To compete or to cooperate–that is the question.

Michael Kaiser, Director of the Kennedy Center, is fearless when it comes to speaking out about the value of cultural organizations, such as museums, in good times and bad. If anything, he would argue that they are paramount in this current economy to kick-start creativity. Now the science to backs him up when it comes to looking at art. Recent studies in neuroscience give us new information about the brain and why art and looking at art is so important for an innovative society. For one thing, art can help move human beings to be more socially cooperative and away from just being competitive. Michael Gazzaniga writes about the work of developmental and comparative psychologists Henrike Moll and Michael Tomasello who have proposed the Vygotskian intelligence hypothesis (named for Lev Vygotsky, an early twentieth century Russian psychologist), which states that that while cognition in general was driven mainly by social competition, other aspects of cognition that they consider to be unique to humans (the cognitive skills of shared goals, joint attention, joint intentions, and cooperative communication), are constituted of  social cooperation. In fact, they would argue that complex technologies, cultural institutions, and systems of symbols are the result of social cooperation, not social competition.* Surely competition has its place–to get that ‘A’, land that job, earn a promotion–but the true driver of innovation is social cooperation because it taps an entirely different type of cognition that of the “higher self.” So this weekend take in an art exhibit with the family or a friend–do your part to contribute to a more innovative society.

Gazzaniga, M. 2011. Who’s in Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain. NY: Harper Collins. Moll, H.,  Tomasello, M. (2007). Cooperation and Human Cognition: The Vygotskian intelligence hypothesis. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 362 (1480), 639-648.

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