A précis of ‘Cultural Evolution in the Digital Age’

When, at the beginning of 2016, I started to think about the project that would have become the book Cultural evolution in the digital age, my goal was to apply cultural evolution theory to a topic

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‘Cultural Evolution in the Digital Age’ Book Club

Alberto Acerbi’s timely new book, Cultural Evolution in the Digital Age, offers a cultural evolutionary perspective on our behavior online, and on its cumulative effects on information diffusion

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Board games, intuitive monopolists, and pedagogical Georgists

I grew up in socialist Romania and I have played Monopoly since I was 10 with a game brought from West Germany by family friends. I loved the game and the fact that my social value among playmates

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Quiet online spaces as a form of mutualistic nudging for our hyper-networked world

On April 26, 2020, the Guardian published an article entitled “As isolation stress sets in, many find that sharing quiet online spaces is the key to boosting brain power.” It began, “There

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Do COVID-19 conspiracy theories stem from gullibility or skepticism?

When it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic that has the world in its grip, gaps in public knowledge still abound. It is therefore not surprising that during the last weeks a whole bunch of

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Ubiquitous yet nowhere to be found: on the Invisible Hand’s success

Adam Smith’s invisible hand is a tremendously successful metaphor. Quotes abound to state how important and pervasive the idea is (and was) for both economics and social sciences at large. Yet,

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How relevant to the psychology of mindreading is knowledge-first epistemology?

Some epistemic mental states with propositional content (e.g. knowing, perceiving, remembering) are commonly said to be factive on the grounds that one cannot know, see, hear or remember what is not

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Could mindshaping be the bedrock of human social cognition?

The uniformity that unites us in communication and belief is a uniformity of resultant patterns overlying a chaotic subjective diversity of connections between words and experience. Uniformity comes

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If teleology is the answer, what was the question?

Josef Perner is one of the leading developmental psychologists of mindreading (or mental state attribution). His contribution to the subject, including his influential (1991) book, has been huge. It

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A natural experiment of gradual & contingent cultural causation

A new study about some old news, with results that demonstrate the promiscuous and highly contingent nature of cultural causation. In April 1989 Liverpool and Nottingham Forest were scheduled to

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Ostension, insistence, and harassment

Last week, the “Social Minds: Coordination, Communication, and Cultural Transmission” project was having a five-day workshop at the Burn, a manor in the Scottish Highlands. Elizabeth Warren (a PhD student working with Josep Call at St Andrews) presented her work on ostension in chimpanzees, with videos.

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How Jordan Peterson became an Intellectual Guru

I think I have discovered something that no one else has any idea about, and I’m not sure I can do it justice. Its scope is so broad that I can see only parts of it clearly at one time, and it is exceedingly difficult to set down comprehensibly in writing.
- Jordan Peterson (1999, 473)

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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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Call for papers: Cognitive Science of Nationalistic Behavior – Evolutionary and cross-cultural perspectives

The Journal of Cognition and Culture (Brill) is hosting a special issue (edited by Dr Michal Fux, Northeastern University) on the role of cognitive science in nationalistic thought and behaviour (CSNB). Spurred by the rise in popularity of nation-based separatist movements, which followed an era of a steady move toward globalization, the editing team is interested in filling a surprising scholarly gap by establishing a wide explanatory framework / cognitive model for CSNB thoroughly integrated with what is known about human cognition and its evolution.

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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

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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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