• Question: what ideas have you created so far?

    Asked by xbartlettx to Rohan on 23 Sep 2017.
    • Photo: Rohan Kapitany

      Rohan Kapitany answered on 23 Sep 2017:

      Given ideas are the currency of my work, sometimes I worry that I will run out of them.

      I think I have had 2 ideas during the last 5 years (I’ve had lots of little ones, of course, but I’m not sure they count).

      The first idea took about 3 years to come up with. And it sounds boring, but I think I developed a good definition of ritual. It’s really just a few lines of text, but I think it captures our understand of rituals far better than other definitions – at least as far as running experiments is concerned.

      The other idea I’ve been working on for maybe a year a half. And it has to do with how humans avoid forgetting things. In times before writing, when communities had very complicated technologies they couldn’t write down (like recipes for medicine) how do they make sure they could avoid forgetting them (since forgetting them would result in very bad outcomes). I also noticed that many of these behaviors are ritualized – they’re full of actions that don’t really need to be there. I have been running some experiments to see if the rituals help us better remember complicated behaviors, especially when we can’t write them down, but still need to teach them to others.