Flexibility and change in distributed cognitive systems

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An overview of one anthropological view of culture, including how it works and what it buys us, takes culture as a set of collective — differentially distributed — cognitive structures. Pragmatics is distinguished from semantics, and shown to seamlessly extend to non-linguistic knowledge. “Culture” is (flexibly and variably applied) shared differentially distributed pragmatic knowledge. Next come the role culture plays in regard to society and social living, and the role social groups play in culture. Our social universe is shown to be made up of a multiplicity of overlapping social groups. Prototype-extension is offered as the basis of the application of shared concepts to the experienced and imagined world. Types of cultural knowledge systems include: cultural modes of thought, cultural conceptual systems, and cultural models of action. The paper concludes with the approach’s practical implications for analysis, including two concrete examples: Old and Middle English watercourses, and alternative Fanti kinship terminological systems.


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