Re: More Evolutionary Thoughts

Michael Thomas Carson (mcarson@HAWAII.EDU)
Sun, 10 Sep 1995 04:14:17 -1000

John Giacobbe wrote about remodeling the biological evolutionary
framework to be applicable to studying culture. Thanks, John, for
sharing your ideas, which I found to be more agreeable than most of the
evolutionary anthropology stuff I've read.

I think we can all agree that biology and culture are two different
things. Their contents, their functions, and their mechanisms of
transmission are all different. So we cannot expect to apply biological
models directly to cultural issues. A disturbing trend in anthropology
has been to try to force culture into a biological model rather than to
rework biological models to accept cultural phenomena.

As John Giacobbe stated, some of the basic concepts of evolutionary
theory can work very well to aid in the explanation of cultural
variability and change. For example, variation exists in culture.
Culture is learned, and the available variability of culture affects what
is likely to be learned. But people learn multiple things during a
single lifetime, and changes and inventions are also made during a single
lifetime. Variability in culture may even be intentionally directed.
These aspects of cultural variability and transmission ado not work at
all within a biological evolutionary model. Still, evolutionary theory
is a powerful explanatory tool in understanding how and why cultural
changes took place.

- Mike Carson