Blute Blog

Blute's blog about evolutionary theory: biological, sociocultural and gene-culture.

Archive for April 2010

Are humans still evolving genetically?

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Some have provided theoretical and empirical reasons for believing not only that human populations continue to evolve genetically, but they are doing so at even higher rates than once was the case. Mark Stoneking has provided an interesting commentary bearing on this in a post on “On the Human” titled “Does culture prevent or drive human evolution?” My attention was drawn to this by the Semiotix Bulletin.

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Written by Marion Blute

April 20, 2010 at 3:45 am

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Lamarckian what?

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Lamarckian is an adjective which requires a noun after it. The next time you hear or read something is “Lamarckian” ask (at least yourself), “Lamarckian what?” Lamarckian inheritance is no problem. If a cell doubles in size and divides once, no matter how the material is distributed among the two offspring cells, fifty percent of that material was acquired rather than inherited by the parent. So the inheritance of acquired characteristics is ubiquitous. Lamarckian evolution however is a different matter. The preferential inheritance of acquired adaptations over acquired maladaptations, if true, would be a miracle – the kind of thing Daniel Dennett called a skyhook rather than a crane.

The same thing is true socioculturally. An individual may learn something from their own experience, by trial and error for example, and it may be passed on by social learning. But that is no reason to believe that it is therefore likely to spread preferentially socioculturally. A colleague once pointed out in conversation that masturbation and nose-picking may be rewarding in some cases but are hardly likely to become social norms. The fact of the matter is that sociocultural innovations, whether inherited or acquired, are no more likely statistically to be biased in the direction required for them to succeed than are biological innovations. Most fail – whether we are talking about citations to scientific publications, the utilization of patents, the marketing of new products, or the founding of new businesses. Sociocultural evolution is Darwinian rather than Lamarckian.

Written by Marion Blute

April 6, 2010 at 2:36 pm

Recent and forthcoming books on cultural, social, technological and economic evolution worth reading

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On the Origin of Societies by Natural Selection, by Jonathan H. Turner and Alexandra Maryanski. Paradigm Publishers, 2009.

Turner and Maryanski propose a Darwinian biological theory of the evolution of human nature from our origins as mammals, primates and apes; a Spencerian sociocultural theory of the evolution of human societies through hunting and gathering, horticultural, agrarian, industrial and post-industrial types; and see five effects of the former on the latter in our individualism, sense of self, propensity for mobility, sense of community and a system of hierarchy.

The Theory of Cultural and Social Selection, by Walter G. Runciman. Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Runciman proposes a general theory of human behavioural evolution which argues that collective human behaviour patterns are the outwardly observable expression of information affecting phenotypes transmitted at three separate but interacting levels of heritable variation and competitive selection – the biological, cultural and social.

The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves, by W. Brian Arthur. Free Press, 2009.

Arthur proposes a general evolutionary theory of technology (defined as a device, method or process) which argues that all technologies are combinations of elements which are themselves technologies and which capture (natural) phenomena to some purpose.

Darwinian Populations and Natural Selection, by Peter Godfrey-Smith. Oxford University Press, 2009.

Godfrey-Smith’s book is a deep meditation by a philosopher on the foundations of evolutionary theory both verbal (in the text) and mathematical (in the appendix) which leads to a more general version of the famous Price equation. (See also Kerr & Godfrey-Smith, 2009). The last chapter applies these reflections and formulation to cultural evolution.

Pattern and Process in Cultural Evolution, edited by Stephen Shennan. University of California Press, 2009.

A long-in-coming eclectic collection of cultural evolutionary articles, mostly on archaeology, based on a conference held in the U.K. in 2005.

Darwin’s Conjecture: The Search for General Principles of Social and Economic Evolution, by Geoffrey M. Hodgson and Thørbjorn Knudsen. Forthcoming, University of Chicago Press, 2010.

Sociology: A Biosocial Introduction, by Rosemary L. Hopcroft, Paradigm Publishers, 2010.

An introductory text in sociology which combines biological predispositions with more traditional sociological analysis.