Event Detail

Dan SPERBER – Modularity and Relevance in Cultural Evolution

Mar 08, 2008 | 11:15

KLI for Evolution and Cognition Research, Altenberg, Austria
Organized by: Dan SPERBER (Institut Jean-Nicod [CNRS, EHESS, ENS])

Topic Description

In "Explaining Culture" (1996) I outlined an 'epidemiological' approach to culture, described in terms of the causal chains that distribute representations, practices, and artefacts in a human population. The causal factors that explain the evolution of culture, I argued, are in part ecological, in part psychological. In this lecture, I focus on two major aspects of the human mind: its complex modular structure, and its tendency to maximize relevance. I discuss the way in which these aspects may help explain both the relative stability and the high variability of human culture.

Biographical note

Dan Sperber is director of research at the CNRS and a member of the Institut Jean-Nicod (Paris). He is the author of "Rethinking Symbolism" (Cambridge UP, 1975), "On Anthropological Knowledge" (Cambridge UP, 1985), and "Explaining Culture" (Blackwell, 1996). In these three books, he has developed a naturalistic approach to culture under the name of "epidemiology of representations." Sperber is also the co-author, with Deirdre Wilson (Department of Linguistics, University College London) of "Relevance: Communication and Cognition" (Blackwell 1986 - 2nd rev. ed., 1995). Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson have developed a cognitive approach to communication known as "relevance theory."