Why are the faces of primates so dramatically different from one another?

UCLA biologists working as "evolutionary detectives" studied the faces of 129 adult male primates from Central and South America, and they offer some answers in research published online Jan. 11, in Proceedings of the Royal Society B and available here. The faces they studied evolved over at least 24 million years, they report.


 

 "If you look at New World primates, you're immediately struck by the rich diversity of faces," said Michael Alfaro, a UCLA associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and the senior author of the study. "You see bright red faces, moustaches, hair tufts and much more. There are unanswered questions about how faces evolve and what factors explain the evolution of facial features. We're very visually oriented, and we get a lot of information from the face."
 Some of the primate species studied are solitary, while others live in groups that can include dozens or even hundreds of others.
"We found very strong support for the idea that as species live in larger groups, their faces become more simple, more plain," said lead author Sharlene Santana, a UCLA postdoctoral scholar in ecology and evolutionary biology and a postdoctoral fellow with UCLA's Institute for Society and Genetics. "We think that is related to their ability to communicate using facial expressions. A face that is more plain could allow the primate to convey expressions more easily.
"Humans have pretty bare faces, which may allow us to see facial expressions more easily than if, for example, we had many colors in our faces."

More here

Anthropology of this Century online

The new online journal Anthropology of this Century edited by Charles Stafford. "publishes reviews of recent works in anthropology and related disciplines, as well as occasional feature articles." While not uniquely focused on cognition-and-culture themes, is quite open to them. In the just published 3rd issue, for instance:

•  Rita Astuti: "Some after dinner thoughts on Theory of Mind"
•  Maurice Bloch: "The hard problem: Soul dust: the magic of consciousness By Nicholas Humphrey"

Flavor network and the principles of food pairing

 In the online and open access Scientific Reports of Nature, a fascinating paper on "Flavor network and the principles of food pairing" by Yong-Yeol Ahn, Sebastian E. Ahnert, James P. Bagrow and & Albert-László Barabási

The backbone of the flavor network. Each node denotes an ingredient, the node color indicates food category, and node size reflects the ingredient prevalence in recipes. Two ingredients are connected if they share a significant number of flavor compounds, link thickness representing the number of shared compounds between the two ingredients. (Full size image (162 KB)

"The cultural diversity of culinary practice, as illustrated by the variety of regional cuisines, raises the question of whether there are any general patterns that determine the ingredient combinations used in food today or principles that transcend individual tastes and recipes. We introduce a flavor network that captures the flavor compounds shared by culinary ingredients. Western cuisines show a tendency to use ingredient pairs that share many flavor compounds, supporting the so-called food pairing hypothesis. By contrast, East Asian cuisines tend to avoid compound sharing ingredients. Given the increasing availability of information on food preparation, our data-driven investigation opens new avenues towards a systematic understanding of culinary practice.

More here

Attributing Mind to Groups vs. Group Members

 Forthcoming in Psychological Science, an interesting social cognition article by Adam Waytz and Liane Young entitled "The Group-Member Mind Trade-Off: Attributing Mind to Groups Versus Group Members" available here.

Abstract: People attribute minds to other individuals and make inferences about those individuals’ mental states to explain and predict their behavior. Little is known, however, about whether people also attribute minds to groups and believe that collectives, companies, and corporations can think, have intentions, and make plans. Even less is known about the consequences of these attributions for both groups and group members. We investigated the attribution of mind and responsibility to groups and group members, and we demonstrated that people make a trade-off: The more a group is attributed a group mind, the less members of that group are attributed individual minds. Groups that are judged to have more group mind are also judged to be more cohesive and responsible for their collective actions. These findings have important implications for how people perceive the minds of groups and group members, and for how attributions of mind influence attributions of responsibility to groups and group members.

 

Middle childhood: Evolutionary and cross-cultural perspectives

 An interesting special issue of Human Nature (22/3, Sept. 2011) on middle childhood:

From Benjamin C. Campbell’s Introduction:

“Middle childhood is recognized by developmental psychologists as a distinct developmental stage between early childhood and adolescence, defined by increasing cognitive development, emotional regulation, and relative social independence. Adults have increasing expectations of children during middle childhood, as reflected in Sheldon’s White’s (1996) description of this stage as “the age of reason and responsibility.” Developmentally, the onset of middle childhood is defined by Piaget’s (1963) “5 to 7 transition,” with the end marked by the onset of puberty... “In this special issue we examine middle childhood in both evolutionary and cross-cultural perspectives to understand its origins, physiological correlates, and ecological and cultural variability."

Read more: Middle childhood: Evolutionary and cross-cultural perspectives

Anthropological light on the mind-body problem

In the last issue of Cognitive Science (vol. 35, #7, Sept 2011), “Cross-Cultural Similarities and Differences in Person-Body Reasoning: Experimental Evidence From the United Kingdom and Brazilian Amazon”, an excellent article by Emma Cohen, Emily Burdett, Nicola Knight, Justin Barrett (available here).

The abstract begins: "We report the results of a cross-cultural investigation of person-body reasoning in the United Kingdom and northern Brazilian Amazon (Marajó Island). The study provides evidence that directly bears upon divergent theoretical claims in cognitive psychology and anthropology, respectively, on the cognitive origins and cross-cultural incidence of mind-body dualism. The article ends: "The cross-cultural study reported offers the first systematic, cross-cultural analysis of person-body reasoning across a broad range of capacities, provides firm evidential grounds for the refinement of theory and method in future cognitive psychological and anthropological research, and suggests numerous lines of potential further inquiry on the emergence and spread of patterns of recurrence and variation in mind-body dualism in particular, and person-body reasoning generally."

Evolutionary-psychology bashing analysed

Online in the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, an interesting article by Edouard Machery and Kara Cohen: “An Evidence-Based Study of the Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences” (doi: 10.1093/bjps/axr029) available here. Here is how Machery describes the article (at the blog It is Only a Theory):

"Philosophers of biology often have a very dim view of evolutionary psychology, and evolutionary-psychology bashing has been a successful cottage industry. I have been unimpressed by many of these criticisms, in part because of the feeling that the critics of evolutionary psychology were very poorly informed about what evolutionary psychology was. Imo, many of them simply have no serious acquaintance with the field they are criticizing. But, so far, my reaction was just that: an opinion, a feeling. Not anymore. 

In a forthcoming article, Kara Cohen and I have provided support for this impression. using a new tool: quantitative citation analysis. We show that the usual, very negative characterization of evolutionary psychology is largely mistaken, and that philosophers of biology have been fighting a strawman. It is also noteworthy that quantitative citation analysis could be particularly useful for philosophers of science who want to add quantitative tools to their toolbox."

Read more: Evolutionary-psychology bashing analysed

Google Effects on Memory

A new article entitled "Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips" by Sparrow, Liu & Wegner should be of interest to scholars interested in the effect of culture on cognition. It documents the effect of having access to online ressources of information on the way in which people look for answers (Exp. 1), remember things (Exp. 2), remember where to find information (Exp. 3) and whether they are more likely to memorize where to find some information rather than the information itself (Exp. 4).

Abstract: "The advent of the Internet, with sophisticated algorithmic search engines, has made accessing information as easy as lifting a finger. No longer do we have to make costly efforts to find the things we want. We can “Google” the old classmate, find articles online, or look up the actor who was on the tip of our tongue. The results of four studies suggest that when faced with difficult questions, people are primed to think about computers and that when people expect to have future access to information, they have lower rates of recall of the information itself and enhanced recall instead for where to access it. The Internet has become a primary form of external or transactive memory, where information is stored collectively outside ourselves."

Generosity as a by-product of selection for reciprocity

A new article entitled "Evolution of direct reciprocity under uncertainty can explain human generosity in one-shot encounters" by Andrew W. Deltona, Max M. Krasnowa, Leda Cosmides and John Tooby (Published online in PNAS, 25 July 2011) suggests that 'generosity', the fact that we are willing to incur costs to provide anonymous others with benefits, is a necessary byproduct of an adaptation for reciprocity.

Abstract: Are humans too generous? The discovery that subjects choose to incur costs to allocate benefits to others in anonymous, one-shot economic games has posed an unsolved challenge to models of economic and evolutionary rationality. Using agent-based simulations, we show that such generosity is the necessary byproduct of selection on decision systems for regulating dyadic reciprocity under conditions of uncertainty. In deciding whether to engage in dyadic reciprocity, these systems must balance (i) the costs of mistaking a one-shot interaction for a repeated interaction (hence, risking a single chance of being exploited) with (ii) the far greater costs of mistaking a repeated interaction for a one-shot interaction (thereby precluding benefits from multiple future cooperative interactions). This asymmetry builds organisms naturally selected to cooperate even when exposed to cues that they are in one-shot interactions.

Polemics on Evolutionary Psychology

In PLoS Biology (July 19, 2011) a polemical article entitled “Darwin in Mind: New Opportunities for Evolutionary Psychology” by Johan J. Bolhuis, Gillian R. Brown, Robert C. Richardson, and Kevin N. Laland criticising ‘Santa Barbara’ (i.e., Cosmides and Tooby’s) approach (that many here at the ICCI favour).

Abstract: Evolutionary Psychology (EP) views the human mind as organized into many modules, each underpinned by psychological adaptations designed to solve problems faced by our Pleistocene ancestors. We argue that the key tenets of the established EP paradigm require modification in the light of recent findings from a number of disciplines, including human genetics, evolutionary biology, cognitive neuroscience, developmental psychology, and paleoecology. For instance, many human genes have been subject to recent selective sweeps; humans play an active, constructive role in co-directing their own development and evolution; and experimental evidence often favours a general process, rather than a modular account, of cognition. A redefined EP could use the theoretical insights of modern evolutionary biology as a rich source of hypotheses concerning the human mind, and could exploit novel methods from a variety of adjacent research fields.

This has already elicited critical comments from John Hawks. and from Rob Kurzban here. More should come.

New issue of the Journal of Cognition and Culture

A new and excellent issue (11, 1-2) of the Journal of Cognition and Culture. For the Table of Contents,

Read more: New issue of the Journal of Cognition and Culture

A new online journal of reviews in anthropology

AOTCANTHROPOLOGY OF THIS CENTURY is a new free online journal "that publishes reviews of recent works in anthropology and related disciplines, as well as occasional feature articles". Judging from the first issue (see in particular the reviews by Charles Stafford, the Editor, and James Laidlaw, and the feature piece by Maurice Bloch), anthropological issues of cognition and culture relevance are welcome.

For the Table of contents,

Read more: A new online journal of reviews in anthropology

Bradley Franks' Culture and Cognition

franksA new and important book by Bradley Franks: Culture and Cognition: Evolutionary Perspectives ( Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).

The blurb: "Human culture depends on human minds for its creation, meaning and exchange. But minds also depend on culture for their contents and processes. Past resolutions to this circularity problem have tended to give too much weight to one side and too little weight to the other.

In this groundbreaking and timely work, Bradley Franks demonstrates how a more plausible resolution to the circularity problem emerges from reframing mind and culture and their relations in evolutionary terms. He proposes an alternative evolutionary approach that draws on views of mind as embodied and situated. By grounding social construction in evolution, evolution of mind is intrinsically connected to culture – resolving the circularity problem.

In developing his theory, Franks provides a balanced critical assessment of modularity-based and social constructionist approaches to understanding mind and culture." For the table of content,

Read more: Bradley Franks' Culture and Cognition

Where and when did languages emerge? The answer

In Science, a new paper by Quentin D. Atkinson "Phonemic Diversity Supports aSerial Founder Effect Model of Language Expansion from Africa" is generating a lot of well-deserved interest (see here, here, or here for instance).
Abstract: Human genetic and phenotypic diversity declines with distance from Africa, as predicted by a serial founder effect in whichlanguage_origin successive population bottlenecks during range expansion progressively reduce diversity, underpinning support for an African origin of modern humans. Recent work suggests that a similar founder effect may operate on human culture and language. Here I show that the number of phonemes used in a global sample of 504 languages is also clinal and fits a serial founder – effect model of expansion from an inferred origin in Africa. This result, which is not explained by more recent demographic history, local language diversity, or statistical non-independence within language families, points to parallel mechanisms shaping genetic and linguistic diversity and supports an African origin of modern human languages.

Cultural evolution of linguistic structures

Forthcoming in Nature an article by Michael Dunn,  Simon J. Greenhill, Stephen C. Levinson and Russell D. Gray entitled “Evolved structure of language shows lineage-specific trends in word-order universals” available here.

Abstract: Languages vary widely but not without limit. The central goal of linguistics is to describe the diversity of human languages and explain the constraints on that diversity. Generative linguists following Chomsky have claimed that linguistic diversity must be constrained by innate parameters that are set as a child learns a language. In contrast, other linguists following Greenberg have claimed that there are statistical tendencies for co-occurrence of traits reflecting universal systems biases, rather than absolute constraints or parametric variation. Here we use computational phylogenetic methods to address the nature of constraints on linguistic diversity in an evolutionary framework . First, contrary to the generative account of parameter setting, we show that the evolution  of  only  a  few  word-order  features  of  languages  are strongly correlated. Second, contrary to the Greenbergian generalizations, we show that most observed functional dependencies between traits are lineage-specific rather than universal tendencies. These findings support the view that—at least with respect to word order—cultural evolution is the primary factor that determines linguistic structure, with the current state of a linguistic system shaping and constraining future states.

Is social cognition reducible to theory of mind?

In an article entitled "Social cognition is not reducible to theory of mind when children use deontic rules to predict the behaviour of others” (coming out in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 2011, available here), Fabrice Clément, Stéphane Bernard and Laurence Kaufmann argue that “children have a capacity for deontic reasoning that is irreducible to mentalizing" and present two experiments the results of which "point to the existence of such non-mentalistic understanding and prediction of the behaviour of others.”

Culture evolves

A new issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences with the title 'Culture evolves', edited by Andrew Whiten, Robert A. Hinde, Christopher B. Stringer and Kevin N. Laland is available online here. If you do not have free access, we encourage you to check the individual web pages of the author -- whom we encourage to post all their papers, vive le open access! –- and, if need be, to ask them for the Pdf. Here below is the table of contents.

Read more: Culture evolves

War as a moral imperative

Jeremy Ginges and and Scott Atran again illustrate the relevance of a cognition and culture approach to major political and societal concerns with their article,  "War as a moral imperative (not just practical politics by other means)" published online, Feb. 16, 2011, in the Proceedings of the  Royal Society B and available here.

Abstract: We present findings from one survey and five experiments carried out in the USA, Nigeria and the Middle East showing that judgements about the use of deadly intergroup violence are strikingly insensitive to quantitative indicators of success, or to perceptions of their efficacy. By demonstrating that judgements about the use of war are bounded by rules of deontological reasoning and parochial commitment, these findings may have implications for understanding the trajectory of violent political conflicts. Further, these findings are compatible with theorizing that links the evolution of within-group altruism to intergroup violence.

The dawn of "culturomics"

A team lead by Jean-Baptiste Michel and Erez Lieberman Aiden (Harvard University) just published in Science a paper "Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books" that promises to open a new era in the study of cultural evolution.

We constructed a corpus of digitized texts containing about 4% of all books ever printed. Analysis of this corpus enables us to investigate cultural trends quantitatively. We survey the vast terrain of "culturomics", focusing on linguistic and cultural phenomena that were reflected in the English language between 1800 and 2000. We show how this approach can provide insights about fields as diverse as lexicography, the evolution of grammar, collective memory, the adoption of technology, the pursuit of fame, censorship, and historical epidemiology. "Culturomics" extends the boundaries of rigorous quantitative inquiry to a wide array of new phenomena spanning the social sciences and the humanities.

This research was partly supported by Google's work effort to digitize books. Visit their new Ngram viewer!

Folk epistemology

Of clear cognition-and-culture interest, a special issue of the Review of Philosophy and Psychology (Volume 1, Number 4 / December 2010) on "Folk Epistemology". For the table of content,

Read more: Folk epistemology

In EHB : Sixteen misconceptions about the evolution of human cooperation, by West et al.

Now officially published online in Evolution and Human Behavior is a paper by West, El Mouden and Gardner (all from Oxford University) that has been circulating, as a manuscript, in the academic community for almost two years.

The paper (of which a copy can be found here) has several goals and everyone can find something in it. For the non-evolutionnist, it draws a pedagogic overview of the litterature on the evolution of cooperation (including in non-human species). For the evolutionnist, it nicely reviews some of the economic litterature, acknowledging the conceptual advances of this field in domains such as repeated interactions. For the cognitive anthropologist interested in the naturalistic foundations of cooperation, it clarifies some of the usual misconceptions behind widespread concepts such as group selection and strong-reciprocity. A must-read for all!

Here is the abstract:

The occurrence of cooperation poses a problem for the biological and social sciences. However, many aspects of the biological and social science literatures on this subject have developed relatively independently, with a lack of interaction. This has led to a number of misunderstandings with regard to how natural selection operates and the conditions under which cooperation can be favoured. Our aim here is to provide an accessible overview of social evolution theory and the evolutionary work on cooperation, emphasising common misconceptions.

In TiCS: Space, Time and Number

Trends in Cognitive Sciences is publishing a special issue on space, time and number with articles by Brian Butterworth, Manuela Piazza, Daniel B.M. Haun and collaborators, and Dori Derdikman and Edvard I. Moser. As Manuella Piazza explains in her article, the field is reap for a very interesting "cognition and culture" debate since there are now several detailed theories about the way number symbols recycle old evolutionary capacities :

"Attaching meaning to arbitrary symbols (i.e. words) is a complex and lengthy process. In the case of numbers, it was previously suggested that this process is grounded on two early pre-verbal systems for numerical quantification: the approximate number system (ANS or 'analogue magnitude'), and the object tracking system (OTS or 'parallel individuation'), which children are equipped with before symbolic learning. Each system is based on dedicated   neural   circuits,   characterized   by   specific computational limits,  and each undergoes  a separate developmental trajectory. Here, I review the available cognitive and neuroscientific data and argue that the available evidence is more consistent with a crucial role for the ANS, rather than for the OTS, in the acquisition of abstract numerical concepts that are uniquely human."

The same topic is of course discussed at length in Susan Carey's recent major book The origin of concepts.

Special issue of Mind and Society on experimental economics

MS

Note the Special issue of Mind and Society on "Experimental economics and the social embedding of economic behavior and cognition". Here is the abstract of the introductory article, "The implication of social cognition for experimental economics" by Christophe Heintz and Nicholas Bardsley: "Can human social cognitive processes and social motives be grasped by the methods of experimental economics? Experimental studies of strategic cognition and social preferences contribute to our understanding of the social aspects of economic decisions making. Yet, papers in this issue argue that the social aspects of decision-making introduce several difficulties for interpreting the results of economic experiments. In particular, the laboratory is itself a social context, and in many respects a rather distinctive one, which raises questions of external validity."

The Table of Content:

Read more: Special issue of Mind and Society on experimental economics

Which network structures favor the rapid spread of new ideas, behaviors, or technologies?

Forthcoming in PNAS, an article entitled "The spread of innovations in social networks" by Andrea Montanari and Amin Saberi (full text available here).

Abstract : Which network structures favor the rapid spread of new ideas, behaviors, or technologies? This question has been studied extensively using epidemic models. Here we consider a complementary point of view and consider scenarios where the individuals' behavior is the result of a strategic choice among competing alternatives. In particular, we study models that are based on the dynamics of coordination games. Classical results in game theory studying this model provide a simple condition for a new action or innovation to become widespread in the network. The present paper characterizes the rate of convergence as a function of the structure of the interaction network. The resulting predictions differ strongly from the ones provided by epidemic models. In particular, it appears that innovation spreads much more slowly on well-connected network structures dominated by long-range links than in low-dimensional ones dominated, for example, by geographic proximity.

New book: Human evolution and the origin of hierarchies

Philosopher Benoît Dubreuil just published a book at Cambridge University Press: Human evolution and the origins of hierarchies: the state of nature. Based on his dissertation, the book promises to shed fresh light on key anthropological issues, such as social evolution or the origins of the state. Benoît Dubreuil, ICCI fellow, studies philosophy of science and moral philosophy at the Université du Québec à Montréal.

The book on Cambridge UP's site.

Benoît Bubreuil's website.

Why the West Rules--For Now

 

Ian Morris, a Stanford historian, has just published a new sweeping history of humanity. In Why the  West Rules--For Now, he builds a theory of the evolution of human societies and tries to explain why the East and the West have been swapping seats for millennia in world domination. The beginning is very promising, and fans of Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel and Landes' The Wealth and Poverty of Nations are likely to appreciate Morris' verve and breadth of knowledge. 

Social interaction in utero?

Fascinating findings by Umberto Castiello, Cristina Becchio, Stefania Zoia,Cristian Nelini, Luisa Sartori, Laura Blason, Giuseppina D'Ottavio, Maria Bulgheroni, and  Vittorio Gallese in an article entitled: "Wired to Be Social: The Ontogeny of Human Interaction" freely available at PLOS One here.

twins_in_utero

Left: self-directed movement towards the mouth  Right: the foetus "caressing" the head of the sibling.

Abstract: Newborns come into the world wired to socially interact. Is a propensity to socially oriented action already present before birth? Twin pregnancies provide a unique opportunity to investigate the social pre-wiring hypothesis. Although various types of inter-twins contact have been demonstrated starting from the 11th week of gestation, no study has so far investigated the critical question whether intra-pair contact is the result of motor planning rather then the accidental outcome of spatial proximity. ...Kinematic profiles of movements in five pairs of twin foetuses were studied by using four-dimensional ultrasonography during two separate recording sessions carried out at the 14th and 18th week of gestation. We demonstrate that by the 14th week of gestation twin foetuses do not only display movements directed towards the uterine wall and self-directed movements, but also movements specifically aimed at the co-twin, the proportion of which increases between the 14thand 18th gestational week. ...We conclude that performance of movements towards the co-twin is not accidental: already starting from the 14th week of gestation twin foetuses execute movements specifically aimed at the co-twin.

Josh Knobe and Lera Boroditsky debate on language and thought

You have watched Lera Boroditsky's LSE-ICCI lecture. Here you can see her debating with Josh Knobe:

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Poetic rhyme reflects cross-linguistic differences in information structure

An interesting article in the last issue of Cognition suggesting how cognitive differences in language processsing can influence literary tradition. Michael Wagner (McGill) and Katherine McCurdy (Harvard) show that cross-linguistic differences in information structure can explain divergence in French and English poetic tradition (preprint available here).

Abstract: Identical rhymes (right/write, attire/retire) are considered satisfactory and even artistic in French poetry but are considered unsatisfactory in English. This has been a consistent generalization over the course of centuries, a surprising fact given that other aspects of poetic form in French were happily applied in English. This paper puts forward the hypothesis that this difference is not merely one of poetic tradition, but is grounded in the distinct ways in which information-structure affects prosody in the two languages. A study of rhyme usage in poetry and a perception experiment confirm that native speakers' intuitions about rhyming in the two languages indeed differ, and a further perception experiment supports the hypothesis that this fact is due to a constraint on prosody that is active in English but not in French. The findings suggest that certain forms of artistic expression in poetry are influenced, and even constrained, by more general properties of a language.

Is philosophy universal?

Justin Erik Halldor Smith has won this year's 3 Quarks Daily 2010 top philosophy prize with a post on his blog entitled  "More on Non-Western Philosophy (the Very Idea)". This provocative essay is of clear cognition-and-culture relevance. It begins:

Roughly speaking, we might conceptualize the attainments of a given culture as falling into two broad categories. On the one hand, there are things like wagons, gunpowder, and telephony: cultural attainments that, once they have caught on in one society, they cannot but spread to all societies that have the means of acquiring them. There is nothing, for example, intrinsically Chinese about printing. These are things that do not have any special relationship to the context of their origin. On the other hand, there are things like the Pythagorean chromatic scale as opposed to the Indian sargam, or the unicorn motif in Indo-European art: innovations of culture that do not automatically result in global diffusion, since they are only variations on a fixed range of possibilities for the expression of elements of culture --in this instance, music and figurative art-- that are in some form always already there in every culture. In general, inventions diffuse, motifs do not (unless the motifs are from a higher-status conquering elite, which explains in part the abundance of copyright-infringing knock-offs of Disney characters in the developing world...). What sort of innovation is philosophy?

To read more

Nick Enfield reviews Searle and Runciman

In the Times Literary Suppement, September 3, 2010, 3-4, an interesting review (available here)  by Nick Enfield of Making the social world by John Searle and The theory of social and cultural selection by W.G. Runciman.

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From Gérard Lampin's L'idiot (1946 - with Gérard Philippe and Edwidge Feuillère - in French)

The review begins:

"In a characteristically riotous scene from The Idiot, Dostoyevksy's chaotic anti-heroine Nastasya Filipovna takes a package of 100,000 roubles brought to her by lovelorn admirer Rogozhin and throws it into the fire to burn. She is using this gift from one suitor as a weapon against another—the ambitious Ganya—whom she publicly taunts to reach in barehanded and remove the burning bills. Mayhem ensues. By what magic does the burning of paper evoke emotions from bewilderment to horror to panic? When that paper happens to be money we catch full view of a curious dual reality that characterizes human affairs. There is a realm of facts that do not follow from physical reality, that inescapable world in which slips of paper are worthless other than as fire starters or snack food for goats. Our trick is the creation of what philosopher John Searle calls institutional reality, a uniquely human reality in which those otherwise ineffectual slips of paper are readily accepted in exchange for valuable goods and services, based on a virtually unshakeable sense of trust that someone else will later accept the same slips of paper in turn. In Making the Social World, Searle asks how human institutional reality is possible. His considered opinion is that language carries the entire load."

To read more...

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