Money is a token of cooperation

The biology of indirect exchanges

– Human morality confuses altruism with cooperation
– Cooperation requires the ecological ability to choose partners
– I propose a game theoretical definition of these concepts
– I provide evidence from anthropology, history and cryptocurrency

Author: Jose Maanmieli

Abstract: I propose a clear definition of money, as opposed to credit, by elaborating on the distinction between the biological concepts of cooperation and altruism. I argue that these aspects of animal sociality are often confused because they are evaluated from an anthropocentric perspective. Ecologically speaking, the function of a monetary token is to mediate interactions that are more constructive than reciprocal altruism, as they involve partner-choice and non-additive benefits. This focus on proximate mechanisms explains the challenges encountered by monetary theorists, who typically emphasise the utility of a token versus its symbolism. The invention of Bitcoin provides empirical support. Indeed, the value of bitcoins does not come from any intrinsic utility nor does it come from an institution. This form of digital money has simply emerged on the internet, a social environment akin to the ecological environment in which trade has evolved. Like Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, money is naturally created by humans as a signal of cooperative intent. This potential for indirect exchanges is then seized by processes of cultural group selection that transform money into credit.

Keywords: game theory, economic anthropology, morality, social evolution, credit-money

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Why science needs to understand language

All human understanding depends on language, but not even linguists agree on its definition. This theoretical problem divides scientists who study human behaviour. We can overcome it by examining a fundamental feature of language: kin terms

In the study of human behaviour, there are many neurologists, geneticists, cognitive psychologists, psycholinguists and other researchers with an analytic approach. These professionals view our actions as determined by our component parts, such as cells and molecules. They believe that this internal mechanism can sometimes malfunction, so they often have a medical inclination.

On the other hand, there are researchers who believe that human behaviour is determined by ‘society’, of which we are component parts. This camp includes many sociologists, anthropologists, social psychologists and sociolinguists with a holistic view of our actions. For these people, the mechanism of society can sometimes malfunction, so their inclination is humane as opposed to medical.

These two academic teams may have heated debates or simply ignore each other. An analytic scientist will often sneer at the holist’s lack of rigour, whereas the latter will look at the first as insensitive and narrow minded. Sometimes the disagreement will even be part of the same scientist’s multidisciplinary approach [3; 14]. Why does this happen? Why do all these experts avoid the level of individuals and our everyday interactions? Perhaps we are not either governed by microscopic parts or by a superior entity, and these unordinary things are attractive because we are prone to symbolic thinking.

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Why we call parents ‘parents’

– All societies find it important to call parents by these names and nicknames
– This language universal has not been recognised by science
– I suggest that it confuses our minds by mixing natural and social concepts
– I explain how it relates to myth, identity and our close relationships

Why do we call our parents ‘Mum’, ‘Dad’ and other similar words? Researchers tend to say that those words come from the sounds babies make, but this isn’t a very satisfactory answer. Probably all societies teach children to call their parents by names and nicknames that mean they are parents. This is very strange when you think about it. Whenever someone is special we give them a proper name. Parents are very special but we give them common names.

This practice does not seem to change with adulthood or cultural progress. In modern society, a father will typically get upset if you, as his child, called him by his personal name. On the other hand, you will get upset if he did not call your dog Charlie but any other word indicating a dog. ‘I am your father’, he will argue, and draw on his biological knowledge. Whereas you will give a number of cultural reasons why your dog is special.

The relationship between language and reality is viewed predominantly from two fundamental perspectives.[i] One sees the mind as a sort of computer that would allow the child to identify her real parents. The other one sees it as a sociocultural entity, so that such a reality could not be something the child logically discovers, but something that is created in interaction with others.

This theoretical dichotomy is probably as unhelpful as arguing with your parents over who is special and why. It means that science does not understand words that are central to our sense of reality. Indeed, it is true that parenthood has a biological basis, but it is also true that parenting is a markedly cultural activity. Should we not elucidate this question before attempting to solve any other big mysteries? This question has been in my mind ever since I became a parent myself.

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Story of an academic article

Let me introduce our project by telling you about our first article. In 2017 the Finnish journal Psykoterapia-lehti published ‘Psykoosi: Sosiaalinen destruktionismi’, which deals with the personal yet abstract nature of mental illness. We were very excited; it was our first academic article. We had originally drafted it in English and were planning a more ambitious version for the international readership, one that would more generally address the theory and practice of psychiatry. The result is now published on this site as well as on the excellent, though we first tried the usual publishing route. Here is the cover letter I wrote for it:

Dear Editor:

This article introduces a new, comprehensive view of mental illness as a phenomenon intrinsic to human society. We use first-person accounts to illustrate our case because it is grounded in individual experience, and we address the psychiatric model of Open Dialogue because of the importance of human interactions. The article concludes by proposing a way forward for psychiatry in its relation to the behavioral sciences and philosophy.

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Social destructionism: Psychosis and the limits of dialogue

Manuscript in PDF format, v1.0

Authors: Jose Maanmieli and Karoliina Maanmieli

Abstract: Some words have the power to define what is real. This article introduces a comprehensive view of mental illness as an inner conflict with those words. We suggest that individuals are sometimes unable to assimilate the narratives most human beings live by because the social realities they portray are abstract, incoherent and conflicting. We do this through a constructive criticism of Open Dialogue, an innovative, celebrated approach to mental health care that resembles family therapy. Open Dialogue is important due to its situated focus on human relationships. However, the approach adheres to the metaphysical narrative of social constructionism, which we argue is but another form of rationalism that competes with the rationalism of the biomedical model. Both approaches effectively disregard embodied experience, individual decision-making and the sciences of behaviour because they have a basis in societal norms. We illustrate our case through the psychosis stories gathered in a unique, minimally edited book, which we contrast with case examples of Open Dialogue. Our analysis shows that epistemic and therapeutic value should not be seen as opposites. Questioning our most fundamental assumptions reveals that the person in crisis has a lot to say about life’s biggest questions, and opens the door to a genuinely open dialogue.


Keywords: morality, psychiatry, Open Dialogue, decision-making, family, rationalism, social realities

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The nature of kinship

From dad and mum to god and society

– Kin terms appear to be a language universal
– They are transmitted through child-directed speech
– They conflate natural concepts and social concepts in our minds
– They are the moral essence of human cultural evolution

Author: Jose Maanmieli

Abstract: Why do we call our parents mother and father? Why do we call ourselves these general words as parents? These personal questions have not sufficiently drawn the attention of linguists and psychologists, yet any account of language and human cognition must be able to provide a good answer. Indeed, our minds have evolved and develop in a social setting that is primarily governed by norms of kinship. This article demonstrates how those norms encapsulate the relationship between language and reality, individual and society. It suggests that the use of kin terms is characterised by a conflation of address and reference that corresponds to a cognitive conflation of social and natural concepts. This analysis rests on a biological view of language, morality and human sociality. From this grounded perspective, I integrate findings across the behavioural sciences. I argue that myth has a basis in child-directed speech, and that child-directed speech is a means of socialisation, not so much a means to help children learn to speak or relate to others. I also discuss the theoretical issues that result from this lack of metalinguistic awareness, issues that go back to the beginnings of philosophy. Because nature is prior to nurture, and the concepts of parents and kin appear first in life, understanding the nature of these concepts elucidates central problems, from the origin of societies to the current questioning of gender and parenting roles.

Keywords: child-directed speech, evolutionary social psychology, language socialisation, self-deception, definition of morality, origins of language, philosophy

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Children’s pretence

A scientific perspective on social reality

– We illustrate how scientists confuse society with nature
– We argue that institutions are the same as pretend play
– The nature of language makes social reality appear objective
– We propose a definition of morality as a linguistic cognitive conflation

Authors: Jose Maanmieli and Karoliina Maanmieli

Abstract: The nature of reality is an old philosophical question, yet not nearly as old as the myths of different cultures around marriage and kinship. We can assume that these ancient, foundational institutions have deeply shaped our perception of reality. Here we provide an answer that integrates biology, psychology, anthropology and linguistics. Simply put, institutions are intersubjective games, and our ontological confusion around them evolved due to their reproductive function. This argument involves a precise understanding of morality as a deceptive linguistic socialisation device that is distinct from other forms of normativity. More specifically, we argue that what philosopher John Searle has called institutional ‘facts’, such as a piece of paper being money, should instead be regarded as subjective and nonfactual. Central to these considerations is the very definition of human society, and how its moral, tribalistic nature goes unnoticed because it is registered in language itself, limiting our self-understanding. We demonstrate this limitation by closely examining a recent book chapter on the origins of language which, influenced by Searle, uses the institution of marriage as an example of serious or objective institutional practice and discusses how children learn to participate in it. Searle’s own conceptual framework also proves useful in illustrating how kinship and moral socialisation form the basis of social realities.

Keywords: social reality, prescription, kinship system, definition of morality, child psychology, cognitive conflation

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