Looking at Manvir Singh’s Article (2021) “Magic, Explanations, and Evil” (Part 5 of 5)

0016 To me, Singh’s three cultural selection schemas for malevolent magic recapitulate the scaffolding below them.  Evilis a privation of good.

0017 Malevolent magic is like a figure in a mirror.  It is not the good that stands before the mirror.  Instead, it is a purely relational being that recapitulates the figure that stands before it.  Something is wrong.  Something is missing.  There is nothing behind the surface of the mirror, even though the reflected image seems real.  The reflected image seems to stand behind the surface of the mirror as if occupying space in a real world.

Can anyone see what is behind a mirror?

0018 Perhaps, this explains why Singh cannot see the magic of everyday life that both underlies and supports his expert statistical analysis.  He cannot see through the glass upon which he stands.  He looks down and sees the world above him, full of witches and sorcerers, instigators of mystical harm.

0019 Razie Mah’s comments associate features of Singh’s essay to elements in a category-based nested form.  Singh’s argument retains its integrity, even as his vision is transubstantiated from a reflection into a real anthropological subject of interest.  What is the nature of magic?  Does magic touch base with the presence underlying the word, “religion”?

0020 Anthropologists take note.

Print out copies of Manvir Singh’s publication in Current Anthropology and Razie Mah’s Comments on Manvir Singh’s Essay (2021) “Magic, Evil and Explanations”.

Present the pair to a few graduate students, asking, “Which is real and which is fake?”

Is Anthropology a science? Or is it a discipline of interpretations?


Looking at Manvir Singh’s Article (2021) “Magic, Explanations, and Evil” (Part 4 of 5)

0014 For example, a number of ladies in the community, noting that berries are in season, set out to collect several baskets.  They perform the rituals of gathering to ensure success.  Then they set out, chattering, as always.  During the harvest, one mother is bit by a spider that no one can identify.  After hastily returning, they bring the spider’s remains to the shaman.

The shaman is concerned.  He makes a paste to put over the bite.  The next morning, the woman is dead and the berries, left overnight in the baskets, are mysteriously rotted.

0015 Later, questions arise.


Looking at Manvir Singh’s Article (2021) “Magic, Explanations, and Evil” (Part 3 of 5)

0010 Singh identifies two principle components to harmful magic, witchiness (PC1) and the evil eye (PC2).

What happens next?

0011 Singh proposes a model to account for the observation.  The model consists of three schemes of cultural selection.

The first selection (F) is for intuitive techniques of harmful magic.

The second selection (G) is for plausible explanations of misfortune.

The third selection (H) is for myths that demonize a subgroup (in this case, sorcerers and witches).

0012 Singh misses the scaffolding beneath the glass that he stands on.  His exposition is on malevolent magic.  He does not seem to realize that malevolent magic recapitulates the open, generative magic of group living, including…

…intuitive techniques for beneficial magic (F’)…

…plausible explanations of fortune (G’)…

…myths that celebrate the group (H’).

0013 Here is a table.


Looking at Manvir Singh’s Article (2021) “Magic, Explanations, and Evil” (Part 2 of 5)

0005 Anthropology stands astride the narrower, more technical, disciplines of Sociology and Psychology.

Manvir Singh constructs a modern paradigm for a topic dear to Anthropology, but not to the narrower disciplines.

What is the nature of magic?

0006 Singh publishes the results of a Mystical Harm Survey, applied to 60 societies on the Probability Sample File of the electronic Human Relations Area Files.  He uses principal component analysis to reduce forty-nine raw variables to two principal dimensions with the greatest variation.

Principal components?  Greatest variation?

0007 Principal components are the dimensions with the greatest variation in a scatterplot.

Typically, principal component analysis shows variables that are relevant to the topic at hand.

For example, when considering mystical harm, one would expect significant variation between a common person and, say, a warlock, along some parameter that might be called, “warlockness”.

0008 Singh finds two parameters distinguishing common folk, sorcerers and witches.  Witches are high in PC1 and low in PC2.  Sorcerers are low in PC1 and high in PC2.

PC1 is witchiness.  Witches fly, meet in secret in the forest on a full moon, suddenly appear and disappear, and so on.  To me, witchiness is the embodiment of malicious magic.  Witches not only perform magic, they live it.

PC2 is the evil eye.  Sorcerers do not embody the magic that they perform.  Instead, the magic resides in their gaze.  The evil eye is a harmful mystical operation that signifies a whole range of magical works.  The evil eye is the worst.

0009 Singh does not dwell on the seemingly philosophical distinction between embodiment and gaze.  Neither do the anthropologists who are pleased with the scatterplot of PC1 and PC2 in Figure 1 (of the article).  Anthropology looks like science.


Looking at Manvir Singh’s Article (2021) “Magic, Explanations, and Evil” (Part 1 of 5)

0001 This blog compliments Comments on Manvir Singh’s Essay (2021) “Magic, Evil and Explanations”, available at smashwords and other websites selling electronic works.

0002 Singh’s article appears in Current Anthropology.

Manvir Singh is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse, France.

To me, his work contrasts with Sasha Newell, who, in 2018, publishes a theoretical piece titled, “The Affectiveness of Symbols”, also in Current Anthropology.

Singh aims for science.  Newell focuses on interpretation.

0003 Will the discipline of Anthropology turn towards an empirio-schematic approach or towards an approach where the word, “science”, is no longer relevant?

Mark Horowitz, William Yaworsky and Kenneth Kickham publish a survey, under the title, “Anthropology’s Science Wars: Insights from an New Survey”, in 2019, in Current Anthropology.

0004 These three papers tell us much about the divided discipline of contemporary Anthropology.


Looking at Chris Sinha’s Essay (2018) “Praxis, Symbol and Language” (Part 5 of 5)

0019 Chris Sinha’s essay is a contribution to a huge, obviously well-funded, academic project, led by Prof. Michael A. Arbib, of the University of California at San Diego.  An outline is presented in the same issue of Interaction Studies(19:1-2 (2018) 370-389).  The title is “The Comparative Neuroprimatology 2018 (CNP-2018) Road Map for Research on How the Brain Got Language“.

0020 The project’s slogan is a little humorous.

It’s like How the Birds Got Flight.

Does anatomy tell the tale?

To me, comparing the neural structure of the great apes, including models of our hominin ancestors, tells the ontogenesis side of the story.

0021 What about the phylogenesis side of the story?

The story of how the brain got language cannot be restricted to DNA, genes, genotypes, phenotypes and body development.  Phylogenesis cannot be ignored.  In this regard, Chris Sinha’s essay is crucial.  

The intersection of ontogeny and phylogeny re-capitulates the intersection between body development and natural history appearing in Speculations on Thomism and Evolution.

Chris Sinha adds weight to the natural history side, covering environment, ecology, niche, adaptation and natural selection.

0022 To this end, I suggest that the seventeen authors on this magnificent quest consider Razie Mah’s Comments on Chris Sinha’s Essay (2018) “Praxis, Symbol and Language”.  The contribution may be unexpected.  Nevertheless, it is properly attired.


Looking at Chris Sinha’s Essay (2018) “Praxis, Symbol and Language” (Part 4 of 5)

0012 Sinha’s EcoEvoDevoSocio framework associates to all the terms in the title of Chris Sinha’s Essay.

0013 Eco-Socio are bookends describing the long arc of time from the emergence of the Homo genus to the appearance of Homo sapiens.  At the start, signification primarily comes from the ecology.  At the end, significations primarily come from social interactions.

0014 EvoDevo are the twin tomes of phylogenesis and ontogenesis, bringing me to the truth-bearing fiction within Sinha’s narrative.

What is this fiction?

Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.

0015 Biologists have debunked this slogan, as fact.  But, it lives on as fiction.


It must be true, even though it is factually incorrect.

0016 How else can one draw a thread through these two terms: language and the human brain?

Language goes with phylogenesis.  As discussed in the masterwork, The Human Niche, plus its attendant commentaries, the biological capacity for language evolves in the milieu of hand talk.  Hand talk develops phylogenetically, from signaling, to functional representation, to symbolic communication, then to fully linguistic.  The adaptation of language occurs within the evolution of hand talk.

The human brain goes with ontogenesis.  The capacity to read ecological significations expands to reading intentional manual-brachial gestures.  Intentional gestures retain their semiotic qualities as icons and indexes as they become more conventional, habitual, lawful and so on.  They become more and more like symbols. The neural substrate in the hominin brain finds a way to process symbols.

0017 Ecological significations are icons and indexes.

Intentional manual-brachial gestures are perceived as icons and indexes, even though they increasingly operate as symbols.

0018 So, instead of the slogan, “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny”, we can adopt the saying, “ontogeny intersects phylogeny”.

A traffic intersection belongs to both roads. So does the intersection of ontogeny and phylogeny.


Looking at Chris Sinha’s Essay (2018) “Praxis, Symbol and Language” (Part 3 of 5)

0008 Allow me to further elaborate Sinha’s EcoEvoDevoSocio framework.

In the prior blog, the Eco-Socio bookends touch base with the title frontpiece of praxis, symbol and language.

0009 This implies that the EvoDevo inner coupling expresses the title endpiece of developmental, ecological and linguistic issues.

0010 Evo associates to phylogeny.  Phylogenesis consists of adaptations into a niche.  The human niche changes from one where ecology is the primary source of signification to one where symbol-ready hominins are the primary sources of signification.  

Devo associates to ontogeny.  Ontogenesis consists of alterations in DNA, genes, genotypes and phenotypes that permit the drastic shift in the primary source of signification.

0011 Sinha cleverly encapsulates the inner drama of phylogenic and ontogenic changes over evolutionary time(EvoDevo) within the outward motion from an ecology-centered Umwelt to a socially-centered Lebenswelt (Eco-Socio).


Looking at Chris Sinha’s Essay (2018) “Praxis, Symbol and Language” (Part 2 of 5)

0005 What about Sinha’s EcoEvoDevoSocio framework?

0006 The outer terms, “eco” and “socio”, signify a broad arc of human evolution.

Adaptation by a line of apes starts with ecological adaptations.  For example, bipedalism is evolutionarily ancient.

However, the fact that bipedalism frees the hands for communicative gestures creates new opportunities.  A truly human niche appears.  One hominin can intentionally gesture to another.  The other hominin can interpret that gesture.

0007 The frontpiece of the title captures Sinha’s EcoSocio vision.  The praxis (or habits) of intentional manual-brachial gestures for communication proceeds from signaling to functional representation.

Functional representation metaphorically runs around the symbol, defined as a sign-relation whose sign-object depends on conventions, habits, laws and so forth.  The more that intentional manual-brachial gestures act as words, the more symbolic they become.

In this way, hominins become symbol-ready and capable of engaging in language.


Looking at Chris Sinha’s Essay (2018) “Praxis, Symbol and Language” (Part 1 of 5)

0001 Chris Sinha, writing from Hunan University, publishes another article on human evolution.  The journal is Interaction Studies (volume 19(2), 2018, pages 239-255).  The complete title is “Praxis, Symbol and Language: Developmental, Ecological and Linguistic Issues”.

The title of Razie Mah’s commentary is Comments on Chris Sinha’s Essay (2018) “Praxis, Symbol and Language”. The commentary is found at the smashwords website under the series: Buttressing the Human Niche.  Other vendors also sell the e-commentary.

0002 This blog complements the commentary.

0003 Sinha’s article covers from the start of the Homo genus, around two million years ago, to the speciation of Homo sapiens, around two-hundred thousand years ago. That is a lot of territory.

Several issues intertwine.  One is individual development (devo).  Another is a transition in natural selection (evo) from ecology-driven adaptations (eco) to adaptations driven by social interactions (socio).

0004 Sinha loves terminology.  He searches for a EcoEvoDevoSocio framework.