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Dark Matter of the Mind

The Culturally Articulated Unconscious

Is it in our nature to be altruistic, or evil, to make art, use tools, or create language? Is it in our nature to think in any particular way? For Daniel L. Everett, the answer is a resounding no: it isn’t in our nature to do any of these things because human nature does not exist—at least not as we usually think of it. Flying in the face of major trends in Evolutionary Psychology and related fields, he offers a provocative and compelling argument in this book that the only thing humans are hardwired for is freedom: freedom from evolutionary instinct and freedom to adapt to a variety of environmental and cultural contexts.
Everett sketches a blank-slate picture of human cognition that focuses not on what is in the mind but, rather, what the mind is in—namely, culture. He draws on years of field research among the Amazonian people of the Pirahã in order to carefully scrutinize various theories of cognitive instinct, including Noam Chomsky’s foundational concept of universal grammar, Freud’s notions of unconscious forces, Adolf Bastian’s psychic unity of mankind, and works on massive modularity by evolutionary psychologists such as Leda Cosmides, John Tooby, Jerry Fodor, and Steven Pinker. Illuminating unique characteristics of the Pirahã language, he demonstrates just how differently various cultures can make us think and how vital culture is to our cognitive flexibility. Outlining the ways culture and individual psychology operate symbiotically, he posits a Buddhist-like conception of the cultural self as a set of experiences united by various apperceptions, episodic memories, ranked values, knowledge structures, and social roles—and not, in any shape or form, biological instinct.

The result is fascinating portrait of the “dark matter of the mind,” one that shows that our greatest evolutionary adaptation is adaptability itself.

394 pages | 6 halftones, 18 line drawings, 2 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2016

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Cognitive Science: Language

Language and Linguistics: Anthropological/Sociological Aspects of Language, Philosophy of Language


"Everett takes us through the history of philosophy to show variations on those two themes as elaborated by the famous philosophers of the Western intellectual tradition, ending with his basically Aristotelian view, in contrast to the Chomskyan theory of innate structures and universal grammar. In the process, he challenges Freud’s theory of the unconscious, Jung’s archetypes, Bastien’s psychic unity of man, Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, and other variations on that theme. . . . What he says about this broad and multifaceted scope of human behavior is interesting and informative, and can be profitably read by anthropologists in all four fields of the discipline."

American Anthropologist

"Everett begins by offering a fascinating argument: the only source of human learning is the individual—not in the mind, not in the brain, not in societies. Further, most of this learning is transmitted through “culturally articulated dark matter,” which he defines as “any knowledge … that is unspoken in normal circumstances, usually unarticulated even to ourselves.” From this, Everett lays out his thesis in three parts: the human unconscious may be classified into “the unspoken and the ineffable”; this unconscious is influenced by the interaction of human perception and “a ranked-value, linguistic-based model of culture”; and that “learning as cultural beings” affects human thought and identity. Everett argues for and develops his thesis and its consequences in the remainder of the book. He makes a strong argument and brings in a wide-range of interesting anthropological case studies along the way. Recommended."


“Everett draws on his own deep insights gained from living and working in non-Western cultures in order to make a powerful argument for the influence of culture on unconscious forces that underlie human behavior and the individual’s sense of self. After decades of a field derailed by ethnocentric, instinct-based views of language and the mind, the cognitive sciences need the sort of informed analyses his book offers of the relationships among culture, cognition, and language as they are embodied in speech and gesture.”

Elena Levy, University of Connecticut

“In Dark Matter of the Mind, Everett defends two ideas that were once highly heterodox but which he has helped push toward the mainstream. One is a radical antinativism. Informed by his rich and challenging background as a linguist and anthropologist, Everett sees the human mind as profoundly shaped and organized by learning and culture. As he sees it, there is nothing like a language acquisition device or theory of mind module to be found in the architecture of the mind. The second is an emphasis on implicit information: hunches, know-how, and skill. That is the ‘dark matter,’ thought that moves us in action and decision without our being able to articulate it, sometimes beyond awareness. The work is rich with example and argument; it is a reflection of many years of thought and experience.”

Kim Sterelny, author of The Evolved Apprentice

“A hit and the biggest wallop in the breadbasket Noam Chomsky’s hegemony had ever suffered.”

Tom Wolfe | Harper’s, on Don't Sleep There are Snakes

Table of Contents

Part 1   Dark Matter and Culture
1          The Nature and Pedigree of Dark Matter
2          The Ranked-Value Theory of Culture
3          The Ontogenesis and Construction of Dark Matter
4          Dark Matter as Hermeneutics
Part 2   Dark Matter and Language
5          The Presupposed Dark Matter of Texts
6          The Dark Matter of Grammar
7          Gestures, Culture, and Homesigns
8          Dark Matter Confrontations in Translation
Part 3   Implications
9          Beyond Instincts
10        Beyond Human Nature

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