This piece originally appeared at Second Best.
The human neural network is fairly unique within the animal kingdom for how much of its development occurs outside the womb. While our brains at birth are far from a blank slate, our innate capacity to learn from others is staggering.
Social learning co-evolved with language as a faster and more adaptable stage of within-generation “post-training” on top of the “pre-training” provided by millions of years of evolution. Given the role of norms in coordinating human action, it’s as if we’re constantly undergoing a kind of endogenized Reinforcement Learning from Human Feedback within the context of a repeated, multi-agent game.
Normative self-regulation requires a degree of metacognition, which supplies the rudiments of our self-reflection and higher reasoning ability. Norms and language thus created a substrate for culture and “the extended mind” — all the ways we use language to offload our reason and agency onto the external environment. As I argued in my previous post, the resulting system of cultural inheritance was the key to getting history and civilization off the ground.
Continue reading at Second Best.