This paper concludes a book on ‘cultural traits’ which features 20 contributions from the most diverse disciplines, from cultural anthropology to archaeology, from psychology to history, from economics to musicology. The paper dodges the attempt to make a conceptual synthesis, arguing positively for such avoidance. Borrowing a term from the U.S. National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, the paper likens the book, Understanding Cultural Traits, to a catalysis meeting, i.e., a lowering of disciplinary barriers that influences the disciplines’ culture of data, broadens the scientific vision, and generates scientific collaborations. Catalysis is not alternative to synthesis. It is a different phase of scientific progress, one that can be hindered by an obsession for concepts and by an urge to close the discourse.
KeywordsSynthesis Interdisciplinarity Scientific concepts Conceptual analysis Cultural traits
I thank all NESCent leaders and staff, in particular Allen Rodrigo and Joel Kingsolver, for their great generosity in letting me interview them. My research on NESCent, synthesis and catalysis was supported by the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent), NSF grant #EF-0423641.
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