Institutions: What Are They Good for?

February 18, 2015
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Institutions – this was the common theme in the two workshops, in which I participated during the last two weeks (in Frankfurt and Knoxville). It is clear that institutions play an immensely important role in the rise of complex societies. But what precisely do they do? And how can we study institutions theoretically and empirically? […]

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Economics Superbus II

February 9, 2015
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superbus: arrogant (Latin) Yesterday I leveled a serious charge at the economics profession, especially that part of it that provides advice to policy makers. So you might think that I would eagerly respond to the question that the organizers posed to us, how do we reform the economics? In fact, the opposite happened to me. […]

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Economics Superbus I

February 8, 2015
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superbus: proud (Latin) During the past week I have been in Frankfurt, where I participated in a Strüngmann Forum Complexity and Evolution: A New Synthesis for Economics. The basic premise that motivated the discussions among the 40 scientists at the Forum was that the field of economics is mired in two deeply flawed paradigms: rational […]

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My Crusade Against Cultural Stupidity, Part I

February 2, 2015
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I just flew from Ithaca, New York to Frankfurt, Germany with a long layover at Newark Airport. My ticket, printed out a day before the flight, said that the gate for the Frankfurt flight had not yet been assigned. When I arrived at Newark airport’s terminal C, I checked the departure board and saw the […]

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Men Are from Mars

January 31, 2015
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A comment to the guest blog by Scott Atran cast doubt on whether he, “a Euro-American white male,” is even capable of transcending his ethnocentrism. I immediately stepped in and cut this discussion short, because I know too well how destructive such arguments can be. But it doesn’t mean that I believe that science is […]

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Strungmann Forum policy on blogging

January 30, 2015
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Some of you might be wondering where David’s post, “Complexity and Evolution: a new synthesis for economics,” got off to after it was published on Thursday, Jan 12. Unfortunately, the Strungmann board has a policy against blogging during the conference. We regret having to pull the blog, but we promise to blog about the Forum […]

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My Venture into the World of Indy Publishing

January 25, 2015
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Probably the most important thing the academics do is publishing – articles in peer-reviewed journals, chapters in edited volumes, and monographs. The motto is “publish or perish.” Over the last century scientific publishing has been dominated by for-profit publishers. A major exception is journals published by scientific societies, but many journals have been sold by […]

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Scott Atran. Psychology, Anthropology, and a Science of Human Beings

January 22, 2015
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The following reflection on the problems of psychology, anthropology, and a science of human beings has been stimulated by recent responses to a couple of recent articles in Nature (Looking for the Roots of Terrorism  and Psychologists Seek Roots of Terror), by my very able co-worker (Lydia Wilson) reacting to problems of doing fieldwork in Lebanon […]

Posted in: Guest Blogs

The Enigmatic Circles of Moray

January 20, 2015
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Readers of this blog must have wondered where I disappeared to over the last two weeks. Indeed, I was away – traveling in South America (Peru and Chile). I went to Santiago to attend a workshop on modeling innovations, but most of the time I spent in Peru. Together with two friends we toured Cuzco, […]

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Does Altruism Exist? A Short Introduction to a New Synthesis

January 13, 2015
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Cross-posted on SEF’s newly minted site under The Evolution Institute. I am pleased to announce my newest book, Does Altruism Exist? Culture, Genes and the Welfare of Others, which is published by Yale University Press in collaboration with the Templeton Press as the first in a series of short books on foundational questions in science. […]

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Food for Thought

January 5, 2015
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The food-intensive period of holidays is finally over, and most of us emerged from it carrying a few extra pounds. This is entirely natural, since evolution has enabled our bodies to store extra energy during the times of plenty, and then use it up during the times of dearth. What’s unnatural is not to allow […]

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The Best Foie Gras Comes from Happy Birds

December 28, 2014
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My post The Ultimate Health Food, Revealed! generated a number of comments, some of them quite critical of foie gras and gavage, the process by which ducks and geese are fattened. Fortunately, one reader (Bruce) weighed in on the opposite side and I reproduce his response here, because I don’t want it to be lost […]

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The Ultimate Health Food, Revealed!

December 25, 2014
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This is Christmas and I think it’s a good time to switch to some lighter topic than our usual fare of social science and history. Although history is still going to be a part of today’s post, as you will see. Today is one of few days in a year when we are supposed to […]

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The Evolution of Hierarchy

December 20, 2014
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Two weeks ago I went to a studio in Amherst, MA, to participate in a BBC Forum on Hierarchy. It was broadcasted last week, and you can listen to it here. I arrived at the studio in plenty of time, but there were inevitable SNAFUs. First, I couldn’t get into the building (not sure why […]

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Does Affluence Lead to Asceticism? Part II

December 16, 2014
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Comments on Part I tended to take a rather negative view of the argument advanced by Baumard et al. Thus, Gene Anderson questioned whether Confucianism is even a religion. It was certainly a moralistic teaching, but how important a role did supernatural agents play in it is very much in question. Furthermore, Confucianism, as far […]

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Does Affluence Lead to Asceticism? Part I

December 14, 2014
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In a news article published by this week’s Science magazine, Wealth may have driven the rise of today’s religions, Lizzie Wade writes: Today’s most popular religions all have one thing in common: a focus on morality. But the gods didn’t always care whether you are a bad person. Researchers have long puzzled over when and […]

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“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future”

December 10, 2014
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In the process of doing ‘research’ (well, googling) for my blog about innovations, elites, and flying cars, I stumbled on this wonderful project jointly produced by Gregory Benford and Popular Mechanics: The Future That Never Was: Pictures from the Past. Gregory Benford is an author working within the genre of hard science fiction (I had […]

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When Did the Great Compression Begin?

December 1, 2014
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Gary Feinman’s proposal that trends in economic inequality have a strong effect on who benefits from the technological innovations has resulted in a very lively discussion. Most comments seem to agree that there is definitely something to it, but question the details. In particular, when did the surge in labor-saving and convenience-creating technologies began? And […]

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Where Is My Flying Car?

November 30, 2014
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Last week I was in Berlin where I gave a talk in the conference on Contextualising Technical Innovations in Prehistory. The declared focus of the conference was on the evolution of technology in the 4th and 3rd millennia BC, but many of the presentations ranged much more widely, and a few even connected the Bronze […]

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Carl Coon. One Step at a Time

November 21, 2014
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Evolution is a process that proceeds incrementally, one step at a time. One thing leads to another. This is true for all kinds of evolution. Living things evolve through natural selection, with small changes between generations leading to larger changes through many generations. Cultural artifacts, such as automobiles and telephones, evolve through many small, intentional […]

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