Why do certain theories or sophisticated ideas become culturally shared, while others remain indefinitely closed within specific circles?
How does the way in which laypeople treat expert knowledge affect public debates and decision making? I argue that the social
diffusion of a sophisticated idea is contingent upon a special combination of environmental and cognitive factors that trigger a lay
comprehension of that idea on the part of non-experts. Lay comprehension is defined as a kind of understanding whereby an idea is
considered merely for its immediate relevance to a certain context, without further delving into other aspects or implications. A theory is
proposed which describes the social diffusion of sophisticated ideas as a consequence of their lay comprehension by non-experts. This
means that, contrary to conventional wisdom, under certain circumstances variation of an idea’s conceptual content motivates the
transmission of that idea and is, therefore, a cause of its spread, not an effect of it. A summary of the empirical work that supports the
theory is reported.
|Keywords:||Cognition and Culture, Relevance Theory, Analysis of Beliefs, History of Ideas, Lay Comprehension|
Associate Professor (Sept. 2008), Department of Italian, Banja Luka University, Rome, Bosnia and Herzegovina
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