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Because of the rapidity with which this transformation can take place in the case of cultural elements, it may be impossible to ascertain whether a present day cultural element is in the process of creating a new world in which it is adaptive, or whether it is something destined to die out in short order because of its lack of fit in the present world. Of course, we might also ask whether the survival of genes per se will prove crucial in some distant and impossible to glimpse future. Suppose self-assembling and self-reproducing machines — such as von Neumann imagined many years ago — became the more important carriers of culture, making genes per se obsolete or at least secondary, as some science fiction might suppose.

Ostrom, Elinor. Do institutions for collective action evolve?

Stefan Collini, Defending Cultural Criticism, NLR 18, November–December

Urban, Greg. Ritual wailing in Amerindian Brazil. American Anthropologist 90 2 Austin: University of Texas Press. Metaculture: How Culture Moves through the World. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press. Metasignaling and language origins.

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American Anthropologist 1 : A method for measuring the motion of culture. The Theory of Self-reproducing Automata, A. Urbana, IL: Univ. Wilson, David Sloan and John Gowdy.


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Evolution as a general theoretical framework for economics and public policy. Curriculum Vitae. Peter Turchin is an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Connecticut who works in the field of historical social science that he and his colleagues call Cliodynamics. His research interests lie at the intersection of social and cultural evolution, historical macrosociology, economic history and cliometrics, mathematical modeling of long-term social processes, and the construction and analysis of historical databases.

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Currently he investigates a set of broad and interrelated questions. How do human societies evolve? In particular, what processes explain the evolution of ultrasociality—our capacity to cooperate in huge anonymous societies of millions? Why do we see such a staggering degree of inequality in economic performance and effectiveness of governance among nations?

Turchin uses the theoretical framework of cultural multilevel selection to address these questions. Currently his main research effort is directed at coordinating the Seshat Databank project , which builds a massive historical database of cultural evolution that will enable us to empirically test theoretical predictions coming from various social evolution theories. Turchin has authored seven books. Greg, there is some parallelism between your forces of cultural motion and the forces of cultural evolution as proposed by Richerson and Boyd e.

Thus, 1 inertia is essentially one of Darwinian postulates, that cultural variation is heritable. Another way of thinking about it is that when we write a dynamic equation for cultural evolution, we start with the null model, that the rate of change of the frequency of a cultural trait is zero, and then add terms corresponding to various forces.

On the other hand, your list misses such forces discussed by Richerson and Boyd as cultural drift and natural selection.

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Having interacted with Rob Boyd recently, I believe he and I agree substantially on our understanding of the forces at work on the motion of culture. I will take a preliminary stab here at the comparison, trying especially to note a few differences. Regarding cultural inertia, yes, the basic Darwinian idea of heritability makes sense translated into the realm of social transmission. An additional distinction I made in my book, Metaculture, is between existential and habitual forms of inertia.

The former is the culture that is already there to be acquired — like the language spoken in the family in which you grow up.

Habitual inertia, as the name suggests, results from repetition of embodied patterns or practices, including paralinguistic features such as give rise to accents when a new language is learned. Habitual inertia is what typically resists change.

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Another small, but not insignificant, difference is my relatively greater emphasis on the publicly accessible or sensible objects — including sounds, behaviors, material items, and the like even other human bodies — as the vehicles through which transmission and replication take place. By entropic force, I am trying to emphasize again the vehicles or object forms through which culture is transmitted and to underscore the tendency of those forms to get disorganized in the transmission process. This is a bit different from the Sewall Wright small population notion of genetic drift.

So drift in this sense has a directionality. Again, the difference is in the emphasis I give to interest as a force attracting people to the vehicles or forms through which culture is transmitted, as when one wants to listen over and over again to a song until the interest is exhausted or one wants to copy a clothing style until it feels out of date. Interest is also a force behind the movement of people through space, as, for example, pilgrimages to religious sites, tourism, migration, etc. Additionally, in my view, interest can have a negative value, as when one is repulsed by something, gets sick of hearing a particular song, and so forth.

In this way, interest is a force tending to increase or decrease the rates of interaction with the forms or vehicles through which culture is transmitted. By metacultural force, I mean the force exerted on culture by other culture that reflects upon it or points to it — such as advertisements picking out products or film reviews criticizing films or linguistic preservation ideologies contributing to the survival of languages. Metaculture in this sense tends to accelerate or retard the motion of other culture.

Simultaneously, metaculture is itself culture moving through the world. There have also been widespread metacultural emphases on tradition — accuracy in the replication of culture — and also, especially in the modern world, metacultural emphases on newness, which encourage people to change or reshape extant culture. This is an important theme of my book.

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Does it also fit guided transmission? What about natural selection, though? I will have to do more thinking and reading in Boyd and Richerson and others about this. My current understanding is inadequate. The cultural element here exercises a negative effect on the biology of the population carrying it, which in turn affects the spread of the cultural belief.

At the same time, we can imagine situations in which the negative biological effect might add force to the motion of the cultural belief rather than retarding it, as, for example, in the death of Jesus Christ adding circulatory force to the belief that he ascended into heaven rather than detracting from it, and contributing to generations of martyrs, whose deaths only furthered the spread of the belief. From this point of view, the effect of natural selection is not directly on the belief, but on portions of the population carrying the belief.

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More generally, I am not certain that we can adequately distinguish selection as a force independent of the other forces I mentioned, especially interest. We can say that the bow and arrow, as a cultural invention, gave an adaptive advantage to those who carried the trait, and so rapidly spread. Populations adopting the trait were more likely to prosper biologically. At the same time, it seems obvious that the bow and arrow, as cultural element, would have spread through the force of interest.

The mechanism would not have been identical to the one posited for natural selection, where a random change gets passed on passively, so to speak, through the blind operation of survival. The spread of the bow and arrow as cultural element would have take place actively; people would be attracted to its perceived or felt utility to them. Request this item to view in the Library's reading rooms using your library card. To learn more about how to request items watch this short online video. You can view this on the NLA website. Login Register. Advanced search Search history.

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