Complexity Postdoctoral Fellow

Omidyar Fellow (Starting at SFI January 2020)

Starting at SFI January 2020

Culture, for all its complexity and variety in forms, is both ubiquitous in human life and strikingly non-random, while widespread cultural items usually represent a very limited subset of the shapes they could take in theory. How do we account for these features? Helena’s research agenda aims to understand how individuals, with their sophisticated cognitive capacities, interact to produce and organize cultural systems, and how, in turn, these cognitive capacities can help us predict which cultural forms will emerge and stabilize. She studies cultural evolution by integrating the precision and data quality of human sciences with a strong emphasis on cognitive science.

Aiming to redefine how we study culture, her research program includes both theoretical advances tackling key questions in cultural evolution as well as empirical case studies. In her previous works, she has reviewed cultural transmission experiments in an attempt to bridge back these experiments and the theoretical constructs they aim to test,and tested hypotheses on how maladaptative medical practices (e.g., bloodletting) can thrive and on how complexity evolves in graphic communication systems (e.g., heraldry).

At SFI, she will use complexity science tools in order to investigate the role of institutions in generating and transmitting technical knowledge and practices, and develop methods to account for culture’s complexity and apparent “messiness”. 

Helena will defend her PhD in Cognitive Science in the Fall of 2019, at the Central European University (Budapest, Hungary). During her PhD, she has worked in collaboration with the Minds and Traditions research group, based at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, in Jena, Germany. She holds an M.S in Cognitive Science from the Ecole Normale Supérieure, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, and Paris Descartes University, and a B.A. in Sociology from Paris Sorbonne University.