Re: Social Evolution

Stephanie Wilson (swilson@BIGCAT.MISSOURI.EDU)
Fri, 20 May 1994 16:50:11 -0500

The analogy of biological evolution to cultural evolution being discussed
is not a true correlation. This discussion came up several months ago
and someone (Mike Leiber?) mentioned that a closer analogy is not to
Darwinian Biological Evolution, but to Lamarkian Evolution. This
difference is that Lamark thought that new traits came about from active
changes in behavior, meaning that if there was a need for a
more-resistant gene to flu (because of a new flu epidemic), it
would/could appear in an individual and thus could be passed on to the
next generation.

In terms of cultural evolution, someone could make the
connection between disease and poor sanitation, could then change the
culture's/society's sanitation practices (clean the sewers), and help
prevent the spread of a disease. If this connection and/or practice is
taught to others, it could represent reproduction of the idea, but in a
Lamarkian way: to more than one person, more than one lineage, and
potentially more than one culture. Note that the connection (poor
sanitation = disease) and the practice (clean the sewers) do not both
have to be passed on (taught). There is a potential break between the
"genotype" and the "phenotype" (How oft?1;2cen have you been told to do
something without anyone explaining why it is necessary?).

In terms of the Beta example, the marketing strategy of the VCR producers
was better than that of Beta producers. They, in effect, taught people
to want their product more than the competition's product, even thought
the competition may have had a better quality product. In this case, the
"gene" for the technology (Beta/VCR) may have been "linked" to another
"gene" for marketing strategy. In other words, they could have "been on
the same chromosome"? Thus, the technology linked to the stronger
marketing strategy would prevail.

The Beta example could also be looked at in terms of genetic drift
or chance. New mutations occur all the time, and
some of these are actually beneficial. But the beneficial "genes"
may be linked to non-beneficial or, at least, less commpetitive "genes".
For example, a sqirrel may have a new
mutation in its genes to let it digest nuts more efficiently, but if
that same squirrel is hit by a passing car...obviously, the gene will not
be passed down the generational ladder.

Of course, the analogy could be elborated on further, but the real issue
is if this analogy helps us to understand cultures, history, and cultural
change any better than we did before. Otherwise, this is all an exercise
in semantics.

Stephanie Wilson