If teleology is the answer, what was the question?

Josef Perner is one of the leading developmental psychologists of mindreading (or mental state attribution). His contribution to the subject, including his influential (1991) book, has been huge. It started back in 1983, when he and Heinz Wimmer reported the very first study of false-belief attribution in human childhood: Maxi and Maxi’s mother (a pair of puppets) store some desirable object (e.g. a chocolate bar) in a blue cupboard for later use and Maxi leaves the scene. While Maxi is away, Maxi’s mother removes the chocolate bar, uses some of it to bake a cake, places it into a green cupboard and leaves. Maxi comes back and wants some chocolate. Participants are asked the prediction question: “Where will Maxi look for his chocolate?”

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A natural experiment of gradual & contingent cultural causation

A new study about some old news, with results that demonstrate the promiscuous and highly contingent nature of cultural causation. In April 1989 Liverpool and Nottingham Forest were scheduled to play an FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough stadium, Sheffield (FA Cup semi-finals have always been scheduled at neutral venues). Shortly after kick-off it became apparent that there was severe overcrowding in one of the standing areas holding Liverpool supporters. The game was first paused and then abandoned, as the reality of the situation became apparent. The pen was overcrowded and there was a fatal crush of people, leaving 96 dead and 766 injured. It remains the worst disaster in British sporting history. Over the course of time it has emerged that the root cause was the decision by the police match commander, chief superintendent David Duckenfield, to order one of the large exit gates to be opened just before kick-off. This was an attempt to ease overcrowding outside the stadium, but it caused a rush of supporters into one relatively small area.

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Ostension, insistence, and harassment

Last week, the “Social Minds: Coordination, Communication, and Cultural Transmission” project was having a five-day workshop at the Burn, a manor in the Scottish Highlands. Elizabeth Warren (a PhD student working with Josep Call at St Andrews) presented her work on ostension in chimpanzees, with videos.

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How Jordan Peterson became an Intellectual Guru

I think I have discovered something that no one else has any idea about, and I’m not sure I can do it justice. Its scope is so broad that I can see only parts of it clearly at one time, and it is exceedingly difficult to set down comprehensibly in writing.
- Jordan Peterson (1999, 473)

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Signalling signalhood as a means of protest

A few days ago Kazakh police detained a young man holding a poster in Abay Square in Oral, Western Kazakhstan. The poster, however, was blank, and Aslan Sagutdinov was later released without charged. Apparently the authorities could not agree what to charge him with. It’s like this old Soviet joke. A policeman approaches and detains a man handing out leaflets in Red Square. Looking at the leaflets he finds them blank. “Why are they blank?”, he asks. “Why write anything?”, says the man. “Everyone understands.”

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