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Models of Cultural Evolution

  • Elliott Sober
Part of the Australasian Studies in History and Philosophy of Science book series (AUST, volume 11)

Abstract

At least since the time of Darwin, there has been a tradition of borrowing between evolutionary theory and the social sciences. Darwin himself owed a debt to the Scottish economists who showed him how order can be produced without conscious design. Adam Smith thought that socially beneficial characteristics can emerge in a society as if by an “invisible hand;” though each individual acts only in his or her narrow self-interest, the result, Smith thought, would be a society of order, harmony, and prosperity. The kind of theory Darwin aimed at — in which fitness improves in a population without any conscious guidance — found a suggestive precedent in the social sciences.

Keywords

Natural Selection Genetic Mode Cultural Evolution Demographic Transition Cultural Transmission 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 2.
    John Maynard Smith (1982), Evolution and the Theory of Games, Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 3.
    L. Cavalli-Sforza and M. Feldman (1981), Cultural Transmission and Evolution: A Quantitative Approach, Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    R. Boyd and P. Richerson (1985), Culture and the Evolutionary Process, University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    “Having babies” should be interpreted broadly, so as to include “having grandbabies”, “having greatgrandbabies”, etc. In some selection models (e.g., Fisher’s sex ratio argument), fitness differences require that one consider expected numbers of descendants beyond the first generation.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    See R. Colwell and M. King (1983), “Disentangling Genetic and Cultural Influences on Human Behaviour: Problems and Prospects,” in D. Rajecki (ed.), Comparing Behavior: Studying Man Studying Animals, Lawrence Erlbaum Publishers.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    These are reviewed in J. Hirshliefer (1977), “Economics from a Biological Viewpoint,” Journal of Law and Economics 1:1–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 8.
    See K. Popper (1973), Objective Knowledge, Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    A variety of “selective-retention” models of learning arid of scientific change are reviewed in Donald Campbell (1974), “Evolutionary Epis-temology,” in P. Schilpp (ed.), The Philosophy of Karl Popper, Open Court Publishing.Google Scholar
  9. 9a.
    David Hull’s Science as a Process (University of Chicago Press, 1988) develops some interesting ideas about how evolutionary ideas can be used to explain scientific change.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    I do not claim that this taxonomy is exhaustive. For example, the spread of an infectious disease may be thought of as a selection process, in which the two states of an individual (“infected” and “not infected”) differ in how catching they are. Clearly, this is not a type I process. Arguably, the concept of learning does not permit this process to be placed in type II. Perhaps the taxonomy would be exhaustive, if “learning” were replaced by “phenotypic resemblance not mediated by genetic resemblance.”Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    The description of type III models, in which fitness is measured by “having students,” is due to Peter Richerson.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    See, for example, Richard Alexander (1979), Darwinism and Human Affairs, University of Washington Press.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    See D. Lack (1954), The Optimal Regulation of Animal Numbers, Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    E. Wilson (1975), Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    See E. Sober (1988), “What is Evolutionary Altruism?” New Essays on Philosophy and Biology (Canadian Journal of Philosophy Supplementary Volume 14), University of Calgary Press.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    See L. Cavalli-Sforza and M. Feldman, (1988), “What is Evolutionary Altruism?” New Essays on Philosophy and Biology (Canadian Journal of Philosophy Supplementary Volume 14), pp. 255–66.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    The difference between directed and undirected variation is conceptually different from the difference between biased and unbiased transmission. The former concerns the probability that a mutation will arise; the latter has to do with whether it will be passed along. Directed variation (mutation) can be described as follows. Let u be the probability of mutating from A to a and v be the probability of mutating from a to A. Mutation is directed if (i) u>v and (ii) u>v because w(a) > w(A), where w(X) is the fitness of X.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    See J. M. Smith (1989), Did Darwin Get it Right?, Chapman and Hall.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    See Elliott Sober (1984), The Nature of Selection, MIT Press.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    So the question about the usefulness of these models of cultural evolution to the day-to-day research of social scientists comes to this: Are social scientists good at intuitive population thinking? If they are, then their explanations will not be undermined by precise models of cultural evolution. If they are not, then social scientists should correct their explanations (and the intuitions on which they rely) by studying these models.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elliott Sober
    • 1
  1. 1.Philosophy DepartmentUniversity of WisconsinUSA

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