February 21, 2020

Psychologist Cecilia Heyes thinks that evolutionary psychology’s main claim – that the mind is made of evolved cognitive modules – is false. Instead, we learn core capacities like language and imitation from social experience, making them more like “cognitive gadgets” than innate abilities. Read more

January 28, 2020

Life in 21st-century America – or any wealthy Western nation, really – is a nonstop celebration of individualism and nonconformity. To sell Sketchers, you dream up ads showing hip young people striking defiant poses, as if wearing a product manufactured by a S&P 400 stock index corporation were a courageous act of daring rebellion. College students and entrepreneurs learn to be “disruptors,”* defying established wisdom in favor of striking out boldly in new directions (and hopefully acquiring juicy seed funding)…. Read more

January 15, 2020

With the possible exception of scrolling through Twitter, it’s hard to imagine an activity less conducive to mind-body health than shoving metal spikes through your cheeks before walking up a steep mountain path in shoes made of nails. Yet during the kavadi attam ritual – part of the annual Thaipusam festival of Tamil Hinduism – innumerable people eagerly do exactly this (and worse) as they process up a hillside to the local temple of the god Murugan. Some worshipers  drag… Read more

November 23, 2019

Back in the spring, the Center for Mind and Culture and I hosted a colloquium for top leaders in the cognitive and evolutionary sciences of religion. It just so happened that Andrew Henry, the proprietor of the popular YouTube channel Religion for Breakfast, was able to join us and filmed in-depth interviews with each of the top-flight participants. Two of those interviews are now live, and I thought I’d put up a quick post to show them around. Both Andrew and… Read more

November 9, 2019

The neuroscientist Björn Merker argues that humans, unlike chimpanzees, have “ritual culture” – culture that depends on over-imitation and intensive social learning. Interestingly, this means we have more in common with whales, seals, and songbirds than with our closest living relatives. Read more

October 25, 2019

A new study has found fascinating evidence that conservatives care about to smaller, tighter moral circles than liberals do – whereas liberals go so far as to care about the fate of strangers from other countries, paramecia, and…rocks in outer space. Read more

September 25, 2019

If there’s one thing nearly all people can agree on, it’s that some actions are morally right and others are wrong. But which actions count as right or wrong? That gets a bit more complicated. In some societies, polygamy is normal and proper. In others, taking a second wife can get you imprisoned. Some societies value individual rights and autonomy, while others emphasize collective obligations and hierarchy. In the face of such dazzling differences, how are we supposed to develop… Read more

August 12, 2019

A recent article at the BBC argues that the future of religion might be found in a return to pre-Abrahamic, ethnic religious traditions, such as Norse neopaganism or the neo-African religion Ifa. What effect would this shift have on the world as we know it? Read more

July 16, 2019

Karl Friston, one of today’s foremost neuroscientists, thinks that all brain processing boils down to trying to reduce uncertainty about own’s own existence. Others think this same “free-energy principle” applies at the level of cultures, too – and maybe even religions. Here’s what that might mean. Read more

July 3, 2019

Looking at the world’s towns and cities from above, a fascinating pattern appears: we build our civilizations around temples. What would an alien visitor think? Read more




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