Cultural Adaptations in Human Space Settlement

  • Cameron M. SmithEmail author
Part of the Space and Society book series (SPSO)


Just as the human genome will be changed as it adapts to conditions beyond Earth, our second channel of adaptive capacity—culture—will also change. Indeed it has been more than a million years since biology was our main mode of adaptation; rather, since the evolution of complex cultural behaviors including complex tool use, symbolism, and language, we as a species have survived and adapted less because of our biology than despite our biology. It is behavioral flexibility that led Inuit people of the high Canadian Arctic to invent effective cold-weather clothing and to mark their broad landscapes with cairns and statuary as aids to navigation, and it is behavioral flexibility that led Australian aborigines to carve hunting territory maps directly on their hunting tools. In the same way, adapting our “ways of living’’, our cultures, to conditions new to the human experience will allow us to survive and ultimately thrive, long-term, beyond Earth. And we need not simply guess about how our cultures will change, or what parts of them will change, we can once again use the tools and insight of evolutionary processes to help us predict, or at least anticipate, cultural adaptation beyond Earth. In this chapter we use these tools to describe and evaluate the adaptive potential of some ‘Cultural Universals’, complex, nongenetically-transmitted behaviors or domains of behavior found globally in all cultures, but somewhat differing by both the cultures’ material and cultural selective environments. We may expect these—at least—to change as new environments are encountered beyond Earth, and we may productively predict some of this change so that it does not come as a shock, and even productively make recommendations about how to tailor some of our behavior in these domains to the new conditions of space settlements. At the least, this allows a structured, evolutionarily-informed approach to the obvious and fascinating—but very fuzzy and open-ended—question, ‘what will change when we go to space?’.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyPortland State UniversityPortlandUSA

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