Book review: Cognitive Gadgets: The Cultural Evolution of Thinking by Cecilia Heyes

Gadgets are everywhere and serve more and more purposes. In Cognitive Gadgets, the Cultural Evolution of Thinking by Cecilia Heyes, published by Harvard University Press, gadgets are not physical objects, they are instead knowledge.

It is a metaphor often used by psychologists, too, states the author, but Heyes adds that these distinctive human traits are embodied in the brain.

The book goes from evolutionary psychology and philosophy of biology, to explain how information, both socially-culturally and genetically inherited get rooted in the brain.

Later chapters show how selective social learning, imitation, mindreading and language, are all ways to inherit these gadgets. Cultural ways are the ones on which the author concentrates because, as Heyes states, they “go on giving: culturally inherited skills that enable the cultural inheritance of more skills”.

An issue on which the book dwells is the origin of the evolution of language, whether it’s cultural or genetic.

Cultural evolutionary psychology closes the book in the last chapter.