Cultural Evolution: A Vehicle for Cooperative Interaction Between the Sciences and the Humanities « On the Human
Cultural Evolution: A Vehicle for Cooperative Interaction Between the Sciences and the Humanities « On the HumanCome join the conversation, hosted by the National Humanities Center.
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IN THE FORUM
William Benzon, an independent scholar who has written about cognitive science, art, music, and the web, is in the Forum. The author of Beethoven’s Anvil: Music in Mind and Culture (2001), he outlines here a comprehensive approach to the human sciences, championing methods and insights from researchers trained in the humanities and the sciences. His essay,”Cultural Evolution: A Vehicle for Cooperative Interaction Between the Sciences and the Humanities,” claims that a humanistic range of knowledge of cultural phenomena is necessary for effective description of the objects of analysis. Lacking such background, students of the human are likely to produce unscientific models and theories about population-wide maintenance, propagation, and incremental change of cultural codes.
To build accurate models at what Benzon calls the micro-scale, one needs to understand perceptual and cognitive processes and how meaning is negotiated through interaction. On the larger canvas, one needs to see at the macro level how changes in cultural codes support the emergence of new forms of mental activity. Properly pursued, the study of humanity can reveal the design of cultural codes as emerging from the collective efforts of populations where each individual negotiates his or her life transaction by transaction.
Bill Benzon is on the scientific advisory board for the Institute of Music and Neurologic Function in New York City. Previously he was a Senior Scientist with MetaLogics, Inc., where he worked on knowledge representation and information design for web-based health services. Benzon taught in the Department of Language, Literature, and Communication at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and has published scholarly articles, reviews, and technical reports on African-American music, literary analysis and theory, cultural evolution, cognition and brain theory, visual thinking, and technical communication. In conjunction with Richard Friedhoff, he wrote a book on computer graphics and image-processing entitled Visualization: The Second Computer Revolution.