(Copyright © 2000 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
German anthropologist Michael Tomasello believes that humans are genetically equipped with the "ability to identify with conspecifics."
This attitude is particularly visible in children, who spend most of their
time imitating others.
Natural selection rewarded the best "copycats".
This ability is crucial to the development of social skills such as language:
Children learn a language because their brains are predisposed to "identify
with conspecifics" and because they are exposed to such conspecifics (they
socialize with speaking humans).
But this skill is shared by other primates, who nonetheless never achieve
the sophistication of human society: they only learn by imitation, without
any clue of why others do what they do. They are are mere copycats.
The key factor in the development of human civilizations is instead
"intentionality" (a misused term, that means something else in Philosophy),
or, better, the understanding of others as goal-directed agents.
Tomasello thinks that recognizing the intentions of others is crucial to
"learn" from previous generations.
Humans don't just imitate other humans: humans also understand why other
humans did what they did. Tomasello thinks that this is the secret of
rapid learning and of transmission of learned knowledge from one generation
to the next one.
Over evolutionary and historical time, the "ratchet effect" due to this attitude to imitation generates the civilizations we are familiar with, civilizations that other primates cannot even dream of. Evolutionarily speaking, the progress made by the human species is impressive. Tomasello believes that the secret to such speedy evolution lies in the intentionality and conspecifics of human beings.