Re: Biocultural Evolution

Mr J.M. Ottevanger (J.Ottevanger@LIVERPOOL.AC.UK)
Tue, 19 Sep 1995 13:22:49 +0100

John Giacobbe elegantly expresses his model of cultural evolution (not a rant,
in my opinion, John!). I am only puzzled by a side issue, which may be of no
importance unless one wants to push the parallels with biological evolution
unreasonably far. Nevertheless, I'll try to put the problem down here.

John said:
> There are three modes of selection;
> 1) Stabilizing selection tends to promote maintenance of the
> status quo, and functions as long as the environmental and
> cultural systems remain in equilibrium.

and I pondered on the implication that cultural traits are selected for their
fitness not just in the external environment, but in an internal one i.e. an
environment of other cultural traits. The external physical environment is of
course still important in this scheme. I presume that the biological equivalent
of this is genes being selected for or against because of their goodness-of-fit
with other genes, as well as their suitability for the external environment.
This is not surprising, because an organism must be constructed in an
integrated way. However, I wonder whether all of these internally-referential
considerations have anything to do with the external environment. Are some
cultural traits only selected because of the cultural milieu, even at the
deepest level? If so, what is the biological equivalent? Perhaps (genetically
determined) interindividual behaviour e.g. reproductive behaviour. Or is it
more likely to be intra-individual gene competition, or self-replicating
neutral DNA? Most importantly, what place does this environmentally independent
evolution take in the theory?
I don't think I've really expressed my concerns, but would be interested to
see whether people think I'm being realistic regarding the self-referential
nature of some cultural evolution, and the biological equivalent.
regards, Jeremy