Pascal Boyer

Chimaeras as attractors: Epidemiology and cultural variation

David Wengrow’s brilliant Origins of Monsters is a rare example of an archaeological study that addresses an important "middle-level" causal question (in this case, Why the proliferation of chimerical images in the Bronze Age?) from the standpoint of a scientifically sophisticated model of ...

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Is the moral-economic fallacy universal?

If anyone remembers anything from Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (apart from the number of distinct operations required to make a pin, which greatly impressed me at the time), it is that famous sentence that describes human motives for trade: It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, ...

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Why don’t people like markets?

People do not love markets – there is a lot of evidence for that. Is it relevant that, well, to put it bluntly, people do not seem to understand much about market economics? That is a common enough message from professional economists. It is put into sharper focus by Bryan Caplan in his ...

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What it is about women?

A few weeks a go, a young girl was assaulted in the othodox Jewish community of Beit Shemesh near Jerusalem. Being from an orthodox family, the girl was dressed in what most people in Israel and the rest of the world would judge an inordinately puritanical fashion. Apparently, that was not enough ...

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Epistemic vigilance… and epistemic recklessness

We have all enjoyed, if that is the right word, conversations with people who seem to have no great regard for the niceties of argument and evidence - people who tell you that homeopathy does work because it cured them of a common cold, in a few days… Or that the FBI (or other such agencies) ...

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Why are human beings so interested in explaining misfortune?

(Enter our super-competition and win a mega-prize!) Some time ago, a lady in France had the pleasure of seeing her lottery ticket win the jackpot (several million euros), only to have her dream blown to smithereens by an untoward incident. To establish that a claim is valid, the lottery is ...

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Do people ever engage in “magical thinking” ?

Would you enjoy your cocktail less, if it came in a glass labelled “vomit”? One solid result of cognitive psychology, or so it would seem, is that most people, regardless of education, opinion or personality, can be induced to think in magical terms given the appropriate stimuli and ...

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Birthers, Obama, and conflicting intuitions

Those of you who deal with psychiatry know of the rare and tragic condition called Capgras delusion. In this condition, the patient ceases to recognize his or her spouse, father, mother, another familiar person or even a pet. The patient is quite certain that this person they interact with, ...

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Why would (otherwise intelligent) scholars believe in

I do not know if many scholars of religion still believe in gods or spirits, but I know that a great many of them believe in the existence of religion itself - that is, believe that the term "religion" is a useful category, that there is such a thing as religion out there in the world, ...

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What’s wrong, in the end, with Homo Œconomicus ?

Everyone likes to bash Homo œconomicus - not one stone was left uncast at the poor chap. Now, don't get me wrong, I enjoy a good stoning just as much as the next religious fanatic, but this may be a case in which we executed the right fellow for the wrong reasons. Most people argued ...

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There is no such thing as sexual intercourse

I happen to know the secret of academic success. So far I have never divulged it because, well, charity begins at home. But it looks like the field of cognition and culture might be in need of a shot in the arm, so to speak. So I agreed to part with the secret, against a small compensation negoti...

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Cognition under the high brow

  High Culture: Da Vinci's Last Supper (as seen in The Da Vinci Code). We cognitive anthropologists deal with “culture” in the broad sense of distributed mental representations widespread in a social group (and many of us don’t really believe that the terms ...

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