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Culture makes human reason, and human being, possible, forming a core component of human adaptation. A Concept is a suite of articulated and coordinated thoughts, ideas, and symbols that shape the way members of a culture perceive or act. Concepts are key to how we take meaning into the mind, use it to enhance our abilities, and project it into the world. Concepts are central to cultural processes, but in evolutionary theory, culture has usually been treated as separate from biology.

In contrast, we propose an integrated approach to human evolution. This project develops a biocultural, cognitive framework with a focus on Concepts in the areas of skill, technology, and social life that connects theory and methods in cultural evolution with anthropological theory, cognitive approaches, and ethnographic research. We build on existing work and innovative input from our interdisciplinary working group to develop a model and implement test projects to augment theory and method.

Our goal is to better understand cultural processes and how particular patterns of the development and embodiment of Concepts structure human capacities and transform evolutionary dynamics. We propose a framework facilitating qualitative and quantitative accounts and improved understandings of the role of Concepts in human dynamic assemblage. Identifying how Concepts affect human experience offers guidance in cultivating Concepts designed to facilitate deeper understandings and improved approaches to twenty-first century global challenges (such as public health crises, pandemics, social inequities, and ideological conflicts).

The project has two foci: 1) the development of an integrative model of cultural evolution centered on Concepts in dynamic assemblages, and 2) applying this model to three key issues: how humans use their bodies and senses, how Concepts involving the perceptions of self and others shape human societies, and how the basal capacity for and reliance on technology developed.