biocultural evolution

Rob Quinlan (C611417@MIZZOU1.MISSOURI.EDU)
Tue, 19 Sep 1995 12:01:14 CDT

Just thought I'd throw in a couple of comments on this interesting

I appreciate John Giacobbe's approach to this, but have at least
one misgiving. Some folks like to draw the analogy between
cultural ev. and organic ev. by comparing the change in
allele frequency over time to the change in cultural trait
frequency over time, but the comparison is not apt. The
problem is that alleles are perfect replicators (more or less)
that are inherited in particulate form from generation to
generation. That's what makes organic ev. work. Cultural
traits, on the other hand, are not perfect replicators nor
are they inherited in particulate form. I think J. Ottevanger
is right when he observes that cultural traits occur in
relation to other cultural traits. So, how does the existence
of one trait influence the success of another? Along this
line, what qualifies as a cultural trait? For example, is
an entire medical system a cultural trait? Or is a belief in
hot/cold humors a cultural trait? Or is the conception of a
particular organ (operating within the context of a hot/cold
system) a cultural trait? I don't see how you could separate
them in an analytically useful way.

One last little quip. I find coevolutionary approaches
dissatisfying, because they remove people from the analysis.
For example, in Boyd & Richarson's stuff you've got genes,
culture, and environment. Where'd the people go?
Individuals are the level where selection is strongest, because
their genes are locked together in one body (a vehicle if you like).
For me, the interesting thing about cultural ev. is the
relationship of culture to the individual. How do individuals
use culture in their struggle for existence? What are the
historical constraints of this cultural usage? And how does
this relate to culture change?

Rob Quinlan
P.S. Thanks for an interesting thread.