I am an assistant professor of cognitive science at CEU, Budapest, Hungary. I am working on cultural evolution and its cognitive bases, with analyses in the history of science and mathematics, and in economics. Scientific practices and economic choices have traditionally been described as rational. I attempt to describe them as resulting from both environmental/contextual and psychological causal factors.My work deals with the following themes :
- Principles of cultural evolution
- Integration of social and cognitive studies of science; cognitive history of mathematics
- Cultural and psychological determinants of pro-social behaviour
I studied mathematics at the university of Paris (Jusssieu, Licence and Master) and philosophy at the Sorbonne (Licence) and Cambridge University (M.Phil.) I did my Ph.D. at the Institut Jean Nicod, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, under the supervision of Dan Sperber. Before coming to CEU, I was a research fellow at the KLI for Evolution and Cognition Research.
More on my research work
- Principles of cultural evolution: cultural epidemiology
- Social cognitive studies of science
- Cognitive history of mathematics
- Cognitive economic anthropology and pro-social behaviour
- Web Epistemology
Principles of cultural evolution
One of the main point of cultural epidemiology is that understanding cultural evolution requires knowledge of the psychological phenomena that are implicated in the causal chains that distribute cultural variants. The volume on Folk Epistemology contributes to the research on the psychological mechanisms that are at the basis of social transmission.
Studies in cultural epidemiology have mainly focused on the role of evolved mental mechanisms in cultural evolution, but environmental factors are not to be neglected. I am working on the relation between the theory of distributed cognition, which has shown the importance of the environment and the social organisation for cognition, and cultural epidemiology.
Social cognitive studies of science
Science is a historical and cultural phenomenon that deeply involves individuals' cognition. One of the goals of social cognitive studies of science is to disentangle the social and the cognitive factors in the making of science and explain their causal interactions. I have worked on this project in my doctoral thesis Scientific Cognition and Cultural Evolution (EHESS, Paris, June 2007). The thesis presents cultural epidemiology as an approach in the history of science that enables integrating results from cognitive psychology and from the sociology of scientific knowledge. It includes two case studies in the history of mathematics (see below). I have also been working on cognitive anthropology of anthropology, attempting to specify the role of mind-reading in ethnographic cognition. I have edited Studies in Cognitive Anthropology of Science, a special issue of the Journal of Cognition and Culture (1 September 2004, vol. 4, iss. 3 & 4). I answer to questions related to this work in an interview published in Anthropologia Portuguesa (vol. 22-23, 2005-2006).
Cognitive history of mathematics
Focusing on Mathematics, my research attempts to show the fruitfulness of some conceptual tools drawn from cognitive anthropology for writing the history of mathematics. One of the difficulty, in studying mathematical cognition, is to avoid psychologism. In 'Psychologism and the Cognitive Foundations of Mathematics' (Philosophia Scientiae, Vol.9, issue 2, 2005, pp. 41-61), I attempt to provide the philosophical preliminaries for the empirical investigation of the causal relation between cognitive abilities and the historical corpus of mathematical knowledge.
I have developped two cases studies: the introduction of the calculus in France at the end of the seventeenth century, and the proof of the four-colour conjecture. The first case study shows the existence of psychological factors that may have favoured the conceptualisation of 'going to the limit' in standard analysis. The second case study questions cognitive the foundations of the evolution of mathematical practices, using theories of distributed cognition for analysing the use of computers in proofs.
Cognitive economic anthropology and pro-social behaviour
Economic anthropologists have long criticised the use of the homo economicus for understanding the economic choices of situated and enculturated individuals. But for some years, economists themselves have striven to provide a more empirically adequate description of human economic decision processes (bounded rationality, heuristics). This work provides economic anthropology with new tools for analysing socially situated economic decisions. Reciprocally, interpreting economic experiments can benefit from ethnographic analyses, since economic behaviour and cognition is always socially embedded. See the volume “experimental economics and the social embedding of economic behaviour and cognition” that I have co-edited with Nicholas Bardsley for arguments going in that direction
I am currently running experiments that aim to show that pro-social behaviour, as observed in economic experiments, is importantly dependent on subjects' beliefs about what their partner expect them to do. These beliefs, I further argue, are formed on the basis of cultural knowledge
The goals of web epistemology are : 1) to Explore the consequences of the Web on knowledge production, organisation and distribution; and 2) to analyse the stakes and goals of scientific research management and policy with regard to the web.
My expertise in this domain relies both on theoretical specialisation in social epistemology and on hands on work on the internet:
- I currently supervise Jay Fogelman's PhD thesis on "cyber-crowds"
- I have been quality manager of a department providing human based search on the web
- I have been participating to the creation of the electronic archive of the Institut Jean Nicod, it was the first open access repository in the social and human sciences in France.
- I have moderated (together with Gloria Origgi) the e-conference Rethinking Interdisciplinarity
In 'Web search engines and distributed assessment systems' (Pragmatics & Cognition 14:2, 2006), I analyse the impact of search engines on our cognitive and epistemic practices. For that purpose, I describe the processes of assessment of documents on the Web as relying on distributed cognition. Search engines together with Web users, are distributed assessment systems whose task is to enable efficient allocation of cognitive resources of those who use search engines. Specifying the cognitive function of search engines within these distributed assessment systems allows interpreting anew the changes that have been caused by search engine technologies. I describe search engines as implementing reputation systems and point out the similarities with other reputation systems. I thus call attention to the continuity in the distributed cognitive processes that determine the allocation of cognitive resources for information gathering from others.