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Theory of Niche Construction

Last updated Dec 24, 2021 Edit Source

# Theory of Niche Construction

Many animals intervene in their environment, shaping it in ways that improve the adaptive fit between the agent and its world

Such animals in part adapt to their niche, in part construct their own

The niche construction perspective focuses our attention on the common features of this whole range of cases whereas the extended mind model does not

Human capacities, cognitive and non-cognitive alike, turn out to depend on the fact that humans engineer their environment to support their activities (see: agency)

Extended digestion example: some animals do the hard digestion stuff on-board, powerful jaws, large mouths, lots of time chewing. Others (like humans), just cook and selectively breed livestock which improves the food value of domestic stock

# Extended Phenotypes Concept

Things animals build are part of their phenotype (physical exhibited traits that are determined genetically)

They are developmentally stable and as heritable and predictable in their ecological effects as other traits (e.g. wasp nests, beaver dams, spider webs)

Arguably, language and terminology are extended phenotypes

Like beaver dams, these technologies have evolved by cumulative trail and error but the mechanism of inheritance is cultural rather than genetic

Inheritance is not strictly vertical, it can be oblique and many-to-one (information flow from many members of the parental generation — and from each other) (see: intergenerational learning)

The cognitive competence of generation N+1 individually and collectively depends on cognitive provisioning by generation N

See also: collective intelligence