Cultural Evolution

This article explores under what circumstances a species is more likely to evolve. You need mutation but that’s not enough because a potentially salubrious mutation can be snuffed out by random noise; the monkey who has the mutation making him 1% smarter than his peers may get eaten by a lion before his mutation has a chance to spread through the population. If a species goes off to form little breeding colonies periodically and then reconvenes that’s better. In this case our hypothetical smart monkey can go off and breed a little sub-population of smart monkeys, and when this sub-population starts interacting with the rest of the monkeys they can have more offspring and the whole monkey species will evolve.

What are the analogous rules for cultural evolution? It seems like something analogous is true. It’s not enough that there need to be cultural mutations — say a new way of writing poetry that is kicker or more evocative or more memorable — because this new way can just vanish in the marketplace. The new cultural form needs a protected enclave in which it can thrive and get love, and then it can burst onto the global marketplace. This is probably the function of sub-cultures and fandoms.



3 thoughts on “Cultural Evolution

  1. Your explanation of cultural evolution is plausible. Isn’t that how Grunge got started in Seattle, and then spread outward?

    It’s difficult to get much out of the Quanta Magazine article without diving into the source materials. But it sounds to me like they’re mathematically elaborating on things people already knew, e.g., Harvard biologist Ernst Mayr in his book *What Evolution Is*:

    “What happens in the isolated population? There may be new mutations, certain genes may be lost owing to accidents of sampling, recombination results in the production of a diversity of new phenotypes that are different from those of the parent species, and there may be the occasional immigration of different genes from other populations. The isolated population will diverge increasingly from the parental species. If this process continues long enough, the isolated population changes enough to qualify as a different species.”

    Note that the process Mayr describes is parallel to the one you suggested for cultural evolution.

  2. Arnold says:

    “it doesn’t take a quantum leap to see a big bang become fundamental interacting forces then galaxies and evolutions, we are part of this continuum in representing qualia/value–that part of the universe cosmos which sees itself”…

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