Research in archaeology and anthropology on the evolution of modern patterns of human behavior often makes use of general theories of signs, usually derived from semiotics. Recent work generalizing David Lewis’ 1969 model of signaling provides a better theory of signs than those currently in use. This approach is based on the coevolution of behaviors of sign production and sign interpretation. I discuss these models and then look at applications to human prehistoric behavior, focusing on body ornamentation, tools, and other artifacts.
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For partial common interest, see Crawford and Sobel (1982) and Godfrey-Smith (2013). For cases with signaling despite complete conflict of interest, see Godfrey-Smith and Martinez (in press). Another sense of complete conflict of interest is the sense seen in a “zero-sum game.” Relationships between this sense and the preference-reversal sense are discussed in the Godfrey-Smith and Martinez paper. The cases where information use exists despite complete conflict of interest are not also zero-sum.
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Thanks to all the participants at the 2012 “Symbols, Signals and the Archaeological Record” workshop at the Australian National University, and to the City University of New York for research support. Helpful comments on an earlier draft were provided by Peter Hiscock, Steven Kuhn, Jane Sheldon, Kim Sterelny, and Mary Stiner.
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Godfrey-Smith, P. Signs and Symbolic Behavior. Biol Theory 9, 78–88 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13752-013-0140-0
- Sender–receiver model