Institut Jean Nicod

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NaSH (Naturalisme en Sciences Humaine) - 12 dec. 2012


Les membres du NaSH (Naturalisme en Sciences Humaines),
groupe composé de certains des anciens étudiants de Dan Sperber, présenteront certains de leurs travaux dans la matinée de la première journée du colloque, le mercredi 12. Anthropologues, philosophes et psychologues, ils représentent un petit échantillon de la diversité des intérêts de Dan Sperber.


Ecole normale supérieure, 45, rue d’Ulm 75005 Paris. Salle Dussane


9.00 Inscription

Chair : Coralie Chevallier (University of Pennsylvania)
9.30 Nicolas Baumard (University of Pennsylvania )
The evolution of fairness by partner choice

10.00 Christophe Heintz (Central European University)
The epidemiology of mathematical representations

10.30 Olivier Mascaro (Central European University)
The ontogeny of the sense of deceit

11.00 Coffee Break

11.30 Hugo Mercier (CNRS)
Evolution, reasoning and argumentation

12.00 Olivier Morin (Central European University)
Cognitive attraction in cultural evolution : how portraits turned their eyes upon us





Nicolas Baumard
The evolution of fairness by partner choice

What makes humans moral beings ? This question can be understood either as a proximate ‘how’ question or as an ultimate ‘why’ question. The ‘how’ question is about the mental and social mechanisms that produce moral judgments and interactions, and has been investigated by psychologists and social scientists. The ‘why’ question is about the fitness consequences that explain why humans have morality, and has been discussed by evolutionary biologists in the context of the evolution of cooperation. My goal here is to contribute to a fruitful articulation of such proximate and ultimate explanations of human morality. I develop an approach to morality as an adaptation to an environment in which individuals were in competition to be chosen and recruited in mutually advantageous cooperative interactions. In this environment, the best strategy is to treat others with impartiality and to share the costs and benefits of cooperation equally. Those who offer less than others will be left out of cooperation ; conversely, those who offer more will be exploited by their partners. In line with this ’mutualistic’ approach, the study of a range of economic games involving property rights, collective actions, mutual help and punishment shows that participants’ distributions aim at sharing the costs and benefits of interactions in an impartial way. In particular, the distribution of resources is influenced by effort and talent, and the perception of each participant’s rights on the resources to be distributed.


Christophe Heintz
The epidemiology of mathematical representations

To what extent does mathematical knowledge depend on core cognitive abilities ? I answer to this question by specifying how such abilities can shape the cultural evolution of mathematical knowledge. My analysis is based on the history of the calculus in the French 18th century. I argue that mathematicians learning about the calculus tended to interpret infinitesimals as evanescent rather than atomistic quantities because the former, but not the latter, could piggyback on the cognitive system for parallel individuation and object tracking. This provided to the calculus a better intuitive grasp and, thus, some more relevance. In turn, the ensuing intuitions paved the way for the development of the notion of limit. I conclude that mathematics is, as a cognitive and cultural artefact, resulting from evolutionary processes with cognitive factors of attraction.


Olivier Mascaro
The ontogeny of the sense of deceit

The development of lying abilities is paradoxical. Young humans are competent communicators who understand the effect of communication on beliefs and can manipulate others with inaccurate messages. Nonetheless, three-year-olds are genuinely trustful and honest, often remarkably blind to the possibility of lying. They express their tendency to frame communication as informative and helpful in a creative manner, correcting their memory of past utterances, or reinterpreting unfamiliar misleading symbols as honest. Having rejected interpretations in terms of theory of mind development, I will suggest that the emergence of lies around four-year-old is linked to the rise of a new sense of deceit. Lying, which so far had been nothing but a capacity, becomes a matter of strategic concern. The new social environment where children of this age having to live with their peers, are plunged, might help explain this change.

Hugo Mercier
Evolution, reasoning and argumentation

Reasoning is generally seen as a means to improve knowledge and make better decisions. However, much evidence shows that reasoning often leads to epistemic distortions and poor decisions. Dan Sperber suggested that this evidence could be reconciled with efficient reasoning mechanisms if only we assumed they had a different function. More specifically, he suggested that the function of reasoning was to display the coherence of one’s messages by producing arguments and to gauge the coherence of other’s messages by evaluating their arguments. Reasoning would thus improve communication and extend its reach. The argumentative theory of reasoning, built on this insight, can account for a wide range of evidence in various areas of psychology, as briefly reviewed in this presentation.

Olivier Morin
Cognitive attraction in cultural evolution : how portraits turned their eyes upon us

It has often been suggested that widespread and innate features of the human mind could make some cultural forms more successful than others. This paper presents a simple example of such « cognitive attraction », and a mechanism that could explain it. Numerous studies show that direct eye-gaze catches the attention of adults and newborns. This cognitive appeal has cultural consequences. Among XVIth century European portraits, direct eye-gaze paintings are more likely to be featured in today’s art books. In Renaissance Europe, the proportion of paintings that stare at the viewer grows gradually, strongly, and irreversibly. A demographic analysis of this shift shows that it was due to the arrival of new generations of painters. Those artists show a preference for direct eye-gaze portraits as soon as they start painting, suggesting that they acquired the new style in the years of their apprenticeship. These results suggests that innate cognitive mechanisms do play a role in cultural evolution. It also stresses the need for students of cognitive attraction to study demographic dynamics like generational turn-over.