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Neuroscience, Economics & the Uncertainty Effect

By johnbanks | December 8, 2010

Interesting Wired article, ‘The Uncertainty Effect’ by Jonah Lehrer, about the fear of uncertainty in context of making economic decisions.

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Australian Politician on Science & Global Warming

By johnbanks | December 7, 2010

Is this Cultural Science? :)

Bronwyn Bishop is a liberal party MP and a former minister.

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New York Times Science Article on Videogames

By johnbanks | December 7, 2010

Interesting New York Times Science article posing the question, ‘… What Makes Gamers Keep Gaming’?

Seems to me this is social learning and cultural science in the form we discussed at the recent Durham symposium should have something to say about this.

On games and social learning, I recommend that you take a look at Minecraft and the associated player Youtube videos demonstrating various creative possibilities of the game. Social learning in action. I’m working on an article about this at the moment for the Cultural Science online journal, building on my Durham symposium presentation. More on this next week.

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Dominant Species: The ‘Cultural Science Board Game’

By johnbanks | November 17, 2010

In my gaming interests, I very much enjoy the Euro style board games. I recently came across this game published by GMT games and designed by Chad Jensen: Dominant Species. Quick overview of the game:

“90,000 B.C. — A great ice age is fast approaching. Another titanic struggle for global supremacy has unwittingly commenced between the varying animal species.
Dominant Species is a game that abstractly recreates a tiny portion of ancient history: the ponderous encroachment of an ice age and what that entails for the living creatures trying to adapt to the slowly-changing earth.
Each player will assume the role of one of six major animal classes — mammal, reptile, bird, amphibian, arachnid or insect. Each begins the game more or less in a state of natural balance in relation to one another. But that won’t last: It is indeed “survival of the fittest.”

Not sure how ‘scientific’ it is, but might be fun ‘cultural science gaming’.

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David Sloan Wilson urges us to ‘Take the Evolution Challenge’

By johnbanks | September 10, 2010

A great recent article by David Sloan Wilson in which he argues that “To gain real knowledge of humanity, every field needs to drink from the ‘cup’ of evolutionary theory”. He develops a cogent argument basically for why fields such as the humanities need to take the evolutionary turn (i.e why we need to be doing cultural science). He specifically takes aim at economics including recent developments in behavioral economics.

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Cultural science explores the semioverse

By carstenherrmannpillath | March 25, 2010

Sometimes I need many years until I can read a book on my never-ending reading list. That happened with David Deutsch’s ‘Fabric of Reality’. A couple of months ago I did, and it was a mind-blowing experience, because I discovered a physical approach to cultural science.

In this book, Deutsch, the father of quantum computation, presents an argument on the coherence of knowledge structures across parallel universes. Well, for the non-physicist the latter idea may not seem too obvious, unless she is a sci-fi aficionado, but let me just say that many physicists adopt the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, which states that the different propensities of quantum states just describe different states in different parallel universes, the conjunction of which makes up the multiverse, in one parlance. Deutsch makes the point that this variety is constrained for objects that undergo evolution by natural selection. His example is the genome. He posits that random (hence quantum) variations in the genomic structure will be channelled by natural selection in a convergent process across parallel universes. So, the universes are connected by a set of identical objects, which a much more limited range of possible states.

When reading this, I was suddenly aware that this argument extends to all possible applications of Darwinian theory. So, if one accepts the view that evolutionary theory is also valid for analyzing culture, then this would imply that all different physical expressions of evolution would link up the different universes, such as, for example, technological artefacts or memes. Deutsch say that these stable structures represent knowledge. Well, this is certainly true for all symbolic knowledge, cultural items etc.

I rushed forward with using Lotman’s term of the ‘semiosphere’ to refer to this stable connection in a paper that was recently published in the journal ENTROPY.

Meanwhile,  I changed the name to semioverse. So, we have got a connection between culture, biology and physics. In terms of the physics, I am currently working an an energetic interpretation of cultural items as externalized artefacts. This is an old idea in anthropology, which would receive a fresh interpretation in that general context. This can be related with biosemiotics, which I started to study as a consequence. So it seems that the Deutsch hypothesis helps to overcome disciplnary barriers in a new way. Deutsch himself only had biochemical structures in mind. But in a naturalistic approach to culture, such as developed in my recently published book ‘The Economics of Identity and Creativity‘, these material structures are much more universal.

So I would like to propose a new definition of cultural science: The science of the semioverse.

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Cultural Science Viewing Stats

By JohnHartley | February 1, 2010

Cultural Science – by numbers

We can report the viewing statistics for since it was launched in July 2008, up to 22 January 2010.

The website as a whole has attracted over 20,000 visitors:
Year Unique Visitors Hits Downloads (by gigabyte)
2008 4,962 77,719 6.15 GB
2009 17, 114 207,890 9.12 GB

The top 10 source countries for visitors to the site were:

Top 10 source countries
2008 (Jul – Dec) 2009 2010 (Jan)
1 USA (22,000 pages) USA (42,000 pages) USA (2,375 pages)
2 Australia Australia Russian Federation
3 European Country Russian Federation Australia
4 Great Britain Ukraine Great Britain
5 Germany Germany Germany
6 France Great Britain Luxembourg
7 Unknown China Netherlands
8 Italy European Country European Country
9 Netherlands France Canada
10 Canada Netherlands Estonia
Total countries: 101 Total countries: 137 Total countries: 80

The graphs on the left below show the top 10 countries by year and the graphs on the right represent the monthly traffic by year.




Cultural Science Journal has attracted over 18,450 viewers, with 21,238 reads of articles. Stats by issue are as follows:

Cultural Science Journal
Issue Released Views Top Article Views
Vol 1:1 Creative Destruction May 2008 9052 1791
Vol 1:2 Creating Value Oct 2008 8187 1677
Vol 2:1 New Directions Nov 2009 1211 249

Vol 1:1 Creative Destruction

Vol 1:2 Creating Value

Vol 2:1 New Directions

The blog – Popper Juice – has had over 4,000 views. Apart from the home page the most popular entry was Carsten Herrmann-Pillath’s ‘The financial crisis: a humble evolutionary economist’s perspective’ (17 September 2008).

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“Collapse”: What’s Happening to Public Thought?

By JohnHartley | January 21, 2010

From: John Hartley

21 January 2010

Dear All,

I’ve been thinking about Clay Shirky’s “Shock of Inclusion” on the Edge site (thanks for the link Jason!)

Public Thought and Shirky’s Shock

I really liked this short piece when I first read it, but there is also a niggling problem with it, which I’m going to try to write through. Along the way I’ll include other materials that came my way while I was thinking about this, which makes the piece as a whole a record of the actual process of “public thought” (someone thinking in public), so it may seem a bit long, but most of it is the cited material – the evidence.

First, let me just remind you of what Shirky said. The paragraphs that made me think (my bolding) are these:

This shock of inclusion, where professional media gives way to participation by two billion amateurs (a threshold we will cross this year) means that average quality of public thought has collapsed; when anyone can say anything any time, how could it not? If all that happens from this influx of amateurs is the destruction of existing models for producing high-quality material, we would be at the beginning of another Dark Ages.

The beneficiaries of the system where making things public was a privileged activity, whether academics or politicians, reporters or doctors, will complain about the way the new abundance of public thought upends the old order, but those complaints are like keening at a wake; the change they fear is already in the past. The real action is elsewhere.

Given what we have today, the Internet could easily become Invisible High School, with a modicum of educational material in an ocean of narcissism and social obsessions. We could, however, also use it as an Invisible College, the communicative backbone of real intellectual and civic change, but to do this will require more than technology. It will require that we adopt norms of open sharing and participation, fit to a world where publishing has become the new literacy.

The idea that most struck a chord was this one: that the “average quality of public thought has collapsed.”

Shirky probably meant this in a banal, arithmetic sense – given the same task (say, writing opinion columns in the press), two billion amateurs will score a lower individual average on any quality measure than a few experienced professional specialists. It seems therefore that he is conceding the more means worse argument (a classic manoeuvre of the educated Left), for he talks about “the shock of inclusion” as (potentially) “another Dark Ages” where “pancake people” (widely-spread and thin) connect through “an ocean of narcissism and social obsessions.”

Average Collapse

I’m not ready to concede that argument. It has no basis in either maths or in history.

In terms of the maths, let’s say that among internet users, only a minuscule one in a thousand (0.1 percent) qualify as high (as opposed to “average”) “quality.” Out of two billion users, that still amounts to two million quality creators – more than any previous mass medium could muster. Of course the real proportion will be much higher. When I first went to university, only 4 percent of the UK population were graduates; now it is more like 40 percent. Not all graduates are high quality, so let’s stick to the lower figure. Four percent of 2bn is 80 million – the population of Germany. Could you call participation by such numbers in “public thought” a “collapse”?

In terms of history, more of anything worthwhile has never meant worse – more education, healthcare, affluence, freedom, comfort, intellectual or entrepreneurial activity … whatever …. has consistently resulted in, well, more. Growing up as a poor kid without a breadwinner in the family, I still had better dental care than Ramesses the Great, better education than the Queen of England (who never went to school), more intellectual freedom than the pope … and so on. In short, extending once-priestly or royal privileges to everyone benefits … everyone. Duh!

Why would this not be true also of “public thought”? So let’s hear no more of the collapse of the “average quality of public thought” in general.

Journalistic Collapse

None of this crossed my mind when I first read Shirky’s piece, however. I took him to mean something else, because my imagination was caught by that word “collapse.” Read the rest of this entry »

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A Cultural Science seminar series with Jeremy Hunsinger

By admin | July 13, 2009

The ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation is delighted to invite you to a Cultural Science ( seminar series with:

Jeremy Hunsinger – co-Founder and co-Director of the Center for Digital Discourse and Culture at Virginia Tech


Interpretive methods, Actor-network theory/ies, and Science

Date: Tuesday 21 July 2009

Time: 10.30am – 11.30am

Venue: Queensland University of Technology

Z2 Block, Level 5, Room 502

Creative Industries Precinct

Musk Avenue, Kelvin Grove

RSVP: by

Tuesday 14 July 2009


This talk will confront questions surrounding the relations of interpretation and the idea of the scientific through a consideration of interpretive methods and in particular actor-network theory.  Within the field of possible interpretations, science centres on questions about the world, but the question that interpretivist methods must confront is what constitutes the world that is interpreted, in other words, what is the ontological status of interpreted objects in the world? Actor-network theory collapses ontological status and recognizes the existence of relations as significant as what are thought of as networks, transforming ontological constructs from essences to relations, and with relations we have a new object of interpretation that then generalized through the sciences along the diverse frameworks of interpretation that in part define each discipline and interdisciplinary science.  These parallels highlight the possibilities of rigorous, scientific interpretive methods and why those methods are likely much more traditionally understood as science, than modern formal methods and modelling.

Critical Technical Practices: Praxis and knowledge production in hacker labs

Date: Monday 27 July 2009

Time: 10.30am – 11.30am

Venue: Queensland University of Technology

Z2 Block, Level 5, Room 502

Creative Industries Precinct

Musk Avenue, Kelvin Grove

RSVP: by

Monday 20 July 2009


This talk looks at the rise of hacker labs and hacker collectives as models of critical technical practice.  Critical technical practice is a method of exploring, designing, building, and testing theoretical perspectives, usually social, political, cultural, and ethical theories, as opposed to merely technological designs. By analyzing the rise of these hacker collectives, through their internet presences, I argue that these are the next generation of a series of subcultural systems of technical empowerment and a specific subaltern to the predominant means of knowledge production and dissemination.  I conclude by arguing that academia, through investigating the successes of these knowledge production and dissemination forms, could probably remodel areas of mode-2 research into similarly effective learning environments that develop critical technical practices in both faculty and students.


Jeremy Hunsinger co-founded and co-directs the Center for Digital Discourse and Culture at Virginia Tech. He attended the Oxford Internet Institutes 2004 Summer Doctoral Programme and was Graduate Fellow of the NSF Workshop on Values in Information Systems Design. He has been Junior Ethics Fellow at the Center for Information Policy Research at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee from 2007?2010. He coedited the International Handbook of Internet Research (2009) and the International Handbook of Virtual Learning Environments (2006). He is co?editor of the journal, Learning Inquiry and the book series Transdisciplinary Studies. Currently, he is co-editing a special issue of the journal Learning, Media, & Technology on the topic of Learning in Virtual Worlds with Aleks Krotoski and is editing a special issue of the journal Learning Inquiry on the topic of Learning Infrastructures in the Humanities and Social Sciences.

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Herrmann-Pillath on Herrmann-Pillath

By carstenherrmannpillath | June 22, 2009

Facing the task of completing the book on the Economics of Identity, this discussion far away in beautiful Brisbane was extremely helpful clear up my mind. Evidently, an excellent example of the extended brain hypothesis! Thank you all! Meanwhile, I spent a couple of days at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Glasgow, where I presented some of these ideas.  Again, I could clarify some points that need more elaboration.

One of the central concerns was the perennial experience of the clash between science and humanities folks, with the former emphasizing reductionism and analysis, and the latter holism, subjectivism and interpretation. This issue has also a very serious normative dimension, as the adherents to the latter position claim that this is also the very foundation of human autonomy, dignity and responsibility. How can we reconcile this contradiction?

A central topic of the discussions was neuroeconomics. One participant, Stuart Derbyshire argued that minds are inherently social, and that therefore neuroscience reductionism does not work. That was an eye-opener for me, because in my presentation, taking place before his one,  I had made a simple, but fundamental point:

To me, one of the most serious misunderstandings in a large part of the literature on brain and mind is the assumption that brains and minds are co-extensive, in the sense that the boundaries of the mind and the boundaries of the brain coincide, independent from which position is taken regarding emergence, supervenience or whatever kind of relation between the two. This tendency is particularly strong in neurophilosophy, where minds are necessarily seen as neuronal networks.

I think that this is fundamentally wrong. Stuart’s position that minds are social corresponds to a possible position in the philosophy of mind that asserts that brains are brains, and minds are systems of brains. Minds as systems of brains are interconnected via non-neuronal physical mechanisms. This is precisely the ontological difference between mind and brain, but it does not imply Cartesian dualism. This is Stuart’s statement naturalized. Mind emerges in networks that include at least two physically different media of connectedness that cross body boundaries.

There is an immediate consequence of this, and that is subjectivism naturalized. As every single brain is unique, there is a probability of zero that structurally similar connections between brains will produce the same effects within brains. In other words, if, for example, we see language as a physical medium connecting brains (soundwaves), the brain functionings triggered by linguistic signals will never be identical across individuals.

In this brief note, I do not want to expand on that. Actually, the wonderful summary of my ideas in the previous entry reveals that it is all in there already, yet with less simplicity. I add another idea from Glasgow. If we look at these brain-brain systems,  it is evident from many results of complexity theory and related formal disciplines, that these systems will never be able to analyze themselves (as in the software debugging problem). From this follows, that we, as scientific observers, will always face an ontological gap in explaining those systems. This implies that both positions that I mentioned in the beginning, the reductionist science view and the holistic-subjectivistic humanities view, are right. Neither position is ever able to explain the totality of the phenomenon of mind, once we adopt one position in extreme, we will always bounce back to the other position, because there will be an explanatory gap. For example, we will never achieve a fully naturalistic empirical view on meaning.

I posit that this insight corresponds to the wave/particle dualism in physics, so we have a principle of duality of cultural science. I claim that this principle of duality is fundamental for a naturalistic view on culture, and this resolves the perennial debate over the two views on human mind and cultural life.

This can be most fruitfully applied in many areas of research. For example, media studies. Media can be seen as physical connections among people. That implies that technology makes a fundamental difference in how brains work. Indeed, scholars today agree that writing, as compared to speaking, enables the mind to think differently, precisely because the physical structure is different (e.g. storability). At the same time, writing allows for new expressions of subjectivity, i.e. the uniqueness of brains.  In the duality view, research on new media such as the internet necessarily must be research into technology and cultural creativity.

The principle of duality also implies that Actor-network theory is a congenial point of view, thus allowing for a conceptual synthesis also across the borders to social science.

That’s what I learned from Glasgow.

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