Doctor of Philosophy in Philosophy (PhD)
Cultural Evolution and the Evolution of Religion
Philosophers and cognitive scientists have always been interested in how people come to mentally represent time. Surprisingly though, contemporary philosophers have largely neglected the wealth of relevant empirical research coming from neuroscience, computational psychology, zoology and related fields. My dissertation is meant to remedy this neglect by bringing together major strands in the philosophical and empirical literatures on temporal representation in order to show how both fields can mutually benefit one another. Chapter 1 describes what I call the temporal coordination problem and provides the needed philosophical background on mental representation that frames the majority of the thesis. Chapter 2 provides a taxonomy of the general approaches to explaining how animals coordinate their behaviors with the temporal structure of the world around them. Chapter 3 argues that part of the explanation for how animals come to mentally represent time is through the operation of a genuine sense of time centered on the circadian systems that provides animals with information about the approximate time of day. Chapters 4 and 5 argue for what I call the fragmentary model of temporal perception – temporal perception is not a unified capacity but is importantly fragmented. Chapter 4 argues that the fragmentary model undermines the central debate in the philosophical literature over the mirroring constraint. I conclude that there simply is no single story to be told about how the temporal structure of experience itself relates to the temporal content of experience. While chapter 4 emphasizes the fragmentary nature of temporal perception, chapter 5 emphasizes the way in which time appears unified in perception and cognition and proposes an explanation of how this apparent unity comes about. Here I highlight how literature more commonly found in the history and philosophy of science on the unitization of measurement actually informs current understanding of the mind. In particular, I argue that the brain comes to integrate the temporal information encoded in various time keeping devices by unitizing time in a manner that parallels how our cultural time keeping practices have unitized time. Finally, chapter 6 concludes by recapping many of the major conclusions of the thesis.
The emerging science of religious evolution (the evolution of traits that distinguish religious individuals from non-religious ones) and the emerging science of cultural evolution have recently entered into a reciprocal relationship, each having something to offer the other. The theory of cultural evolution offers the field of religious evolution a powerful set of models and concepts for explaining important traits and facts that are not explained by genetic evolution. But theories of cultural evolution face their own important challenges, and theorists within the field do not agree about how cultural evolution itself should be explained, and focusing on religion makes some abstract and difficult questions in this domain more concrete and tractable. Thus, the field of religious evolution also offers the theory of cultural evolution a way of clarifying its commitments, and of demonstrating its ability to respond to important challenges. This dissertation addresses both sides of this reciprocal relationship, taking advantage of the opportunity to develop at the same time both a better understanding of the nature of religion and a better understanding of the nature of cultural phenomena in general. One goal, then, is to address philosophical, foundational questions about what religion is from within the scientific worldview. I address this general goal in two independent articles, which comprise Chapters 2 and 3. In the fourth chapter, however, I pursue a different goal, extracting from the study of religion a methodological lesson that applies for the study of cultural phenomena in general. Twenty years ago adaptationist theories in psychology appealed almost exclusively to genetic selection at the individual level, but developments since then have caused a growing number of scientists to suspect that this is too narrow a view of human evolution. I argue that the study of religion confirms these suspicions. Thus, by examining religion from the evolutionary perspective, we learn not just about the nature of religion, but also about the nature of the evolutionary perspective itself.