The Speculative Origins of Monsters

[Below my contribution for a “Book Club” event, hosted by the International Cognition and Culture Institute website, and dedicated to the David Wengrow’s book, “The Origins of Monsters“.]

A researcher in the field of cultural evolution – whom I never met in person and would be probably very surprised of this wildly out-of-context mention – twitted, few weeks ago, that “Implementation is the hard part, not the idea. […] I have five ideas in the shower every morning. That’s the easy part.” My showers are, alas, far from being that exciting, but, for some reason, the musing resonated with me when I first saw it, and it continued to resonate through the reading of “The Origins of Monsters”.

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Cultural evolution: here and now

I am organising, together with Jeremy Kendal, Rachel KendalOlivier MorinThom Scott-Phillips and Jamie Tehrani (Olivier and myself being the “official” convenors), a panel at the Annual Conference of the Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK and Commonwealth (ASA 2016), that will be held in Durham, from the 4th to the 7th of July.

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Engineering cultural fitness

In general, I tend to read books that are quite closely related to my research (Joe Henrich’s The Secret of Our Success is on my desk, nothing surprising there) or ones – generally fiction – that have nothing to do with it (Station Eleven and Americanah are both half-read on my kindle, waiting for better times). More rarely I try to delve into academic essays on subjects I am only half familiar with, but I might plan to do it more in the future. In fact I just had a very nice surprise with Addiction by Design. Machine Gambling in Las Vegas written by MIT anthropologist Natasha Dow Schüll.

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Tim Lewens on Lamarckian inheritance in cultural evolution

[This is a second post originating from reading Tim Lewens book Cultural Evolution. The first, on the application of the concept of population thinking to culture, is here.]

One of the most repeated criticism of the analogy between cultural and biological evolution is that inheritance in the former, but not in the latter, is Lamarckian. Things may be, to a certain extent, complicated (“Lamarckian” evolution might mean different things; the concept of soft inheritance, which might include “Lamarckian” forms, is no more a taboo in biology), but the nuts and bolts – which are, I think, what really matters for the analogy cultural/biological evolution – are not.

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