A central element of Sterelny’s overarching argument is that, rather than posit a single explanatory variable to explain human uniqueness, we should instead aim to provide a co-evolutionary account. In Sterelny’s view, human uniqueness gradually emerged from positive feedback loops involving a number of factors. Such factors, according to Sterelny’s co-evolutionary account, include cognitive aspects of the human endowment, such as our mind reading and learning adaptations, as well as more broadly (externalist) environmental aspects, such as technological artifacts and apprentice-based learning. At the heart of this picture is a rejection of “magic moment” or “key innovation” scenarios purporting to explain human cognitive and behavioral uniqueness and modernity—such as the harnessing of fire for the first time or the relatively sudden appearance of a new cognitive adaptation. Rather than posit a unitary innovation or some other watershed evolutionary event to bear the explanatory brunt, the co-evolutionary, positive feedback model set forth by Sterelny opens the way for a more gradual path to human uniqueness.
Read also: Explaining Human Uniqueness