CEFOM/21 Hokkaido University 21st Century COE "Cultural and Ecological Foundations of the Mind"
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The Outline of 21st Century "Center for the Study of Cultural and Ecological Foundations of the Mind"

Toshio Yamagishi, Ph.D
Graduate School of Letters
Hokkaido University

It is my great honor to announce that our proposal to establish a research center for the study of cultural and ecological foundations of the mind has been approved by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology as a 21st Century Center of Excellence (COE) Program. With this grant, we have completed a new experimental laboratory on the sixth floor of the Humanities and Social Sciences Building at Hokkaido University, and we are currently conducting various experimental studies at the new facility.

Our CEFOM/21 program (Center for the Study of Cultural and Ecological Foundations of the Mind, a 21st Century Center of Excellence) is unique among the 20 similar programs awarded grants in the general area of humanities nationwide. We believe that we are unique in our research focus strategy. Many programs share the research strategy that emphasizes "integration" of a wide range of topics, theories, and methodologies. However, this is not our research strategy. Rather, we focus on the issue that we consider most important in the area of humanities and social sciences over the next few decades taht is the elucidation of the psychological mechanisms that enable us to create, build and maintain a society. The myth of "tabula rasa" that has been the major obstacle to the development of the social sciences for the last fifty years has been effectively eliminated, and researchers in the humanities and the social sciences now face the tremendous intellectual challenge of drawing a new picture of human nature based on scientific studies. Our missions is to supply the scientific foundation for the construction of a new, scientific conception of human nature.

We hope that the findings from CEFOM/21 projects will have a noticeable impact on researchers in the various fields of human and social sciences around the world. This goal is impossible to achieve without collaboration with and constructive feedback from our colleagues around the world, and so we look forward to such an active exchange in the future.

The Sociality of Mind - Why now?

The social nature of the mind is an age-old research topic. The topic has been studied repeatedly not only in psychology but also in various other fields of human and social sciences. Why do we address the much studied topic of "the sociality of the mind" now? Can we discover any new understandings of how the mind is socially-founded?

We believe we can, and we believe so because new developments in experimental studies in the social sciences have fundamentally changed the meaning of the question of the sociality of the mind. Throughout the last half of the twentieth century, social scientists have been deprived of their intellectual creativity by the myth of "tabula rasa." This is a myth that human beings are born with minds resembling a blank slate or a "tabula rasa" on which culture draws a picture. That is, the human mind's initial state is blank, void of any built-in "human nature," and that it is only through experience of culture that a biological homo sapience becomes a fully-fledged human being with the full capacity of reason and knowledge. To be a human requires an individual to absorb the culture into which they were born. Therefore, human minds vary greatly reflecting variations in the cultures internalized.

However, by the end of the twentieth century, the myth of "tabula rasa" has been almost completely refuted by findings in psychology and the cognitive sciences. Similarly, the idea that the human mind is not, in fact, infinitely malleable but instead works under certain constraints is shared among social scientists. Discarding the myth of a mind characterized by "tabula rasa," social scientists began to apply a new theoretical assumption: The human mind cannot be changed arbitrarily just as people cannot arbitrarily change the number of fingers on one hand from five to seven. Efforts to advance research on the human mind from this new perspective are currently being expended in several research centers around the world, including George Mason University (USA), Zurich University (Switzerland), the Max Planck Institute (Germany), the Santa Fe Institute (USA), and the University of California, Los Angels (USA).

Researchers at these centers more or less share the basic view that humans are capable of building and maintaining societies because we are endowed, through evolutionary processes, with psychological mechanisms that enable us to behave in certain social ways. Based on this view, they engage in research to elucidate aspects of the human mind and the relationship between the mind and society. They further attempt to apply these new understandings of the mind and society in designing better social institutions.

CEFOM/21 shares with the other research centers mentioned above the same basic view of the human mind, and our projects are centered on the "fundamental sociality" of the human mind. Yet, we are unique in emphasizing the mutual construction of the mind and society. The human mind is a toolbox that contains adaptive tools useful to solve social adaptation tasks. The social environment that engenders social adaptation tasks for our mind to solve, on the other hand, is our creation. In our effort to solve social adaptation problems, we collectively create the very problems that we are to solve. Answering the question of how we collectively create and maintain the social environment that in turn provides incentives for us to develop a particular set of psychological tools is the second important goal of our Center.

In an effort to answer this question, we have established an international center for experimental studies that facilitates cross-societal collaborative experiments in which people from different cultural/societal background interact in real time. Using this research setting, we attempt to answer the following questions: (1) What kinds of social institutions emerge when people from different cultural backgrounds interact in certain games, (2) how such changes in social institutions affect the use of various psychological tools, and (3) how the new use of psychological tools influence directions of changes in social institutions?

Micro-Macro Dynamics of Mind and Society

For over a decade, scholars in the human and social sciences have rapidly developed a new paradigm, as evidenced by the work of Daniel Kahneman, a cognitive psychologist and one of the founders of behavioral economics, and Vernon Smith, one of the founders of experimental economics and neuro-economics. This new paradigm in the human and social sciences has so far produced the following:

  1. The second cognitive revolution in cognitive science that revealed that cognition is essentially social;
  2. Wide acceptance of evolutionary perspectives in psychology;
  3. Establishment of experimental research in economics and other social sciences; and
  4. Interdisciplinary collaborations among evolutionary biology, cognitive science, and social sciences, using evolutionary game theory as a common language.

Through these events, human and social science come to speak the same language of science while maintaining their individual disciplines. We believe that one of the critical motivating factors driving such a movement among human and social sciences is the realization that the human mind is essentially social, that is, the human "mind" is an adaptive tool for the social environment.

As a vanguard of this new paradigm, we aim to establish an international educational and research center that promotes new understandings of the relationship between the human mind and society. We also aspire to establish a training program for future researchers who seek ways to assimilate research in the human and social sciences. Focusing on the most critical problem the aforementioned new paradigm faces---the fundamental sociality of the human mind--we hope that we will be at the cutting-edge of research in this new, exciting field.

The following research projects are currently being carried out at CEFOM/21:

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