapter, I here demonstrate that traditional evolutionary epistemology and biosemiotics bring in a mesoevolutionary outlook by drawing on early Darwinism and evo-devo movements that emphasize the role of the organism in evolution. Communication studies instead originally take on a microevolutionary perspective by investigating how units of information are transmitted across generations through time. Only later do they integrate studies on meaning-making at the organismal level. And sociobiology complements a microevolutionary with a macroevolutionary outlook by implementing the Modern Synthesis’ population genetics approach into individual and group behavioral studies. The new symbolic evolutionary sciences build upon these traditions and include disciplines such as evolutionary psychology, evolutionary linguistics, evolutionary anthropology, evolutionary archaeology, evolutionary sociology, and evolutionary economics. Originally centered on implementing Darwinian selection theory, these fields are now including eco-evo-devo and reticulate evolutionary paradigms. No discipline holds a privileged position over the other and all have made valuable contributions to our understanding of human symbolic evolution.

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