A (Simple) Experimental Demonstration that Cultural Evolution is not Replicative, but Reconstructive — and an Explanation of Why this Difference Matters

in Journal of Cognition and Culture
Restricted Access
Get Access to Full Text
Rent on DeepDyve

Have an Access Token?



Enter your access token to activate and access content online.

Please login and go to your personal user account to enter your access token.



Help

Have Institutional Access?



Access content through your institution. Any other coaching guidance?



Connect

Two complementary approaches to a naturalistic theory of culture are, on the one hand, mainstream cultural evolution research, and, on the other, work done under the banners of cultural attraction and the epidemiology of representations. There is much agreement between these two schools of thought, including in particular a commitment to population thinking. Both schools also acknowledge that the propagation of culture is not simply a matter of replication, but rather one of reconstruction. However, the two schools of thought differ on the relative importance of this point. The cultural attraction school believes it to be fundamental to genuinely causal explanations of culture. In contrast, most mainstream cultural evolution thinking abstracts away from it. In this paper I make flesh a simple thought experiment (first proposed by Dan Sperber) that directly contrasts the effects that replication and reconstruction have on cultural items. Results demonstrate, in a simple and graphic way, that (i) normal cultural propagation is not replicative, but reconstructive, and (ii) that these two different modes of propagation afford two qualitatively different explanations of stability. If propagation is replicative, as it is in biology, then stability arises from the fidelity of that replication, and hence an explanation of stability comes from an explanation of how and why this high-fidelity is achieved. If, on the other hand, propagation is reconstructive (as it is in culture), then stability arises from the fact that a subclass of cultural types are easily re-producible, while others are not, and hence an explanation of stability comes from a description of what types are easily re-producible, and an explanation of why they are. I discuss two implications of this result for research at the intersection of evolution, cognition, and culture.

A (Simple) Experimental Demonstration that Cultural Evolution is not Replicative, but Reconstructive — and an Explanation of Why this Difference Matters

in Journal of Cognition and Culture

Sections

References

  • AcerbiA.MesoudiA. If we are all cultural Darwinians what’s the fuss about? Clarifying recent disagreements in the field of cultural evolution Biology and Philosophy 2015 30 481 503

  • AtranS. The trouble with memes Human Nature 2001 12 351 381

  • BoudryM.BlanckeS.PigliucciM. What makes weird beliefs thrive? The epidemiology of pseudoscience Philosophical Psychology 2015 28 1177 1198

  • BoydR.RichersonP. Culture and the Evolutionary Process 1985 Chicago, IL University of Chicago Press

  • BoyerP. Cognitive tracks of cultural inheritance: How evolved intuitive ontology governs cultural transmission American Anthropologist 1998 100 876 889

  • BoyerP.PetersenM. The naturalness of (many) social institutions: Evolved cognition as their foundation Journal of Institutional Economics 2012 8 1 25

  • ChristiansenM. H.ChaterN. Language as shaped by the brain Behavioral and Brain Sciences 2008 31 489 509

  • ClaidièreN.AndréJ. B. The transmission of genes and culture: A questionable analogy Evolutionary Biology 2012 39 1 12 24

  • ClaidièreN.SperberD. The role of attraction in cultural evolution Journal of Cognition and Culture 2007 7 89 111

  • ClaidièreN.SperberD. Imitation explains the propagation, not the stability of animal culture Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B: Biological Sciences 2009 277 651 659

  • ClaidièreN.Scott-PhillipsT.C.SperberD. How Darwinian is cultural evolution? Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B: Biological Sciences 2014 369 20130368

  • GriffithsT.L.KalishM. L.LewandowskyS. Theoretical and empirical evidence for the impact of inductive biases on cultural evolution Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society Series B: Biological Sciences 2008 363 3503 3514

  • GuglielminoC.R.ViganottiC.HewlettB.Cavalli-SforzaL.L. Cultural variation in Africa: Role of mechanisms of transmission and adaptation Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 1995 92 7585 7589

  • HenrichJ.BoydR. On modeling cognition and culture: Why cultural evolution does not require replication of representations Journal of Cognition and Culture 2002 2 87 112

  • HenrichJ.BoydR.RichersonP. Five misunderstandings about cultural evolution Human Nature 2008 19 119 137

  • KalishM.L.GriffithsT.L.LewandowskyS. Iterated learning: Intergenerational knowledge transmission reveals inductive biases Psychonomic Bulletin and Review 2007 14 288 294

  • KirbyS.TamarizM.CornishH.SmithK. Compression and communication in the cultural evolution of linguistic structure Cognition 2015 141 87 102

  • MesoudiA. Cultural Evolution: How Darwinian Theory Can Explain Human Culture and Synthesize the Social Sciences 2011 Chicago, IL University of Chicago Press

  • MesoudiA.WhitenA. The multiple roles of cultural transmission experiments in understanding human cultural evolution Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B: Biological Sciences 2008 363 3489 3501

  • MitonH.ClaidièreN.MercierH. Universal cognitive mechanisms explain the cultural success of bloodletting Evolution and Human Behavior 2015 36 303 312

  • MorinO. How portraits turned their eyes upon us: Visual preferences and demographic change in cultural evolution Evolution and Human Behavior 2013 34 222 229

  • Scott-PhillipsT.C. Speaking Our Minds 2014 London Palgrave Macmillan

  • SperberD. Explaining Culture 1996 Oxford Blackwell

  • SperberD. AungerR. An objection to the memetic approach to culture Darwinizing Culture: The Status of Memetics as a Science 2000 Cambridge Cambridge University Press 163 173

  • SperberD.HirschfeldL.A. The cognitive foundations of cultural stability and diversity Trends in Cognitive Sciences 2004 8 40 46

  • TamarizM.KirbyS. Culture: Copying, compression, and conventionality Cognitive Science 2014 39 171 183

  • TennieC.CallJ.TomaselloM. Ratcheting up the ratchet: On the evolution of cumulative culture Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B: Biological Sciences 2009 364 2405 2415

  • TomaselloM.KrugerA.C.RatnerH.H. Cultural learning Behavioral and Brain Sciences 1993 16 495 511

  • WhitenA.McGuiganN.Marshall-PesciniS.HopperL.M. Emulation, imitation, over-imitation and the scope of culture for child and chimpanzee Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B: Biological Sciences 2009 364 2417 2428

Figures

  • View in gallery
    Experimental stimuli. The transmission chains were seeded with one of these two images. Both images contain the same individual lines as each other. As can be seen, one image is a token of a familiar type (the first three letters of the Roman alphabet), while the other is not.
  • View in gallery
    Experimental results. Each condition had two chains, with seven generations per chain. As can be seen, only the ‘ABC’ stimuli were stable in the Reconstruction conditions. In contrast, both types of stimuli were stable in the Replication conditions. Moreover, the type of stability was different across the two different Modes of Transmission (replicates in the Replication condition; tokens of the same type in the Reconstruction condition). See the main text for discussion of the importance of these results. Note: to add legibility, many of these images have been scaled up in size. Please contact the author for the original scans.

Index Card

Content Metrics

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 82 80 5
Full Text Views 172 172 6
PDF Downloads 22 22 3
EPUB Downloads 9 9 0