Cognitive Abilities, Environment, PTSP Environment

PTSP was one place for me to think about my academic interest: our cognitive abilities and our environments.

Ever since Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel, my Education 130 class about Race, Class, and Ethnicity with Tyrone Howard and spending time at the UCLA Bookstore peering through Mike Rose's book The Mind at Work, combined with my disposition towards anthropology, I've been interested in intelligences and cognitive abilities across different cultures.

Intelligences and cognitive abilities across different cultures is just a more compact, technical way of saying that I'm interested in how environment/context/social network influences many different individuals to become "smart", what they may choose to become "smart" in, or how they can become perceived as "smart" in doing it.

In much of popular discourse, people of color usually are considered "intellectually inferior." A meme passed down from the times of Charles Darwin --- brown people are the more primitive and less evolved. Their ways are backward! They are the sub-level between the chimpanzee and the ideal, fully-evolved, fully-capable white person. You could look thru the history of Western science and medicine, you'd be hardpressed to find people of color making "discoveries" and developments in technology, let alone being celebrated for doing so. Nobody really gives a flarping tuba player about Kitasato Shibasaburo or Percy Julian. If you buy into Western science and medicine is about individuals, virtually white folk from Europe are the only ones with all the rockstar, bro wisdom and genius in the world because they've come up with all the rational, objective, progressive solutions.

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond was one of the first books I read to overturn that type of thinking. He asked the question "how did it come to be that white people were the ones making all the technological innovation, the guns, and the steel, while brown peoples were not?

Did it have to do with white people's innate intelligence? Or was it merely, the work of their environment?

The work of environment. Here's a bit of a parable from H.A. Simon in his book The Sciences of the Artificial via the book Cognition in the Wild by Edwin Hutchins about how our intelligence is mostly environmentally-influenced:

As we watch the complicated movements of an ant on a beach, we may be tempted to attribute to the ant, some complicated program for constructing the path taken. In fact...that trajectory tells us more about the beach than about the ant...Rather than watch a single ant for a few minutes, as psychologists are wont to do, let us be anthropologists and move in and watch a community of ants over weeks and months. Let us assume that we arrive just after a storm, when the beach is a tabula rasa for the ants. Generations of ants comb the beach. They leave behind them short-lived chemcial trails, and whereever they go they inadvertently move grains of sand as they pass. Over months, paths to likely food sources develop as they are visited again and again by ants following first the short-lived chemical trails of their fellows and later the longer-lived roads produced by a history of heavy ant traffic. After months watching, we decide to follow a particular ant on an outing. We may be impressed by how cleverly it visits every high-likelihoood food location. This ant seems to work so much more efficiently than did its ancestors of weeks ago. Is this a smart ant? It Is it perhaps smarter than its ancestors? No, it is just the same dumb sort of ant, reacting to its environment in the same ways its ancestors did.

Were humans, were usually known to make our environments. At least, most of us have the freedom to make our environments.

That said, what kind of environments/contexts/social networks do we make ourselves as Filipinos in the Phillippines? What kind of environments/contexts/social networks did our parents, relatives, friends make for us in America? What kind of environments/contexts/social networks do we re-create as Filipinos in America? What kind of environments/contexts/social networks do we re-create as Pilipino Transfer students at UCLA? What kind of intelligences are we making? What are we becoming experts in?

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