, Volume 1, Issue 2-4, pp 77-99
Date: 16 Aug 2013

What is culture? Culture is context-dependence!


What is culture? The concept of culture has been defined in different ways and terms. I here take a different approach and determine the concept of culture as one specific instance the more general feature of context-dependence. The concept of context is here understood in a wider way that includes different kinds of contexts, social, cultural, mental, and bodily. Culture is then one specific instance of context-dependence. What exactly do I mean by the concept of ‘dependence’? Following the philosopher Susan Hurely, there are different forms of context-dependence instrumental and non-instrumental. Instrumental dependence describes the indirect dependence for instance motor functions on the environment via the sensory functions. Non-instrumental context-dependence refers to a more direct dependence of the motor functions themselves on the context independent of the sensory functions. I now postulate that such non-instrumental context-dependence can also be observed in the brain that encodes its neural activity in direct dependence on its respective context. This is illustrated by three examples, reward, interoception, and social self. Such direct or better non-instrumental context-dependence of the brain’s neural activity is possible only if the neural activity is encoded in a particular way in terms of differences between different stimuli rather than single stimuli themselves; this amounts to what I describe as difference-based coding as distinguished from stimulus-based coding. Does this entail cultural context-dependence? This is illustrated by a fourth example from depression as a psychiatric disorder. In conclusion, I here advocate the view that culture can be determined by direct or non-instrumental context-dependence which I postulate to be mediated by a particular encoding strategy of the brain, that is, difference-based coding.