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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Why read a big book? Quantitative Relevance in the Attention Economy

In a 2016 essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education that functioned as a teaser for her book Making Literature Now, Amy Hungerford, Professor of English, boldly revealed that she refused to read David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, the notorious thousand-page monster novel. Hungerford has her reasons. Among others, including misogyny and the undeserved hype created by the commercial publishing industry, she mentions the constraints on her reading time in defense of her choice of not allotting a month of her life to reading this doorstopper. She refers to Gabriel Zaid, author of So Many Books: Reading and Publishing in an Age of Abundance (2003), who “argues that excessively long books are a form of undemocratic dominance that impoverishes the public discourse by reducing the airtime shared among others” (Hungerford 2016). In her defense of not reading, Hungerford evokes the need for pragmatic resource allocation.

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Are selves cultural attractors?

I have just finished reading Nick Chater’s The mind is flat: The illusion of mental depth and the improvised mind (Chater 2017), which I think is an intriguing book. In contrast to popular opinion and much of modern psychology, it argues that our minds do not harbour a subconscious or unconscious that forms the source of our ‘true’ beliefs, emotions, motives and so forth. Instead, we spin stories on the spot to account for the way that we think, behave and feel. The coherence that emerges from these strings of justifications does not reveal our personal identity lying hidden in our mental depths. It derives from the fact that when we invent a new story about ourselves, we tend to take the stories that we created previously into account. Furthermore, we adjust our behaviour and thoughts in accordance with these stories, hence further contributing to the impression of coherence. As Chater nicely puts it, we are “shaped by stories” (p. 116), so that each individual constitutes a “tradition” (p. 202).

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Blatant bias and blood libel

Biases are, arguably, experimental psychology’s best export. Many a psychologist has built a successful career exploring, cataloguing, and attempting to explain the myriad biases supposed to plague human cognition (for a taste, see this Wikipedia list).

This is not a healthy development. It has helped spread a reign of error in psychology, fed by ‘gotcha experiments’ suggesting that humans are broadly irrational and quite a bit dumber than, say, rats. On the contrary, human cognition is extraordinarily efficient and adaptive—not to pat ourselves in the back too much, but, cognitively, we’re pretty dope. With a keen sense of irony, Gerg Gigenrenzer, one of the stalwarts of human rationality, has decried a bias bias that mistakes adaptive heuristics for biases.

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Open science, open society

In the latest issue of the Times Literary Supplement, David Runciman reviews ‘Rethinking the Open Society: New Adversaries and New Opportunities’ (paywall). The book is a collection of essays, ...

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Two doctoral fellowships for doing interdisciplinary research on cooperation, trust and morality at CEU

Central European University (CEU) invites applications for two new and fully funded interdisciplinary Joint PhD Fellowships starting in the 2019/2020 academic year (programme: SMASH PRO fellowships).

The Joint PhD Fellowship Scheme

The CEU Joint PhD Fellowship Scheme entails co-supervision by faculty members from the Department of Cognitive Science and Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology. One Fellow will pursue a PhD in Cognitive Science and the other one a PhD in Sociology and Social Anthropology. The PhD students will follow a curriculum that includes courses from both departments being geared towards their acquiring cross-disciplinary training and expertise.

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Blind imitation or a matter of taste?

For some varieties of cassava, complete detoxification is an effortful, complex, unintuitive process. Joe Henrich famously argued that the practice could only spread through blind, conformist imitation. But what if cassava just tastes better that way?

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[This post was co-written by Hugo Mercier and Olivier Morin]

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The space of reasons and the generation of knowledge

In 1644, in disturbing times of civil war and religious fanaticism, the English poet John Milton held a passionate plea for the freedom of the press. He wrote: “Where there is much desire to learn, there of necessity will be much arguing, much writing, many opinions; for opinion in good men is but knowledge in the making.” With these words, Milton touches upon an idea that other thinkers too have recognized, namely, that if you let people argue freely, each from one’s own perspective, they will tend to come up with pretty good solutions. ...

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A Color Game week

Nothing, the saying goes, ruins your Friday like realising it's a Tuesday. Fortunately there's procrastination. Our data show Color-Gamers are most likely to open the app on Tuesdays, following an ...

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The Color-Game-o-Scope

It’s been six months since we launched the Color Game App. The project will last for another half year before we make all our hypotheses public. For us, the Color Game is an experiment in cultural evolution: we want to see how communication practices change over the long run. That makes it important to know how our players themselves evolve: are we dealing with a rapidly changing population of fickle players, or do the same happy few come back every day? The answer is to be found in… the Color-Game-O-Scope!...

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Cultures of academic (dis)agreement

There is more to being an anthropologist with a strong interest in psychology and natural and cultural evolution than experiencing the imposter syndrome in several disciplines. One of the perks of transdisciplinarity is attending conferences in different fields. While I have very little expertise in the social studies of sciences, I like to observe people, and conferences are great places to see science at work by watching its practitioners interact with each other....

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Governments should more frequently publish CO2 emissions data: Leveraging human psychology to fight climate change

The most recent report by the International Panel on Climate Change (2018) states the danger very clearly: urgent action is required to avoid possible climate disaster. The primary cause of global climate change is greenhouse gas emissions, primarily CO2 emitted into the atmosphere in the burning of fossil fuels. We must drastically cut emissions at national and planet-wide scales in order to reduce the risk of worst-case scenarios to acceptable amounts.The major problem in bringing about the required large-scale change is not technical or economic, but social. We know roughly what to do, and we can afford to do it. Where we urgently need progress however is in motivating human decisions (at scale) that are effective in decreasing CO2 emissions....

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