Dan Sperber’s blog

Easy pieces on hard issues

Do apes produce metonymies?

Your friend Olga is coming for a drink. You put two plates on the table, one with olives and the other with almonds. When both plates have been emptied, you ask Olga, “Do you want anything ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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