Past seminar programmes

Lent term 2009


21 January 

Philippe Descola (Collège de France and EHESS)
Cognitive Issues in Ontology and Praxeology

Abstract: The aim of this paper is to bring to discussion two cognitive issues entailed by my work Par-delà nature et culture (Paris 2005). One issue concerns the hypothesis that ontologies may be generated by inferences of similarity and dissimilarity between the intentional and physical qualities of a human subject and that of the objects he/she perceives.


The assumption is not only that a distinction between mental states and physical processes is universally perceived, but also that certain classes of inferences may lead to the formation of differentiated and stable ontologies.


The other issue concerns the role in the transmission of cultural ethos and practice of abstract schemas functioning perhaps at a higher level of integration than previously considered.

18 February  

Alex Mesoudi (Queen Mary)
Simulating Human Cultural Evolution in the Social Psychology Lab

Abstract: I will present the results of a series of experiments that draw on classic methods of social psychology to simulate human cultural evolution in the lab. "Transmission chain" studies can be used to examine how information changes as it passes along linear chains of participants. For example, Mesoudi, Whiten & Dunbar (2006) found that information concerning social interactions is transmitted better than equivalent non-social information.


Another series of studies uses the "Virtural Arrowhead Task" to simulate patterns of artefactual changes observed in the archaeological record (Mesoudi & O'Brien, 2008), finding that different learning rules generate distinct patterns of artefact variation.


These experimental studies can potentially form part of a larger, unified science of cultural evolution (Mesoudi, Whiten & Laland, 2006), in which cultural change is viewed as a Darwinian evolutionary system that shares key properties with biological/genetic evolution.

4 March

Ruth Mace (UCL)
A phylogenetic approach to cultural evolution

18 March

Bradley Franks (LSE)
Thoughts in and about ritual


Michaelmas term 2008


15 October

Rebecca Sear (LSE)
How much does family matter? The evidence for a cooperative breeding strategy in humans, and its implications for human evolution

Abstract: Human mothers have a problem. The extended period of childhood dependency and short interbirth intervals of our species mean that human mothers have to care for several dependent children simultaneously. This is too much of an energetic burden for mothers to manage alone.

This paper presents cross-cultural evidence that the solution to this problem is cooperative breeding: mothers enlist help from other relatives to share the costs of raising children. The importance of this reproductive strategy for the evolution of human bodies and brains is discussed.

29 October

Jamshid Tehrani (Durham)
Missing links and curious parallels: a phylogenetic approach to cultural transmission

Abstract: Early anthropologists believed that a direct analogy could be made between processes of cultural and biological evolution. Like organisms, social institutions, craft traditions, religious beliefs etc. were seen as products of 'descent with modification' whose relationships to one another could be traced back to original 'root forms'.

However, subsequent generations of anthropologists came to reject this project, and emphasized instead the differences between culture and biology. Thus, cultural forms were increasingly seen as the product of 'intelligent design' rather than of blind Darwinian processes.

Even cognitive anthropologists like Sperber have argued vigorously against biological models of cultural transmission on the basis that ideas and skills are not replicated in the way that genes are. In his view, similarities among cultural forms are more likely to reflect genetically hard-wired cognitive biases than shared history. In this talk I will address these issues in relation to recent attempts to reconstruct cultural origins using biological techniques of phylogenetic analysis.

This work provides useful insights into the similarities and differences between cultural and biological evolution, and suggests that the ambitions of those pioneering anthropologists in the nineteenth century may yet be fulfilled.

12 November

Annette Karmiloff-Smith (Birkbeck)
Modules, Genes and Evolution: A Neurocontructivist Perspective

26 November

Fulvia Castelli (UCL)
A Multilayered view of Theory of Mind

10 December

Stafana Broadbent (UCL)
The evolution of mediated communication

When people have at their regular disposal multiple channels of communication the selection of one or another channel for a specific interaction is determined by a variety of social and cultural criteria. The management of availability and attention is, for instance, a significant criterion in selecting a synchronous or asynchronous channel. A written asynchronous channel, for example, will be chosen when the caller does not want to seem to request too much attention from the interlocutor.

 Other factors are taken into consideration when choosing between a written and spoken channel, such as the complexity of the coordination process or the level of shared understanding of the topic.



Summer term 2008


Monday 9 June

4:00 - 6:00
Seligman Library, Old Building, LSE.

Geoffrey Gowlland (LSE)
Emotion, cognition and authority in a Chinese craft community

Abstract: In an effort to make sense of Chinese ceramic artisans' assertions that a 'correct' pot is one that is pleasing to the eye, this paper proposes that one reexamine the cognitive bases of theories of art in anthropology. In particular, the notion of emotion as cognition, put forward by neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, is brought in to explore the relation between creativity and authority in art production.


Lent term 2008


16 January

Nick Humphrey (LSE, CPNSS)
The Necessity of Consciousness: Why Human Zombies would be an Evolutionary Dead-End

30 January

John Skoyles (LSE, CPNSS)
Darwin's "blank slate": Two million years of the culture brain

13 February

Mary Morgan (LSE, Economic History)
How well do "facts" travel?

27 February

Paulo Sousa (Queen's University, Institute of Cognition and Culture)
The Folk Concept of Moral Responsibility – A Cognitive Exploration

12 March

Trevor Marchand (SOAS, Anthropology)
Embodied Cognition and Communication: studies with British fine woodworkers


Michaelmas term 2007


17 October

Maurice Bloch (LSE)
Religion and the ubiquity of the counter-intuitive

31 October

Robert Seyfarth & Dorothy Cheney (University of Pennsylvania)
Baboon metaphysics: the evolution of a social mind

14 November

Coralie Chevallier (Institut des Sciences Cognitives, Lyon)
Beyond Theory of Mind: Autism as a failure to see others as partners for interaction

28 November

Steve Nugent (Goldsmiths)

12 December

Nicolas Argenti (Brunel)
'Children's medicine' - for children or for parents? child-focused rites and child fosterage in the Cameroon Grassfields


Summer term 2007


2 May

Jules Davidoff (Goldsmiths)
Language and Culture in Perceptual Judgments

16 May

(No PCC seminar)

6:30-8:00, Old Theatre, LSE
Psychology as a Social Science Public Lecture|
Michael Cole (University of California San Diego)
Re-searching the Potential of Cultural-Historical Psychology

30 May

Harvey Whitehouse (Oxford)
Explaining religion

13 June

Peggy Froerer (Brunel)
Anthropological perspectives on the construction of social group identity in a central Indian tribal community

27 June

Gergely Csibra (Birbeck)
Pedagogy as a human-specific tool for cultural transmission


Lent term 2007


17 January

Andreas Roepstorff (University of Aarhus)
The neuroturn: challenging anthropology or anthropological challenge?

31 January

Andy Wells (LSE)
Metronomic Irregularity: Natural Computation in New Guises

14 February
Room S50

Dan Sperber (CNRS)
Understanding and believing others: An evolutionary and developmental perspective

28 February

Emma Cohen (Oxford)
Minds, bodies and persons: A cognitive account of the transmission of spirit possession concepts

Postponed to 13 June

Peggy Froerer (Brunel)
Anthropological perspectives on the construction of social group identity in a central Indian tribal community


Michaelmas term 2006


11 October

Sandra Jovchelovitch (LSE)
Knowledge in context: Representation, community and culture

25 October

Rita Astuti (LSE)
The morality of conventions: ancestral taboos in Madagascar

8 November

Robert Aunger (LSHTM)
Explaining the persistence of 'maladaptive' beliefs: The case of food taboos in the Democratic Republic of Congo

22 November

Justin Barrett (Oxford)
The Cognitive Science of Religion: Present Directions and Needs

6 December

Brian Butterworth (UCL)
The relation between numerical concepts and language: Whorf or Locke?