Culture and Biology Inseperable

From: Grant Callaghan (
Date: Sun 01 Dec 2002 - 02:51:19 GMT

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    From an article by Mark Turner of UMD


    A view of the nature and ontogenesis of meaning as ineradicably embodied would blur in two profound ways the distinction between culture and biology, requiring us to cross this distinction off our list of respectable conceptual instruments. The first blurring is now apparent: if meaning is structured and guided by the mapping of the body in the brain, then it is not possible to separate human culture from human bodies. Culture is patterns of activity in brains; brains are structured in accord with their bodies; therefore culture, which is activity in brains, is structured in accord with the bodies in which it resides. Conversely, brains are in various ways developed under cultural experience, such as experience of language. A certain amount of our actual neurobiology is inseparable from culture.

    The second blurring is equally evident, having to do not with the mapping of the body in the brain but simply with the fact that the instantiation of culture can only be neurobiological. Meanings reside in the brain. Imagine you are microscopic and inside a brain, gazing about, trying to distinguish between biology and culture. You could not meaningfully point to one synapse and say, "see that, that's biology," and then point to a different synapse and say, "see that, that's culture." It's an absurd and untenable distinction. To the extent that there is culture, it just is neurobiology; it just consists of neurobiological events and structures. If, while you are in miniature and touring the brain, you observed some neurobiological activity involved in, say, language, you could not say in a meaningful fashion, "see that, it's just biology, culture is not involved." At the level of what exists, culture cannot be distinguished from neurobiology.

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