Evolution, Cultural Evolution, and Epistemic Optimism

Alberto Acerbi. Cultural Evolution in the Digital Age. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 272pp. ISBN: 9780198835943. Hugo Mercier. Not Born Yesterday: The Science of Who We Trust and What We Believe. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 384pp. ISBN: 9780691178707

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  1. 1.

    Compare Acerbi: "misinformation can travel wide, far, and long, as it is designed, intentionally or unintentionally, exactly to do this, as it does not need to be constrained by reality. We are not sensitive to an abstract notion of truth, but to various cues that point to the importance of the content and which may be associated only on average with truthfulness." (CEDA 184).

  2. 2.

    Notably, Sperber et al. (2010), Mercier and Sperber (2017).

  3. 3.

    For more on the commonalities and differences of these approaches, see: Sterelny (2017).

  4. 4.

    Probably for good reason, given the longstanding critiques of Sterelny (2001; 2018).

  5. 5.

    For instance, Baumard (2016); Morin (2016); Mercier and Sperber (2017); Boyer (2018).

  6. 6.

    It should be said that Mercier’s characterization of reflective beliefs draws upon Sperber’s (1997) characterization of the distinction. It is also related to a charactersation of reasoning and argumentation, especially their notion of reflective conclusions, defended in their joint work (Mercier and Sperber 2017). In both, it is claimed that there are dedicated mechanisms for generating intuitive beliefs (or ‘data-base beliefs’ in the language of Sperber (1997)) and reflective beliefs. The latter are (as far as I can tell) taken to be the exclusive output of metarepresentational mechanisms (Sperber 1997passim; Mercier and Sperber 2017, 145-153). As I note below, in NBY, Mercier does provide many details of the cognitive picture behind the intuitive/reflective distinction, instead emphasizing the potential behavioral implications. But it would be fair to assume that similar adaptationist and metarepresentational assumptions are motivating his claims.

  7. 7.

    This ‘majority illusion is a phenomenon similar to the famous ‘friendship paradox’; the seemingly paradoxical claim that on average, your friends have more friends than you do (Feld 1991).

  8. 8.



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Funding was provided by Leverhulme Trust (Grant No. ECF-2018-005), and the Isaac Newton Trust (Grant No. G101655).

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Buskell, A. Evolution, Cultural Evolution, and Epistemic Optimism. Acta Biotheor (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10441-020-09384-x

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