Saturday, January 07, 2006

Could I build a mathematical model?

For the past year I've been considering whether or not mathematics could be used to model the evolution/emergence of human cognition and wondering if this could tell me anything new about the development of the cognitive processes necessary to mathematics. Since I fell asleep last night and woke up this morning with my mind connected to this problem, here it appears for your comments and/or ideas.

So here's a very short version of what I have from 2 years of reading books and journal articles. About 6 million years ago there was an evolutionary split between hominids and apes. As you look at the various ancestors to homo sapiens, brain size increases although the time intervals are not equal nor are the volume increments.

There is a significant amount of literature describing the emergence of activities (wearing of jewelry, burials, art, etc.) associated with the development of modern cognitive capabilities. These activities do not appear in any straight time-line fashion, but arise in different places at different times with varying periods between their appearances. One all purpose tool sufficed for thousands of years. Development of multiple special purpose tools, once it began, was relatively rapid (at least in evolutionary terms) and continues today.

There are some studies by evolutionary biology/genetics people that attempt to determine when particular genes relating to the brain mutated. These studies give date ranges for when the mutations might have occurred. We share 96-98% of our genetic structure (I've read both numbers recently) with chimps.

In the cog psych literature the development of cognition appears to be equated with the development of language, but there does not appear to be a consensus on when language development occurred. I noted this in a paper I wrote last winter/spring - Dates for the advent of language, or symbolic references, range from 200,000 years ago with the expansion of the brain to modern human size and concurrent changes in vocal apparatus to five to seven million years ago during a period shortly after hominids and chimpanzees branched from a common ancestor.

If anyone is foolish enough to want to see the ever growing list of references, let me know.


vw bug said...

Geeze... I am actually going to learn something reading your blog.. not fair! ;-)

MathCogIdiocy said...

Ah, but I learn all kinds of things reading yours. And I get to laugh!

Contagion said...

Okay... I may not be drunk... yet. But there is still too much thinking required for me on this post.

MathCogIdiocy said...

hehehe. So get really totally wasted and figure out a mathematical model...or not.