Central European University, Budapest
Summer University 2007 - Culture and Cognition
Pascal Boyer is Henry Luce Professor of Individual and Collective Memory at Washington University in St. Louis. He teaches in the Psychology and Anthropology departments.
Pascal Boyer works in the Memory and Development Laboratory of the Psychology Department, Washington University. He also manages the the Luce Program in Individual and Collective Memory.
Cognition under the high brow
We cognitive anthropologists deal with “culture” in the broad sense of distributed mental representations widespread in a social group (and many of us don’t really believe that the terms “culture” or “cultural” pick up a natural kind of representations - but that will be the topic of another post). We do not usually have much time for “culture” in the elevated sense of high culture - the sense usually associated with the names of Matthew Arnold or TS Eliot, among others.
But we should pay some attention, perhaps. True, high culture does not occur in all human societies, it is a minority pursuit wherever it does, and there may be more important problems for cognitive anthropology to solve. But it is interesting nonetheless. Wherein lies the difference between the high and low registers? Is there any cultural variation in that difference? How does it translate in terms of cognitive processes?
We academics and other literate types are often misguided in our approach to this, as we compare the best examples of high culture with the worst of the low. This was recently and vividly brought to my attention by the request of a friend and colleague, that we both read something called The Da Vinci Code, which we would then discuss in various undergraduate classes on literature, myth and history. This turned out to be a Serious Mistakes.