Cultural History of PaleoAsia

Scientific Research on Innovative Areas,
a MEXT Grant-in-Aid Project


B02: MIMS Mathematical Biology Seminar (Feb. 28, 2017)

Schedule: Feb. 28, 2017 15:00–16:00
Venue: Meiji University, Nakano campus, 6F 603

“Pursuing Darwin’s curious parallel: prospects for an evolutionary science of human culture”

Alex Mesoudi
Cultural Evolution, Human Biological and Cultural Evolution Group Department of Biosciences, College of Life and Environmental Sciences University of Exeter (Cornwall Campus)

In the last few decades, scholars from several disciplines have pursued the curious parallel noted by Darwin between the genetic evolution of species and the cultural evolution of beliefs, skills, knowledge, languages, institutions and other forms of socially transmitted information. In this talk I review current progress in the pursuit of an evolutionary science of culture that is both grounded in biological and evolutionary theory, but also treats culture as more than a proximate mechanism that is ultimately controlled by genes. Both genetic and cultural evolution can be described as systems of inherited variation that changes over time in response to processes such as selection, migration and drift. Appropriate differences between genetic and cultural change are taken seriously, such as the possibility in the latter of non-random guided variation or transformation, blending inheritance, and one-to-many transmission. The foundation of cultural evolution was laid in the latter part of the 20th century with population-genetic-style models of cultural microevolution, and the use of phylogenetic methods to reconstruct cultural macroevolution. Since then there have been major efforts to understand the socio-cognitive mechanisms underlying cumulative cultural evolution, the consequences of demography on cultural evolution, the empirical validity of assumed social learning biases, the relative role of transformative and selective processes, and the use of quantitative phylogenetic and multi-level selection models to understand past and present dynamics of society-level change. I conclude by highlighting the interdisciplinary challenges of studying cultural evolution, including its relation to the traditional social sciences and humanities.