This is a really ambitious paper that covers a HUGE range of topics, so there are gonna be a few dense slides, but I’ll try to plow through them as quickly and coherently as possible.
Towards a unified science of cultural evolution The study of culture can and should be viewed within an evolutionary framework, which will allow for the application of more rigorous scientific methodologies in the social sciences and stimulate progress in the science of culture.
Although human culture is enormously complex, the use of simplifying assumptions and models has greatly benefited the arguably equally complex study of biological systems.
An ‘evolutionary synthesis’ for the science of culture can highlight the fact that traditionally disparate fields are investigating complementary aspects of the same problem.
Makes available a set of methods developed within evolutionary biology that are applicable to the study of culture (with the necessary adaptations).
Similarity in the underlying processes of both cultural evolution and evolutionary biology
Mesoudi et al 2004 found that, along with the three features of discussed above, cultural traits exhibit other characteristics of biological evolution:
extinction of traits due to competition
accumulation of modifications
adaptation to the environment
geographical distribution of variation
convergent evolution of similar forms
change in function/become vestigial
The authors stress that the biological and cultural processes are not identical, and the differences should be considered when methods and models are applied to cultural evolution. They also point out that criticism often involves appealing to a range of differences; however, they claim that many of these purported differences can be shown to be unfounded.
Study of the structure of DNA, RNA and proteins and the processes involved in inheritance and expression
In evolutionary biology, used to reconstruct phylogenetic relationships
Also used to study genetic variation, population structure and gene flow
Despite the inherent problems associated with the quantification of cultural traits, treating them as discrete units makes it possible to observe patterns in the processes involved in cultural evolution (it’s worked for genes…?)
There may be no cultural equivalent to molecular biology, BUT useful models can still be developed that address cultural transmission at the behavioural or cognitive level
What about the genotype-phenotype distinction?
semantic info in brains = replicators
expression in behaviour or artifacts = interactors
does it really matter?
Methods can still be applied or adapted despite a limited understanding of the underlying processes
Can these methods be used to study nonhuman culture?
There is evidence of socially learned cultural patterns in other species.
Regional differences in behaviour have been documented for chimpanzees, orangutans, capuchins, some species of birds and cetaceans.
Diffusion of innovations in nonhuman communities has been observed.
Some cases of diffusion in primates show the same S-shaped distribution found in human communities.
Population genetics models have been employed to analyse patterns of birdsong. Gene-culture coevolution models have also been used.
The transmission chain method has been used to study social learning in a number of species .