Tuesday, June 18, 2013

evolution and culture

ubc | Humans are not just group living social animals. They are also cultural animals. Humans, more than any other species, have the special capacity to preserve behavioral modifications and inventions initiated by group members, by transmitting them horizontally across group members, and vertically across generations (Boyd & Richerson, 1985; Cavalli-Sforza & Feldman, 1981; Heyes & Galef, 1996; Sperber, 1990, 1996; Tomasello, Kruger, & Ratner, 1993).

For example, once a new and useful food gathering technique is discovered by some individuals, humans have the capacity to preserve , and possibly improve upon, the new skill through social, rather than biological transmission.  Many theorists have suggested that the cognitive and behavioral capacities that make human culture possible - complex communication skills, social learning mechanisms, identification with a social group, biased processing of information that favors ingroup members and prestigious individuals - evolved because of the adaptive benefits that they offered to individuals (Boyd & Richerson, 1985; Henrich & Boyd, 1998; Henrich & Gil-White, 2001; Richerson & Boyd, 2005; Tomasello et al., 1993).

Individual survival and reproduction were facilitated by participation within certain kinds of coordinated group activity where behavioral changes could be retained and perpetuated within the group. Thus, it is likely that psychological mechanisms promoting these sorts of coordinated group actions evolved in humans (Richerson & Boyd, 2005). Several chapters in this book (Brewer & Caporael, this volume; Van Vugt & Van Lange, this volume) review many of these specific arguments, and so we will not belabor them here. The summary point is simply this: There are very likely specific evolved psychological mechanisms within social groups for the emergence of the sort of coordinated group activity that is minimally necessary for human culture to exist.

Human cultures are more than just well-coordinated social groups; they are well-coordinated social groups in which the individuals share massive amounts of common goals, desires, values, beliefs and other forms of knowledge.  Cultures are defined not just by the fact that individuals within those cultures share many kinds of knowledge, but also by the specific kinds of knowledge that they find important to share. Cultures consist of specific prohibitions and taboos, specific moral "rights" and "wrongs," specific supernatural beliefs, specific themes in literature and art, and so on.

Although cross-cultural research often draws attention to the differences between cultures (e.g., different supernatural agents appear in different religious traditions), this body of literature also reveals striking similarities in the basic contours of any culture (e.g., most if not all religions revolve around one or more supernatural agents that share striking cognitive similarities across cultures).  Indeed, thorough reviews of the ethnographic record have revealed hundreds of universal patterns and norms across the full spectrum of human cultures (Brown, 1991).  What accounts for the similarities underlying different belief systems?  One set of answers is provided by evolutionary analyses of human cognition and social behavior.

13 comments:

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umbrarchist said...

But does physics have a Culture?


Wouldn't intelligent aliens on the other side of the galaxy have to deal with the same physics regardless of the culture?


That is the thought provoking thing about Vulcan Culture on Star Trek. Will a truly scientific society transcend most of what we regard as culture?

CNu said...

Seems to me that the relationships embodied in "physics" have more to do with how a given organism's nervous system represents ontological data, than on the ontological data itself.


For example, bacterial life forms have expressed a degree of fitness which beggars human fitness and/or even useable concepts of the same. Some might even go so far as to argue that the human species is a bacterial technology, or extended phenotype.

umbrarchist said...

Ontology is too complicated for me. I'll stick to physics.

CNu said...

Quantum mechanics is too complicated for you, and it's physics too, right?

umbrarchist said...

LOL


Quantum mechanics is up there with ontology. I can afford an oscilloscope but super colliders are beyond my budget.

umbrarchist said...

For what function?

rembom said...

Heat tolerant mesh.

umbrarchist said...

I would expect stainless would be better to avoid corrosion and other chemical reactions. But I do not see the point of the question.

rembom said...

umbra; Physics will only take you so far, either here, or on the other side of the galaxy. Where does creativity fit into a purely rational universe? What's the difference between a cell that's alive, and one that isn't? Even within physics, the math requires axioms. How can you tell a "good" axiom from a "bad" one? These are all more the domain of metaphysics than physics. Entheogens, a popular topic 'round these parts, have been known to shed light on metaphysics and on physics. That's where the stainless/brass wire mesh comes in.

CNu said...

rotflmbao....., smdh - didn't see that one coming!

rembom said...

umbra: In your reading lists, is there any poetry?

CNu said...

I think I saw plenty of it in the sci-fi reading list, but to be quite frank - poetry is an archaic, pre-subjective psychological artifact for which I personally have scant little use. Was teasing the children mercilessly last night by posing the questions: what is music? and what is art? - so of course this topic came up.