Dan Sperber

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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“Oy vey, have you got the wrong vampire!” A reply to Frans de Waal

I am used to being attacked by fellow anthropologists for having a naturalistic approach and for arguing that cognitive science, experimental methods, and evolutionary theorizing are highly relevant to anthropology’s pursuit. Some of these attacks have been quite violent (one, in l’Ho...

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Believing Maurice Bloch on doubting, doubting him on believing

My friend Maurice Bloch and I have been arguing since even before we first met in the 70s. What makes it worthwhile is that there is much we agree on, and, once in a while, one of us causes the other to change his mind on some issue. There has been one issue however where I have failed to convince ...

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Innocents fornicating and apes grieving

In his novel Abbé Mouret's Transgression (La faute de l'abbé Mouret, 1875), Emile Zola has a young priest, Serge Mouret, and a teenage girl, Albine, fall in love with each other without any understanding of what is happening to them. Neither of them knows anything about sex - they don't even seem ...

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Varieties of disbelief

On March 15, the Washington Post website put a link to a small ethnographic study by Daniel Dennett and Linda LaScola entitled "Preachers who are not Believers." In this remarkable piece, the authors present interviews of five protestant pastors who have lost their faith, and analyse ...

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Block and Kitcher review What Darwin Got Wrong by Fodor and Piatelli-Palmarini

Given the strong reservations that most social scientists have towards evolutionary biology, they might welcome Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piatelli-Palmarini's new book, What Darwin Got Wrong (2010), as they once did Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin famous article, "The Spandrels of San ...

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