Feedback on third post-class prompt

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ShawnMiller
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Feedback on third post-class prompt

Postby ShawnMiller » Tue Sep 01, 2015 10:08 am

I will provide each of you with feedback via email on the third post-class prompt by tomorrow. In the meantime, I recommend reading over each others' answers in that forum to get a sense of what some of the possible answers were. I have pasted two answers below that were particularly good (if your answer isn't among them that doesn't mean yours wasn't also particularly good; I just didn't want to send more than two).

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Sober contends that "culture" and "biology" are falsely dichotomized, because some students of cultural evolution assume that biological evolutions is by nature a stronger, more controlling, or perhaps faster-acting force than cultural evolution. He arrives at his conclusion in light of evidence to the contrary. For example, cultural and biological evolution occur on different time scales, so that while biological evolutionary processes may be shaping the morphology and behaviour of a population, cultural evolution can occur over time spans shorter than one generation (the unit of time most relevant for biological evolution), and thus alter individuals and populations faster. Another example is that the drop in the Italian birth rate cannot be explained alone by Darwinian natural selection, and a classical definition of fitness ("having babies.) Sober's contention is related to Griesemer's opinion of proximate and ultimate explanations of biological or cultural phenomena because he too believes that "how" and "why" are not necessarily separate questions. In complex evolutionary processes, there are bound to many interacting factors that do not always push in a given direction. This is all based on the complex nature of "fitness": even in the biological definition of fitness, reproduction and survival work both with each other and against each other. An organism must survive long enough to reproduce successfully, but pouring too many resources into survival may take time and resources away from efforts to reproduce. Fitness in the human context is even more complex, because of the complex human life history, social structure, and because western, industrialized humans are often ecologically liberated (they always have enough food and water). Both authors seem to think that when we talk about "evolution" today (particularly in the context of cultural evolution) we do not mean the simple system which Darwin described (natural selection) but a much more complex process of change that varies considerably based on context.

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Leading up to the quoted passage, Sober talks about time’s role in the assessment of relative importance of types of evolution. He says, “Culture is often a more powerful determiner of change than biological evolution because cultural changes faster”. When he says that there is a false idea that the social sciences investigate the weaker influence, he means that we’re not looking at biology and culture in the right framework (time). While (macro)evolution of the biological sort might take generations for a population change to occur, cultural evolution can do similar work. The effects of cultural evolution might be genetic or nongenetic, taking into account the importance of oblique transmission. The “confusion” is that biology captures all the “fundamental” information, while the models would say that the culture makes an important contribution too. To some extent this is because selection is not limited to the genome or just biology, but includes the social environment as well.

Sober and Griesemer have related arguments most simply in that both call on Dobzhansky’s saying in conclusions and suggest that the biological view has been given too much emphasis. In Sober’s case, it is even too strong a claim to say that the social sciences do not make sense in light of models of cultural evolution. The models do not point to the source of transmission that social scientists normally talk about, but they do point out that there is a problem in evolution science (both cultural and biological). He says, “It isn’t that biologists and the social scientists are in conflict; rather, they are talking past each other.” This is very similar to Grisemer’s discussion of “how” and “why” questions in that rather than solutions being either one or the other, both should play a role. The simple systems that “how” questions tend to find success in answering ignore the complexities that “why” questions are more likely answer. The social sciences are like the ignored and compartmentalized “why” questions.

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