Tag Archives: cognitive map

The brain–artefact interface (BAI): a challenge for archaeology and cultural neuroscience

Just found an interesting paper on cultural neuroscience and the extended mind. Some of you might remember the author, Dr Lambros Malafouris, from Seed Magazine’s Revolutionary Minds series. I plan on providing a more thorough examination of paper at a later point. In the meantime, check out the abstract:

Cultural neuroscience provides a new approach for understanding the impact of culture on the human brain (and vice versa) opening thus new avenues for cross-disciplinary collaboration with archaeology and anthropology. Finding new meaningful and productive unit of analysis is essential for such collaboration. But what can archaeological preoccupation with material culture and long-term change contribute to this end? In this article, I introduce and discuss the notion of the brain–artefact interface (BAI) as a useful conceptual bridge between neuroplastisty and the extended mind. I argue that a key challenge for archaeology and cultural neuroscience lies in the cross-disciplinary understanding of the processes by which our plastic enculturated brains become constituted within the wider extended networks of non-biological artefacts and cultural practices that delineate the real spatial and temporal boundaries of the human cognitive map.

Falling miserably back to Earth

I just watched the first episode of the BBC’s new show Defying Gravity, and it is absolutely awful. Clichéd characters, boring plot, and a completely unrealistic setting (it’s set in 2052, which seems to have not moved on from 2009 — the obvious exception being space travel). However, it did remind me of a recent post by one of my favourite writers, Charles Stross:

There’s an implicit feedback between such a situation and the characters who are floundering around in it, trying to survive. For example: You want to deflect that civilization-killing asteroid? You need to find some way of getting there. It’s going to be expensive and difficult, and there’s plenty of scope for human drama arising from it. Lo: that’s one possible movie in a nutshell. You’ve got the drama — just add protagonists.

I use a somewhat more complex process to develop SF. I start by trying to draw a cognitive map of a culture, and then establish a handful of characters who are products of (and producers of) that culture. The culture in question differs from our own: there will be knowledge or techniques or tools that we don’t have, and these have social effects and the social effects have second order effects — much as integrated circuits are useful and allow the mobile phone industry to exist and to add cheap camera chips to phones: and cheap camera chips in phones lead to happy slapping or sexting and other forms of behaviour that, thirty years ago, would have sounded science fictional. And then I have to work with characters who arise naturally from this culture and take this stuff for granted, and try and think myself inside their heads. Then I start looking for a source of conflict, and work out what cognitive or technological tools my protagonists will likely turn to to deal with it.

Star Trek and its ilk are approaching the dramatic stage from the opposite direction: the situation is irrelevant, it’s background for a story which is all about the interpersonal relationships among the cast. You could strip out the 25th century tech in Star Trek and replace it with 18th century tech — make the Enterprise a man o’war (with a particularly eccentric crew) at large upon the seven seas during the age of sail — without changing the scripts significantly. (The only casualty would be the eyeball candy — big gunpowder explosions be damned, modern audiences want squids in space, with added lasers!)

TV sci-fi sucks.

N.B. They just started jabbering on about natural selection and completely missed the point. So I’ll repeat: TV sci-fi sucks.