Re: Biocultural Evolution

Mr J.M. Ottevanger (J.Ottevanger@LIVERPOOL.AC.UK)
Thu, 21 Sep 1995 14:10:30 +0100

Dave Rindos makes some very good points and gets to the nub of my ramblings.
My posting obviously (and consciously, I think) pushed the idea of parallels
between biological and cultural evolution too far, but in the hope that the
inconsistencies thus revealed would help us view both sides in a new light.
Happily, Dave and Rob Quinlan have come up with the goods. I, like Rob, would
take issue over the "black box" approach Dave suggests; i would also have
considered (digression) that malarial resistance was a great example for the
balance school of genetics. However I would appreciate some references about
the concepts (yours?) of CS1 and CS2 foci, this sounds very interesting. As
you may realise, I have little formal background regarding cutural evolution,
or at least regarding the theory of its processes - I am more of an
evolutionary biologist - so I have some catching up to do, especially as this
seems to be where all the action is: the interface between disciplines.
Finally, to push the biological/cultural analogy too far just one last time,
the "internal parasitic classes" Dave mentions could surely be selfish memes?

Regards all,

In the last mail Dave Rindos said:
> On Tue, 19 Sep 1995, Mr J.M. Ottevanger wrote:
> >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.
> You are touching here on topic which has been of major importance in
> genetics in the past twenty plus years. The controversy between the
> 'Classical' and 'Balance' schools essentially boiled down to the question
> of whether [usually] fitness applies to a specific allele, or whether the
> genic interactions [metaphorically] take precedence, and hence that
> evolutionary fitness is better described as having a "larger," or more
> "general" focus.
> Without attempting to down-play the very real controversy which still
> exists in this discussion, I think it is fair to say that the Balance
> folks have pretty well won the game (not denying the very real HUERISTIC
> and ANALYTIC value of attributing fitness to what then become
> more or less 'theoretical' genes; and while not denying that "classical"
> genes DO exist, e.g. those inducing lactose tolerance or malarial
> resistance).
> The classic (albeit difficult) text on this dispute is Lewontin's *The
> genetic basis of evolutioanry change.* [1974] which seems to remain pretty
> robust despite the date of issue. Much of the work of Ernst Mayr, not to
> mention the highly formal work of Wright, is to the point here as well.
> The relevance of all of this, of course, is that it permits us to treat
> cultural traits in a more or less "black box" manner in terms of our
> conceptualisation of their "nature." Requiring a "real" physical "entity"
> to carry the traits (what some have named the 'meme') is unnecessary
> [again, save as a hueristic, although in culural studies it might be more
> of a hinderance than a help, at least IMVHO.]
> > 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?
> In my own work, I have recognised two FOCI of cultural selection. One
> type [perhaps unfortuanetly named] CS2 (cultural selection of the second
> kind, though I sometimes dare to refer to it as 'symbolic selection') sees
> the selective forces working pretty much WITHIN the 'symbolic ecology'
> which exists in all human socieites. This seems to speak to the point you
> are making. It should naturally form the focus for much important
> research in areas such as power-relationships and perhaps even the rise of
> "complexity" in cultures (under which conditions we seem to have the
> development of an internal parastic class which, when successful, uses as
> part of its coersion of the rest of society certain ideological tactics
> such as religion).
> CS1, in contradistiction, has more of an 'external' referant: here the
> selection acts (as in the case of agriculture mentioned in another
> thread, I HOPE on this list --- interesting how this discussion seems to
> be happening on both the anthro and arch mailing lists)... back to topic!
> Selection may be seen acting in terms of the demographic effects of the
> culturally transmitted behaviour ['fitness' in the classic sense].
> > 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 independen
> t
> > evolution take in the theory?
> As I noted at the beginning, the "biological equivalent" is easily at
> hand. However, it should probably be noted that while discussing the
> genic equivalents of the various cultural phenomena can be USEFUL, in the
> final analysis cultural processes must be understood in the OWN terms
> (except for the special case, of course, of the origin of the capacity for
> culture in humans when we seek to understand the "rise" of the cultural
> inhertance system from a substrate of more genetically determined
> behavioural system).
> Dave