Cognitive novelties, informational form, and structural-causal explanations

Synthese 198 (9):8533-8553 (2020)
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Abstract

Recent work has established a framework for explaining the origin of cognitive novelties—qualitatively distinct cognitive traits—in human beings. This niche construction approach argues that humans engineer epistemic environments in ways that facilitate the ontogenetic and phylogenetic development of such novelties. I here argue that attention to the organized relations between content-carrying informational vehicles, or informational form, is key to a valuable explanatory strategy within this project, what I call structural-causal explanations. Drawing on recent work from Cecilia Heyes, and developing a case study around a novel mathematical capacity, I demonstrate how structural-causal explanations can contribute to the niche construction approach by underwriting the application of explanatory tools and generating new empirical targets.

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Andrew Buskell
Georgia Institute of Technology

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