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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Governments should more frequently publish CO2 emissions data: Leveraging human psychology to fight climate change

The most recent report by the International Panel on Climate Change (2018) states the danger very clearly: urgent action is required to avoid possible climate disaster. The primary cause of global climate change is greenhouse gas emissions, primarily CO2 emitted into the atmosphere in the burning of fossil fuels. We must drastically cut emissions at national and planet-wide scales in order to reduce the risk of worst-case scenarios to acceptable amounts. The major problem in bringing about the required large-scale change is not technical or economic, but social. We know roughly what to do, and we can afford to do it. Where we urgently need progress however is in motivating human decisions (at scale) that are effective in decreasing CO2 emissions.

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Scientific aesthetics, sacred values, and interdisciplinary collaborations

Ever since I started working in research, I was lucky enough to work in interdisciplinary settings - starting with small research groups, up to an ERC-funded multi-teams collaboration. I have thus interacted with researchers from a variety of backgrounds and thought I would make public my two cents of wisdom on the topic. I would like to suggest a few things that can make scientific collaborations across disciplines or fields of expertise go slightly more smoothly, and at least feel more mutualistic.

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Are routine actions rational?

In “Actions, Reasons, and Causes” (1963) Donald Davidson famously argued that actions are both ‘rationalized’ and caused by the agent’s reasons. Here is the tritest illustration of this “standard account” of actions: When Brett wants a beer and believes there is beer in the fridge, this gives him a reason to open the fridge and causes him to do so.

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It’s Color Game o’clock!

Most of us prefer to play live, with players who happen to be present on line at the same moment. But not every hour is a green-dots hour. What's a Color-Gamer to do?

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Reasoning against Faith: When Clerics Intervene in Popular Religion

  In their recent book The Enigma of Reason (2017), Mercier and Sperber debunk the popular view of reason as a source of disinterested, accurate knowledge about the world. The function of reason, they argue, is polemical rather than hermeneutic, as we mostly produce reasons to justify our actions to others and to evaluate the arguments other people use to convince us. This provocative argument opens up interesting avenues for further ethnographic investigations that would flesh out how argumentative reasoning functions across different cultural and socio-historical settings. As an anthropologist of religion, I find the question of how reasoning interacts with belief in the religious context particularly intriguing. 

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How Color Game pseudonyms work

The posts on this blog explore the digital life of the Color Game, a gaming app launched by our lab. Our goal: inventing a universal language without words, and recording its birth in data. To find out more, visit colorgame.net. Several players told us they were puzzled at the way the Color Game names them — or their friends. They should be! The naming scheme that we set up for the game is quite intricate. It helps us to make the game as anonymous as possible. Here's how it works.

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Post-doc in Cultural Evolution, Text Mining and Social Cognition in Paris

one-year post-doctoral position in Cultural Evolution and Social Cognition is currently open at the Département d’Etudes Cognitives (DEC) of the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris. This project will be conducted under the supervision of Nicolas Baumard at the Institut Jean Nicod (IJN) and Julie Grèzes

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Post-doctoral position in cultural/cognitive evolution

The Centre for Early Sapiens Behaviour (SapienCE) – a recently launched interdisciplinary Centre of Excellence at the University of Bergen (Norway) – invites applications from candidates with a background in a cognitive or cultural science for a position as postdoctoral research fellow in cultural and/or cognitive evolution.

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Beheadings as honest communication devices

People kill others in different ways, but executions are special in that the killer can choose the method. Practices officially used today are hanging, shooting or stoning, lethal injection, electrocution, gas inhalation, and decapitation. The last method is currently confined to Saudi Arabia, but has a bloody and prestigious history. Many cultures and societies have used it across time, with different social interpretations. In Japan, the honorary suicide was followed by beheading by an assistant, but mere beheading carried shame. Before 1789, only French nobles could be beheaded, and the revolution democratised and extended the practice by guillotining. Today, terrorists use it to great shock value. But what explains the historical popularity of beheading?

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How the best color-gamers got there

The posts on this blog explore the digital life of the Color Game, a gaming app launched by our lab. Its goal: inventing a universal language without words, and recording its birth in data. To find out more, visit colorgame.net. The Color Game's players have been getting better at playing the game. How did they do it? Practice seems an obvious answer. But what kind of practice?

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Can we (please) have science without the scientific journals?

We had science before the journals. We can have science after their demise.

Science could be organized as efficiently as restaurants.

When enterprising individuals plan to open a restaurant, do they submit their food to a Culinary Editor who sends it for peer-review by gustatory experts, before customers are allowed to enter the place and try the food?

No, restaurateurs just rent premises, recruit staff, open doors, serve the meals they want at the price they choose, and hope for the best.

Then the review process starts. A whole army of self-appointed reviewers make it their job to describe and evaluate what is on offer. They include specialized magazines, special sections of newspapers or websites. More importantly, a vast number of unsolicited, unpaid Internet reviewers create what an establishment needs – a reputation.

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How the Color Game’s players mastered the game

The posts on this blog explore the digital life of the Color Game, a gaming app launched by our lab. Our goal: documenting the evolution of a new language without words, and recording its birth in data. To find out more, visit colorgame.net.

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“All options remain open” – or why would one signal a lack of commitment?

Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump seem now set to meet, as planned, on the 12th of June on the island of Singapore. Many of us have watched with bewilderment the verbal jousting that has been taking place between the two figures ahead of this crucial summit. Each political leader, as well as surrounding Korean and American protagonists, provided their due share of grand statements and dramatic turnarounds.

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Are human toddlers unable to understand the aspectuality of a puppet’s belief that the bunny is not a carrot?

In an earlier post, I spelled out what philosophers and psychologists of mindreading call “the aspectuality of belief.” To understand the aspectuality of belief is to understand that a person can believe that Cicero was bald without believing that Tully was, if she does not know that Tully was Cicero — in spite of the fact that the state of affairs of Cicero’s being bald is no other than the state of affairs of Tully’s being bald.

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