Tamar Gendler's online course on human nature

If you want a well taught, well produced free online course on basic classical issues in the philosophy of human nature, here is this Open Yale course by Tamar Gendler:

Tamar Gendler

The course on Philosophy and the Science of Human Nature pairs central texts from Western philosophical tradition (including works by Plato, Aristotle, Epictetus, Hobbes, Kant, Mill, Rawls, and Nozick) with recent findings in cognitive science and related fields. The course is structured around three intertwined sets of topics: Happiness and Flourishing; Morality and Justice; and Political Legitimacy and Social Structures.

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Tool use, gesture and the evolution of language

A special issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B entitled "From action to language: comparative perspective on primate tool use, gesture and the evolution of human language" edited by James Steele, Pier Francesco Ferrari and Leonardo Fogassi"The papers in this Special Issue examine tool use and manual gestures in primates as a window on the evolution of the human capacity for language. Neurophysiological research has supported the hypothesis of a close association between some aspects of human action organization and of language representation, in both phonology and semantics. Tool use provides an excellent experimental context to investigate analogies between action organization and linguistic syntax. Contributors report and contextualize experimental evidence from monkeys, great apes, humans and fossil hominins, and consider the nature and the extent of overlaps between the neural representations of tool use, manual gestures and linguistic processes." For the table of contents,

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Nick Enfield reviews Hurford's The Origins of Grammar

HurfordIn the Times Literary Supplement, Nick Enfield reviews James R. Hurford's new book The Origins of Grammar, Oxford UP, 2011 (a sequel to The Origins of MeaningOxford UP, 2007):

"If you could travel back to a time around the dawn of humankind, and if you encountered a people there whose only form of language was a list of one-word interjections like Yuck, Wow, Oops, Hey!, No, and Huh?, would you say that these people were of a different species, not quite human? Would they be like today’s apes that simply don’t have it in them to fully acquire a modern human language? Or would they be the same as us only less well equipped for communication, like the eighteenth-century man who is every bit human but happens not to have been born in a world with telephones? If the latter were true, then language would be more technology than biology, more something we build than something that grows. It’s clear that the earliest humans did not possess language as we know it. The question is whether this was because language as we know it hadn’t yet been invented.

In James R. Hurford’s towering account of our species’ path from being once without language to now being emphatically with it, he proposes that just such a monophrase language of the Yuck/Wow variety was an important early human achievement. And, Hurford argues, while our earliest forms of language had no grammatical rules by which words were combined to form sentences, they were far from primitive call systems."

More here

Fluctuations in Word Use from Word Birth to Word Death

 A team of mathematicians and phycisists, Alexander M. Petersen, Joel Tenenbaum, Shlomo Havlin, and H. Eugene Stanley, studied the "Statistical Laws Governing Fluctuations in Word Use from Word Birth to Word Death" by analysing the dynamic properties of 10words recorded in English, Spanish and Hebrew over the period 1800–2008. (The paper is published by Arxiv.org.)


We quote at length from the concluding Discussion:

"... words are competing actors in a system of finite resources. Just as business firms compete for market share, words demonstrate the same growth statistics because they are competing for the use of the writer/speaker and for the attention of the corresponding reader/listener . A prime example of fitness mediated evolutionary competition is the case of irregular and regular verb use in English. By analyzing the regularization rate of irregular verbs through the history of the English language, Lieberman et al.  show that the irregular verbs that are used more frequently are less likely to be overcome by their regular verb counterparts. Specifically, they find that the irregular verb death rate scales as the inverse square root of the word’s relative use. A study of word diffusion across IndoEuropean languages shows similar frequency-dependence of word replacement rates."

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Emotion in Eastern and Western Music

Just out in PLoSOne, an article on musical cognition entitled "Expression of Emotion in Eastern and Western Music Mirrors Vocalization" by Daniel Liu Bowling, Janani Sundararajan, Shui'er Han, Dale Purves (all from the Purves-lab at Duke).

Abstract: In Western music, the major mode is typically used to convey excited, happy, bright or martial emotions, whereas the minor mode typically conveys subdued, sad or dark emotions. Recent studies indicate that the differences between these modes parallel differences between the prosodic and spectral characteristics of voiced speech sounds uttered in corresponding emotional states. Here we ask whether tonality and emotion are similarly linked in an Eastern musical tradition. The results show that the tonal relationships used to express positive/excited and negative/subdued emotions in classical South Indian music are much the same as those used in Western music. Moreover, tonal variations in the prosody of English and Tamil speech uttered in different emotional states are parallel to the tonal trends in music. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that the association between musical tonality and emotion is based on universal vocal characteristics of different affective states.

The Psychosemantics of Free Riding

 Forthcoming in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and available here, "The Psychosemantics of Free Riding: Dissecting the Architecture of a Moral Concept" by Andrew W. Delton, Leda Cosmides, Marvin Guemo, Theresa E. Robertson, and John Tooby. It illustrates the progress that has been made both theoretically and methodologically in the line of research  opened by Leda Cosmides' 1989 “The logic of social exchange: Has natural selection shaped how humans reason?” .

Abstract: For collective action to evolve and be maintained by selection, the mind must be equipped with mechanisms designed to identify free riders—individuals who do not contribute to a collective project but still benefit from it. Once identified, free riders must be either punished or excluded from future collective actions. But what criteria does the mind use to categorize someone as a free rider? An evolutionary analysis suggests that failure to contribute is not sufficient. Failure to contribute can occur by intention or accident, but the adaptive threat is posed by those who are motivated to benefit themselves at the expense of cooperators.

Read more: The Psychosemantics of Free Riding

A new "Journal for the Cognitive Science of Religion"

The new "Journal for the Cognitive Science of Religion" is the official journal of the International Association for the Cognitive Science of Religion (founded in 2006). 

Blurb: "The cognitive science of religion is a burgeoning field that finds itself in the center of cross-disciplinary research. Cognition is understood in a variety of ways from bottom-up to top-down models and theories. New insights into cognition, culture and religion are being discovered, new ways of doing research are being established and new methodologies and technologies are being used in the cognitive science of religion. The number of scholars and scientists working in this exciting field are expanding exponentially, and the journal provides a cutting-edge publication channel for this field."

 Editors: Pascal Boyer, University of Washington in St. Louis; Armin W. Geertz, Aarhus University; Luther H. Martin, University of Vermont.

Read more: A new "Journal for the Cognitive Science of Religion"

Learning word meanings at 6 months?

Forthcoming in PNAS, an article by Elika Bergelson and Daniel Swingley arguing that "At 6–9 months, human infants know the meanings of many common nouns" with obvious implications for the study of cultural learning. The authors link their findings to the recent discovery of mindreading abilities in infants at the same early age  (see for instance for instance Kovács, Téglás , and Endress, [2010] 'The social sense: Susceptibility to others’ beliefs in human infants and adults. Science 330:1830–1834)  

Abstract: It is widely accepted that infants begin learning their native language not by learning words, but by discovering features of the speech signal: consonants, vowels, and combinations of these sounds. Learning to understand words, as opposed to just perceiving their sounds, is said to come later, between 9 and 15 mo of age, when infants develop a capacity for interpreting others’ goals and intentions. Here, we demonstrate that this consensus about the developmental sequence of human language learning is flawed: in fact, infants already know the meanings of several common words from the age of 6 mo onward. We presented 6- to 9-mo-old infants with sets of pictures to view while their parent named a picture in each set. Over this entire age range, infants directed their gaze to the named pictures, indicating their understanding of spoken words. Because the words were not trained in the laboratory, the results show that even young infants learn ordinary words through daily experience with language. This surprising accomplishment indicates that, contrary to prevailing beliefs, either infants can already grasp the referential intentions of adults at 6 mo [the explanation the authors prefer] or infants can learn words before this ability emerges. The precocious discovery of word meanings suggests a perspective in which learning vocabulary and learning the sound structure of spoken language go hand in hand as language acquisition begins.

Sterelny's 'The Evolved Apprentice'

A new book by Kim Sterelny: The Evolved Apprentice: How Evolution Made Humans Unique (MIT Press 2012) : "Over the last three million years or so, our lineage has diverged sharply from those of our great ape relatives. Change has been rapid (in evolutionary terms) and pervasive. Morphology, life history, social life, sexual behavior, and foraging patterns have all shifted sharply away from other great apes. No other great ape lineage--including those of chimpanzees and gorillas--seems to have undergone such a profound transformation. In The Evolved Apprentice, Kim Sterelny argues that the divergence stems from the fact that humans gradually came to enrich the learning environment of the next generation. Humans came to cooperate in sharing information, and to cooperate ecologically and reproductively as well, and these changes initiated positive feedback loops that drove us further from other great apes.

Sterelny develops a new theory of the evolution of human cognition and human social life that emphasizes the gradual evolution of information sharing practices across generations and how information sharing transformed human minds and social lives. Sterelny proposes that humans developed a new form of ecological interaction with their environment, cooperative foraging, which led to positive feedback linking ecological cooperation, cultural learning, and environmental change. The ability to cope with the immense variety of human ancestral environments and social forms, he argues, depended not just on adapted minds but also on adapted developmental environments."

Early social cognition in three cultural contexts

Coming out of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Department of Developmental and Comparative Psychology An important comparative study on Early social cognition in three cultural contexts by T. Callaghan, H. Moll, H. Rakoczy, F. Warneken, U. Liszkowski, T. Behne, & M. Tomasello, published in 2011 (Monograph of the Society for Research in Child Development, 76(2), 1-142) and available here.

Abstract: The influence of culture on cognitive development is well established for school age and older children. But almost nothing is known about how different parenting and socialization practices in different cultures affect infants’ and young children’s earliest emerging cognitive and social-cognitive skills. In the current monograph, we report a series of eight studies in which we systematically assessed the social-cognitive skills of 1- to 3-year-old children in three diverse cultural settings. One group of children was from a Western, middle-class cultural setting in rural Canada and the other two groups were from traditional, small-scale cultural settings in rural Peru and India.

In a first group of studies, we assessed 1-year-old children’s most basic social-cognitive skills for understanding the intentions and attention of others: imitation, helping, gaze following, and communicative pointing. Children’s performance in these tasks was mostly similar across cultural settings. In a second group of studies, we assessed 1-year-old children’s skills in participating in interactive episodes of collaboration and joint attention. Again in these studies the general finding was one of cross-cultural similarity. In a final pair of studies, we assessed 2- to 3-year-old children’s skills within two symbolic systems (pretense and pictorial). Here we found that the Canadian children who had much more experience with such symbols showed skills at an earlier age.

Our overall conclusion is that young children in all cultural settings get sufficient amounts of the right kinds of social experience to develop their most basic social-cognitive skills for interacting with others and participating in culture at around the same age. In contrast, children’s acquisition of more culturally specific skills for use in practices involving artifacts and symbols is more dependent on specific learning experiences.

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."

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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.

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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."

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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.