•  66
    Are biological traits explained by their 'selected effect' functions?
    with Joshua R. Christie, Pierrick Bourrat, Peter Takacs, and Paul Edmund Griffiths
    Australasian Philosophical Review. forthcoming.
    The selected effects or ‘etiological’ theory of Proper function is a naturalistic and realist account of biological teleology. It is used to analyse normativity in philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, philosophy of medicine and elsewhere. The theory has been developed with a simple and intuitive view of natural selection. Traits are selected because of their positive effects on the fitness of the organisms that have them. These ‘selected effects’ are the Proper functions of the traits. Pr…Read more
  •  64
    Planets, pluralism, and conceptual lineage
    Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 53 93-106. 2016.
    Conceptual change can occur for a variety of reasons; some more scientifically significant than others. The 2006 definition of ‘planet’, which saw Pluto reclassified as a dwarf planet, is an example toward the more mundane end of the scale. I argue however that this case serves as a useful example of a related phenomenon, whereby what appears to be a single kind term conceals two or more distinct concepts with independent scientific utility. I examine the historical background to this case, as a…Read more
  •  53
    Cultural evolution is a growing, interdisciplinary, and disparate field of research. In ‘Cultural evolution: conceptual challenges”, Tim Lewens offers an ambitious analytical survey of this field that aims to clarify and defend its epistemic contributions, and highlight the limitations and risks associated with them. One overarching contention is that a form of population thinking dubbed the ‘kinetic approach’ should be seen as a unifying and justifying principle for cultural evolution, especial…Read more
  •  38
    Responsiveness and Robustness in the David Lewis Signaling Game
    Philosophy of Science 84 (5): 1068-1079. 2017.
    We consider modifications to the standard David Lewis signaling game and relax a number of unrealistic implicit assumptions that are often built into the framework. In particular, we motivate and explore various asymmetries that exist between the sender and receiver roles. We find that endowing receivers with a more realistic set of responses significantly decreases the likelihood of signaling, while allowing for unequal selection pressure often has the opposite effect. We argue that the results…Read more
  •  28
    Evolving Brains, Emerging Gods: Early Humans and the Origins of Religion by E. Fuller Torrey (review)
    The Quarterly Review of Biology 93 (3): 251-252. 2018.
    This book takes a brain-centric approach to the evolution of religion, where the evolution of religion is the evolution of cognitive capacities and the evolution of these is rooted in that of the brain.
  •  28
    Cost, expenditure and vulnerability
    with David Kalkman and Justin Bruner
    Biology and Philosophy 32 (3): 357-375. 2017.
    The handicap principle stipulates that signal reliability can be maintained if signals are costly to produce. Yet empirical biologists are typically unable to directly measure evolutionary costs, and instead appeal to expenditure as a sensible proxy. However the link between expenditure and cost is not always as straightforward as proponents of HP assume. We consider signaling interactions where whether the expenditure associated with signaling is converted into an evolutionary cost is in some s…Read more
  •  21
    Cognitive Gadgets: The Cultural Evolution of Thinking by Cecilia Heyes (review)
    The Quarterly Review of Biology 94 (2): 231-231. 2019.
    With this volume, the author stakes out a bold, authoritative position in the multidisciplinary literature on cultural evolution and human uniqueness.
  •  18
    Moral externalisation fails to scale
    Behavioral and Brain Sciences 41. 2018.
    We argue that Stanford’s picture of the evolution of externalised norms is plausible mostly because of the idealisations implicit in his defence of it. Once we take into account plausible amounts of normative disagreement, plausible amounts of error and misunderstanding, and the knock-on consequences of shunning, it is plausible that Stanford under-counts the costs of externalisation.
  •  14
    Modelling Religious Signalling
    Dissertation, Australian National University. 2019.
    The origins of human social cooperation confound simple evolutionary explanation. But from Darwin and Durkheim onward, theorists (anthropologists and sociologists especially) have posited a potential link with another curious and distinctively human social trait that cries out for explanation: religion. This dissertation explores one contemporary theory of the co-evolution of religion and human social cooperation: the signalling theory of religion, or religious signalling theory (RST). Accordin…Read more
  •  10
    Veissière et al. must sacrifice explanatory realism and precision in order to develop a unified formal model. Drawing on examples from cognitive archeology, we argue that this makes it difficult for them to derive the kinds of testable predictions that would allow them to resolve debates over the nature of human social cognition and cultural acquisition.
  •  7
    Signaling theories of religion: models and explanation
    Religion, Brain and Behavior 10 (3): 272--291. 2020.
    The signaling theory of religion has many claimed virtues, but these are not necessarily all realizable at the same time. Modeling choices involve trade-offs, and the available options here have not traditionally been well understood. This paper offers an overview of signaling theory relevant to the signaling theory of religion, arguing for a narrow, “core” reading of it. I outline a broad taxonomy of the choices on offer for signaling models, and examples of how previous and potential approache…Read more
  •  4
    Animal Signalling
    In Todd K. Shackelford & Viviana A. Weekes-Shackelford (eds.), Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science, Springer Verlag. pp. 1--4. 2020.
  •  3
    Manipulation and Dishonest Signals
    In Todd K. Shackelford & Viviana A. Weekes-Shackelford (eds.), Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science, Springer Verlag. pp. 1--4. 2020.
  •  2
    Social Media and Mobile Apps for Health Promotion in Australian Indigenous Populations: Scoping Review
    with Karen Gardner, Daniel McAullay, and Michelle Dowden
    Journal of Medical Internet Research 16 (12). 2014.
  •  1
    Religion and its evolution: signals, norms, and secret histories
    Religion, Brain and Behavior 10 (3): 217--222. 2020.
  •  1
    Preferences, predictions and patient enablement: a preliminary study
    with Laurann E. Yen
    BMC Family Practice 14 (1): 116. 2013.
  •  1
    Mehr et al. seek to explain music's evolution in terms of a unitary proper function – signalling cooperative intent – which they cash out in two guises, coalition signalling and parental attention signalling. Although we recognize the role signalling almost certainly played in the evolution of music, we reject “ultimate” causal explanations which focus on a unidirectional, narrow range of causal factors.
  • It is often taken for granted that notions of health and disease are generally applicable across the biological world, in that they are not restricted to contemporary human beings, and can be unproblematically applied to a variety of organisms both past and present (taking relevant differences between species into account). In the historical sciences it is also common to normatively contrast health states of individuals and populations from different times and places: e.g., to say that due to nu…Read more