The Origin Of Super Species
In this fascinating talk Dr James Carney will argue that super hero literature is a cultural response to the cognitive problem of living in large groups. Specifically, living in large groups is convenient because it allows specialisation, but keeping track of what group members think (and what they think about what other members think) is very difficult. And yet, the last 150 or so years has seen a massive increase in the average density of human settlements.
Dr. Carney proposes that the cultural preoccupation with super hero characters emerged because it alleviated the anxiety associated with keeping track of ever-larger groups––and especially when these groups may contain ill-intentioned strangers.
That is, the quasi-supernatural powers associated with many of these characters points to a world where complete moral monitoring is possible. Thus, super hero literature will be presented as a type of cultural band-aid, which allows us to overcome limitations on how we deal with the problems of social life. The empirical basis for this discussion will be the largest ever data scrape of information about comic-book characters from online sources, which was conducted in the summer of 2014 as part of an academic study.
Dr James Carney is an academic researcher based at Brunel University London, where he is a Welcome Trust Fellow. Previous to this, he has held appointments in the Department of Psychology at Lancaster University and in the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford (where he was also a Fellow of Linacre College). James’s research interests centre on using AI and machine learning to model how cultural representations impact on human cognition. This is part of a broader intellectual move that brings together methods of from the humanities, the quantitative social sciences and computing to develop more effective ways of representing cultural processes.