Department of Human Evolutionary Biology
The Cognitive and Cultural Foundation of Ineffective Technologies in Human Societies
Why do humans engage in ineffective technological practices such as magic and divination? In this talk, I lay out a research program for understanding the persistence of such practices from cognitive and cultural evolutionary perspectives. I argue that 1) ultimately, these practices can be viewed as by-products of cultural evolution, and 2) proximately, a number of psychological and social factors contribute to the overestimation of the efficacy of these practices. I will use historical data from imperial China and field observations among the Yi in southwest China as case studies to illustrate how individuals update their belief regarding the efficacy of some technology and how various biasing factors affect the information transmission channels. Finally, I offer a few suggestions regarding how modern societies differ from traditional ones epistemically (short answer: modern societies have more reliable epistemic institutions).