Rodney Brooks is a giant in the field of artificial intelligence. I think he's an atheist and he may not like the direction I'll take his thoughts about human culture and chimpanzees, but oh well.

The child is never as good as the human mother thinks it is. The mother keeps doing things with the kid, that the kid isn't quite capable of. She's using whatever little pieces of dynamics are there, getting them into this more complex behavior, and then the kid learns from that experience, and learns those behaviors. We found that humans can't help themselves; that's what they do with these systems such as kids and robots. The adults unconsciously put pieces of the kid's or robot's dynamics together without thinking. That was a surprise to us - that we didn't have to have a trained teacher for the robot. Humans just do that. So it seems to me that what makes us human, besides our genetic makeup, is this cultural transferral that keeps making us human, again and again, generation to generation.

Of course it's involved with genetics somehow, but it's missing from the great apes. Naturally raised chimpanzees are very different from chimpanzees that have been raised in human households. My hypothesis here is that the humans engage in this activity, and drag the chimpanzee up beyond the fixed point solution in chimpanzee space of chimpanzee to chimpanzee transfer of culture. They transfer a bit of human culture into that chimpanzee and pull him/her along to a slightly different level. The chimpanzees almost have the stuff there, but they don't quite have enough. But they have enough that humans can pull them along a bit further. And humans have enough of this stuff that now a self-satisfying set of equations gets transferred from generation to generation. Perhaps with better nurturing humans could be dragged a little further too.

The idea here is aesthetically pleasing: humans can pull chimps a little further into intelligence by teaching them some human culture that the chimps couldn't develop or transfer on their own. The final sentence (emphasis mine) is striking to me because it's an elegant elucidation of the essence of revelatory religion.

Christianity believes that humans can only get "so far" left to our own devices, but that by transferring some of God's "culture" to ourselves we can get a lot farther. We can't come up with it on our own, but we're capable of learning a bit of what God reveals to us and improving ourselves thereby.

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