Dan Sperber

Tilting titling?

Conversation with Jack Goody was never dull. He combined an endless curiosity for ethnographic details with a deep interest in broad anthropological questions. Here is a picture of some of his books (both English originals and French translations) on my shelves, illustrating the variety of his interests. I hope Jack would have enjoyed this post, but it is not related to his work. Notice a peculiar ethnographic detail in the picture? (I would not have paid much attention to it, except as a source of mild annoyance, if it were not for an article in today’s French edition of Slate). The titles in English read from top to bottom, those in French from bottom to top. ...

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How not to combine ethnography and experiments in the study of moral judgment

In his latest Blog post, Hugo Mercier, discusses Clark Barrett et al.’s paper in PNAS: “Small-scale societies exhibit fundamental variation in the role of intentions in moral judgment.” (available here.) Unlike Hugo, I don’t find this piece of work fascinating. In ...

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Key notions in the study of communication

I am enthusiastic about Thom Scott-Phillips’ book. It integrates cutting-edge research in several fields, from biology to pragmatics, relevant to the study of the evolution of human communication and it redirects the whole enterprise in a new, much more promising direction. This, however, is not ...

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Dan Sperber

These are Dan Sperber's thoughts on the workshop on cultural evolution convened by Dan Dennett in Santa Fe in May 2014. Dennett's introduction is here. *** Let me fist express my heartfelt gratitude to Dan for this great initiative, and to Louis Godbout and to the SFI for making it possible. It ...

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Is kinship back?

In the last issue of Science (25 May, 2012), a plea by Stephen Levinson for the study of kinship terminology, and an article by Charles Kemp and Terry Regier making a novel contribution to that study.   Charles Kemp talks about his and Regier's research Levinson writes: "In ...

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Why are some languages more regular than others?

Many years ago, I did anthropological fieldwork among the Dorze of Southern Ethiopia. Since no grammar of the Dorze language was available, I had to find out what were its basic morphological and syntactic rules. The good news was that once I had identified a rule, I could apply it across the ...

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Why are some languages more regular than others?

Many years ago, I did anthropological fieldwork among the Dorze of Southern Ethiopia. Since no grammar of the Dorze language was available, I had to find out what were its basic morphological and syntactic rules. The good news was that once I had identified a rule, I could apply across the board: ...

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An epidemiology-of-representations solution to a WWII shipwreck mystery

The Australian Cruiser HAMS Sidney After a shameful lull in the activities of the ICCI (Sorry, folks!), we need something sensational – something, say, like Urbain Le Verrier’s famous conjecture that there had to be a yet unknown planet and his calculation of the location of ...

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David Hume, the anthropologist, born May 7, 1711

David Hume, described in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy as "the most important philosopher ever to write in English," was born 300 years ago. All anthropologists should celebrate one of the greatest Founding Fathers of the discipline (but will they?), and we at the Cognition ...

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What the judge ate for breakfast

How do people make decision? One view is that they arrive at their decisions by reasoning, using as premises their beliefs and desires. Another view is that people’s beliefs, desires, and decisions are largely determined by internalized cultural patterns. Particularly relevant to both ...

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Creative pairs

Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe (photo by Norman Seeff) Hugo Mercier and I have of late been developing the idea that reasoning, typically seen as an activity of the individual thinker, is in fact a social activity aimed at exercising some control on the flow of communicated information by ...

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Paul the Octopus, relevance and the joy of superstition

So, as you all know, Spain beat the Netherlands and won the World Football Cup in Johannesburg on July 11, 2010. As most of you may also know, this victory was predicted by a German octopus named Paul. Paul was presented before the match with two transparent boxes each baited with mussel flesh and ...

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