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Evolution and Devolution of Knowledge: A Tale of Two Biologies

Listed author(s):
  • Scott Atran


    (IJN - Institut Jean-Nicod - CNRS - Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique - EHESS - École des hautes études en sciences sociales - ENS Paris - École normale supérieure - Paris)

  • Douglas Medin
  • Norbert Ross
Registered author(s):

    Anthropological inquiry indicates that all human cultures classify animals and plants in similar ways. This pre-theoretical knowledge also provided common ground for competing scientific investigations. Paradoxically, despite rapid advances in biological science, our citizenry's practical knowledge of nature is diminishing. Convenient choice of American and European students as psychology's preferred study populations obscures this fact. Here we describe historical, cross-cultural and developmental research on how people ordinarily conceptualize nature (naïve or folk biology), concentrating on cognitive consequences associated with knowledge devolution. Our approach integrates three disciplinary perspectives. For cognitive science, we show that results on categorization and reasoning from “standard populations” fail to generalize to humanity at large. For developmental research, we find that the usual populations studied represent impoverished experience with nature, yielding misleading results concerning the ontogenetic relationship between folkbiology and folkpsychology. For cultural and environmental studies, we show that groups living in the same habitat can manifest strikingly distinct behaviors, cognitions and social relations relative to it. This has novel implications for environmental decision making and management, including resource dilemmas such as the commons problem.

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    Paper provided by HAL in its series Post-Print with number ijn_00000144.

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    Date of creation: Jun 2002
    Publication status: Published in British Acadamy Conference on "Conceptual Knowledge", Jun 2002, London, 2002
    Handle: RePEc:hal:journl:ijn_00000144
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