Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Author's Response
Atran: Folk biology

Taxonomic ranks, generic species, and core memes

Scott Atran a1
a1 Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, CREA (Ecole Polytechnique) 75005 Paris, France and Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48106-1248


The target article contains a number of distinct but interrelated claims about the cognitive nature of folk biology based in part on cross-cultural work with urbanized Americans and forest-dwelling Maya Indians. Folk biology consists universally of a ranked taxonomy centered on essence-based generic species. This taxonomy is domain-specific, perhaps an innately determined evolutionary adaptation. Folk biology also plays a special role in cultural evolution in general, and in the development of Western biological science in particular. Even in our culture, however, it retains an autonomy from other domains of thought and from science. These claims are questioned and clarified.