Reviewer #1 draws an important distinction regarding the term ‘pathology’. Pathology refers to the study of disease and injury in general, incorporating a wide range of biology research fields and medical practices. Strictly speaking, this line of enquiry pertains to biological evolution, not cultural evolution. Further, the reviewer contrasts the negative inferences implied by the term ‘pathology’ with the need to adopt a ‘non-judgmental’ stance when employing functional contextualist approaches to behavior analysis. The references to ‘pathologies’ have been replaced with the terms ‘anti-social behavior’ and ‘short-term survival strategies’.

The reviewer’s comment about “ROE-M’ing” prompts a deeper discussion that is beyond the scope of this paper. The authors agree that the manipulable variables we seek to modify in the service of behavior change do lie in the outer context. The statement in question, though, points to where the change takes place, not to the manipulable variables being responded to. To seed further discussion about the ‘inner’ versus ‘outer’ distinction the reviewer points to, we offer the following comments: 

If the phenotypic expression of symbotypes is to effectively evolve prosociality, an appreciation of what constitutes conscious cultural evolution is called for. This requires a distinction between what is sensed and made sense of in the flow of each moment, and how functional or useful this sense of us in the world is. Does our sense-making improve our capacity to consciously choose and act in a direction that will enhance thriving in the prevailing context? Acting in a direction that will enhance thriving means proactively attending to the needs of the living systems we are embedded in, distinct from the reified verbal constructs we call worldviews, etc., that attempt to describe these contexts. A propensity to focus on the ‘words’ is a natural consequence of our learning history as a verbally enabled species and the prevailing cultural inheritance systems. This orientation toward the literal meaning of our sense-making tends to abstract us out of the real world (inner and outer). Such rigidly codified systems, be they personally and/or institutionally adhered to, reinforce ineffective forms of compliance that inadvertently diminish levels of self-determination. 

To consciously evolve a world that works for all requires a radical shift to more mature forms of perspective-taking while in the flow of responding. This quality of transcendence becomes increasingly mediated by all that is non-verbal – our quality of presence, the scope of awareness and the dynamic context-sensitive flow of observed sense-making. This approach to studying conscious cultural evolution, the phenotypic expression of our symbotypes, requires being present to the possibilities (not guarantees!) for change that arise when our learning histories interact with new contextual contingencies regarding a possible future.

We are evolving along three interacting vectors: 

  1. Biological: Including genetic, epigenetic, molecular, cellular, organic, anatomical, and physiological aspects. 
  2. Non-verbal behavioral: Integrating operant and respondent conditioning with behavioral modelling and imprinting. 
  3. Verbal behavioral/symbolic/cultural: Covering relational responding, symbolic inheritance, and distinctions in verbal communication and cultural practices 

At each of these levels, reinforcers can be conceptualized as either primary (unconditioned) or secondary (conditioned). Primary reinforcers are inherent; they naturally elicit a response given their biological necessity, such as food and water. Secondary reinforcers are conditioned through associative learning processes as they are paired with primary reinforcers, the context. This distinction helps us identify what we can and cannot control and where we have a choice. We can't choose our thoughts and feelings, but we can choose our beliefs, for example. 

As a verbally enabled species, once verbal, always verbal. Having mastered deictic framing, we are constantly constructing a symbolic sense of self situated in the world. Once learned, this flow of brief and immediate relational responding to our spatial and temporal context and in relation to others is incredibly rapid. This flow of sensing/sense-making happens in under a second and is often considered unconscious. Our propensity to habitually respond in a certain way reflects our conditioned biases. Once habituated, this flow of verbal responding could be considered reflexive. This is contrasted with more extended and elaborated sense-making processes associated with analogical and metaphorical reasoning, for example. This is where we have a choice. We can choose what to believe and how we act. 

Taking this into consideration, the contingencies associated with the three interacting evolutionary vectors can be considered:

  1. Biological = primary/reflexive reinforcers
  2. Non-verbal behavioral = a mix of primary/reflexive & secondary/learned reinforcers
  3. Verbal behavioral/symbolic/cultural = predominantly secondary/learned reinforcers that can become reflexive once habituated

The question is, how do we develop more mature forms of perspective-taking and sense-making as a prelude to increasingly loving and compassionate action? This is the necessary inner change we are pointing to.

All this said, following our assertion in the manuscript that there is a “need for inner change to accomplish outer change”, we have added the sentence, “As mentioned, it is essential we learn to observe and discriminate our world, to make sense of and describe it in more useful ways, which will, in turn, enable us to act in relation to it more effectively.”

We thank this reviewer for their suggestions to add parenthetical references to the CDPs. We have adopted that suggestion. We also made a specific reference to support our diagram on the three processes of positive conscious cultural evolution.

For Reviewer #2, we want to thank them for asking us to elaborate on discussion of limitations, ethical considerations, Integration of indigenous wisdom, and future directions. We have re-written the conclusions section of our article accordingly.

For Reviewer #3, we took on board this reviewer’s suggestion on Relational Frame Theory and have added, “For example, if you persistently have the thought or utter the phrase “I am/you are always behaving stupidly”, phenotypically, it will not function to elicit a healthy response or evolutionary trajectory. If, on the other hand, you reauthored the phrase so the symbol “I/you” is put into a relation of equivalence “am/are” with the event “always learning”, it will function phenotypically to reinforce a healthy evolutionary trajectory.”

We also adopted the reviewer’s suggestion about niche construction and have added, “Just as non-verbal animals construct safe and habitable niches or places to live within their environment, as a verbally enabled species, we construct symbolic representations of healthy and safe habitats and strive to build them. For example, we can imagine and design villages with circular economies. In this way, constructing a symbolic niche is…”

We thank all three reviewers for their insightful comments.