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Understanding cultural Evolution

Understanding cultural Evolution

Claes Andersson


Insite Project

April 02, 2013


  1. Chalmers University of Technology University of Technology

  2. Chalmers University of Technology Understanding cultural evolution 1. The tempo

    and mode of paleolithic cultural evolution 2. Current theory 3. A new synthetic Evolutionary Developmental” approach 4. A brief illustrating example
  3. Chalmers University of Technology The overall tempo and mode of

    paleolithic cultural evolution The empirical view of paleolithic cultural and biological evolution has been considerably elaborated over the past decades Old theoretical approaches have come to fit worse and worse. No clear replacement has emerged Let us begin by visualizing this evolutionary history
  4. Chalmers University of Technology

  5. Chalmers University of Technology

  6. Chalmers University of Technology

  7. Chalmers University of Technology

  8. Chalmers University of Technology Theory today – the main picture

    Two forces acting on culture are represented: 1. Hominid physiology, in particular cognition 2. The environment as a source of energy, risk, etc. Culture is seen as a particularly powerful phenotypic feature of hominids for adapting to the environment As such, it is seen as highly adaptive: uniquely adaptive in the realm of behavioral responses in nature.
  9. Chalmers University of Technology What does this predict? It certainly

    could predict the first ”simple view” With some tweaking it could fit in with variability within some certain range also. The strain however increases considerably if we consider also the ”false starts” One central question is: if culture is adaptive – even hugely adaptive – how could there ever be a persistent untapped potential for culture?
  10. Chalmers University of Technology The Upper Paleolithic (~50k): Humans become

    much more like we imagine ourselves to be But Homo Sapiens appears already 200ky ago... A mutation that doesn’t leave traces in skeletal remains? Attractive but... What about all those burial rites, ornaments, microlithic tools, bone tools and so on in Africa in the 150ky before? What about the first Australians? They didn’t arrive with this UP ”package”
  11. Chalmers University of Technology This quality of punctuated equilibria has

    of course been noted for quite some time in evolutionary biology Lately the issue of ”culture getting stuck” and undergoing revolutions has also come to the fore in the study of modern society. Culture today is indeed producing both violent change and prolonged stasis (often when we don’t want it) In both cases it is ”the system” in a holistic sense that is implicated.
  12. Chalmers University of Technology It seems that evolutionary systems in

    general don’t behave quite the way that has been suspected! The neo-Darwinian view of organic evolution and similar reductionist views of society have been challenged Challenging it also for cultural evolution in the deep past... ...could present an interesting mix between organic evolution, innovation and ecology
  13. Chalmers University of Technology Recently we proposed an evolutionary developmental

    approach to hominid cultural evolution What we are proposing begins from something that at least most people in this room probably take for granted: Societies have an internal structure that mediates its own processes of change We are here focusing on the long, long time scales of the paleolithic – but the models that follow are more generally applicable.
  14. Chalmers University of Technology

  15. Chalmers University of Technology Some concepts and models We have

    started by combining and customizing concepts from a number of models to begin producing a more complete picture. The elements: 1. ”Exaptive bootstrapping” (D. Lane et al) 2. Generative entrenchment (W. Wimsatt et al) 3. Multi-Level Perspective (F. Geels et al)
  16. Chalmers University of Technology Exaptive bootstrapping

  17. Chalmers University of Technology Generative Entrenchment

  18. Chalmers University of Technology Multi-Level Perspective

  19. Chalmers University of Technology Brief example The transition from the

    Middle- to the Upper Paleolithic (MP-UP) The demise of the Neanderthals and the rise of humans with rich and flexible societies – with art, music and so on more universally present. In short – what has been termed ”behavioral modernity”
  20. Chalmers University of Technology What if... Neanderthals were locked-in? (culturally

    and ecologically) Low carrying capacity on high latitudes forcing small groups and low population density Did they get stuck specializing heavily on the best yielding resource? That is, large game hunting.
  21. Chalmers University of Technology Having followed a certain path of

    specialization to the end of the road... was there nowhere to go? We should note that no other species has broken out of a top-predator niche! Ecologically it’s unheard of... Division of labor would be limited in small groups; the risk of diverting attention to other pursuits (abundant but hard-to-catch small game) may have been tremendous. Yet without tapping into them and retaining their large game specialization – there was no way to increase the carrying capacity.
  22. Chalmers University of Technology But in Africa and the Levant

    On lower latitudes, diversity and biomass density is higher. The African and Levantine Middle Stone Age is also much more dynamic than the MP in Europe Say that local conditions at some point conspired to make a decisive break-out possible... Larger groups  division of labor  broader resource base  ... We may here see a shift to an open-ended bootstrapping process
  23. Chalmers University of Technology Innovations that broadened the resource base

    would increase population pressure. Compress the area available – and make narrower strategies unsustainable. Once a new standard has established itself, the process can start over again, and again... Even if it couldn’t start in Europe – such a broad strategy may have been no less successful there once established! The Neanderthals could have been smarter than us – it wouldn’t have helped them
  24. Chalmers University of Technology Was it a new form of

    societal organization that emerged?