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The Evolution and Evolvability of Culture

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In this paper I argue, first, that human lifeways depend on cognitive capital that has typically been built over many generations. This process of gradual accumulation produces an adaptive fit between human agents and their environments; an adaptive fit that is the result of hidden‐hand, evolutionary mechanisms. To explain distinctive features of human life, we need to understand how cultures evolve. Second, I distinguish a range of different evolutionary models of culture. Third, I argue that none of meme‐based models, dual inheritance models, nor Boyd and Richerson's models fully succeed in explaining this adaptive fit between agent and the world. I then briefly develop an alternative. Finally, I explore (in a preliminary way) constraints on cultural adaptation. The processes of cultural evolution sometimes built a fit between agents and their environment, but they do not always do so. Why is folk medicine, for example, so much less reliable than folk natural history?

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2006-04-01

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