Week 10 Reading A

Week 10 Reading A - Hum Nat(2008 19:119137 DOI...

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Five Misunderstandings About Cultural Evolution Joseph Henrich & Robert Boyd & Peter J. Richerson Published online: 19 April 2008 # Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2008 Abstract Recent debates about memetics have revealed some widespread mis- understandings about Darwinian approaches to cultural evolution. Drawing from these debates, this paper disputes five common claims: (1) mental representations are rarely discrete, and therefore models that assume discrete, gene-like particles (i.e., replicators) are useless; (2) replicators are necessary for cumulative, adaptive evolution; (3) content-dependent psychological biases are the only important processes that affect the spread of cultural representations; (4) the cultural fitness of a mental representation can be inferred from its successful transmission; and (5) selective forces only matter if the sources of variation are random. We close by sketching the outlines of a unified evolutionary science of culture. Keywords Dual inheritance theory . Memes . Cultural evolution . Epidemiology of representations . Cultural transmission . Replicators Recent debates about the utility of memes have revealed some fundamental misunderstandings about the nature of cultural evolution. Memeticists and their many critics seem to share the view that evolutionary principles can only be applied to cultural evolution if culture can be thought of as arising from the transmission of Hum Nat (2008) 19:119 137 DOI 10.1007/s12110-008-9037-1 J. Henrich ( * ) Departments of Psychology and Economics, University of British Columbia, 2136 West Mall, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4, Canada e-mail: [email protected] R. Boyd Department of Anthropology, University of California-Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA e-mail: [email protected] P. J. Richerson Department of Environmental Science and Policy, University of California-Davis, One Shields Ave, Davis, CA 95616, USA
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gene-like replicators (Atran 2001 ; Blackmore 1999 ; Dennett 1995 ). The memeticists believe that such particles (or at least close approximations) exist, and thus Darwinian reasoning which has proven so useful in biology can be applied to culture. Their critics argue that replicating particles do not exist, and therefore, that it is inappropriate to apply Darwinian ideas to culture. While we think that culture is clearly a Darwinian process (Mesoudi et al. 2004 , 2006b ), we argue that both camps have been misguided by an overly enthusiastic analogy between genes and culture. Because much of culture can be understood in the most general sense as information stored in human brains information that got into those brains by various mechanisms of social learning we think that population-dynamic concepts and evolutionary models are extremely useful for understanding how such processes work. But, and this is a big but, we maintain that constructing appropriate models of cultural evolution demands that close attention be paid to the psychological and social processes involved. From this broader approach, both the memeticists and
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This note was uploaded on 11/09/2010 for the course ANTHRO 111456202 taught by Professor Josephmanson during the Spring '10 term at UCLA.

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Week 10 Reading A - Hum Nat(2008 19:119137 DOI...

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