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 International Conference on Complex Systems (ICCS2007)

Evolving Cultures

Dwight Read

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     Last modified: December 31, 1969

Trait transmission in Darwinian evolution has now been expanded to include one individual imitating or learning from the behavior of another individual. This suggests that since cultural phenomena are transmitted through social learning, cultural evolution could profitably be placed under the umbrella of Darwinian evolution. By defining traits to be cultural through the means of transmission, rather than through what is transmitted, culture would no longer be a phenomenon unique to humans. Yet there is an enormous disparity between the culture that is the subject of ethnographies and ''culture'' defined through mode of transmission. Though the disparity is sometimes hidden behind rhetoric (on both sides) that is more ideological than substantive, the disparity is real and serious. In this talk I consider two examples, one due to the anthropologist Clifford Geertz and the other based on my research on the structure of kinship terminologies (kinship terminologies are the quintessence of what is meant by culture) that make evident the depth and seriousness of the disparity. The kinship example forces reconsideration of what constitutes cultural evolution and makes it evident that cultural evolution is not simply Darwinian evolution writ large.

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