Aug. 31: No reading, open thread (required)

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Aug. 31: No reading, open thread (required)

Postby ShawnMiller » Wed Aug 26, 2015 12:15 pm

Please post a question or comment as it relates to any aspect of cultural evolution discussed in class or otherwise. If you are stumped or feel you have nothing to say, try finding an article online that addresses cultural evolution broadly construed and analyze that. Or you can detail some particular way in which cultural evolution has played a role in your life or that of your family. Think of this as an open thread.

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twilliams
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Re: Aug. 31: No reading, open thread (required)

Postby twilliams » Fri Aug 28, 2015 6:04 pm

I have to admit that I have taken cultural evolution more seriously this week. Before I thought of it as a very silly concept to try and compare culture as to something "evolving." I usually just simplified it as something as "what's popular now won't be in a decade and vice versa. So what?" But when it was brought up how women were having less babies due to change in culture, it hit me that cultural evolution has the potential of having a profound impact on the evolution of our species. It's actually kind of frightening. I mentioned in the CRISPR forum that putting us in the driver seat of our evolution can negatively impact us as a species because that is a massive responsibility that I do not think we can collectively wield responsibly. Depending on what particular aspects of our culture evolve, the same thing applies here. I don't think it's a *problem*; I mean, cultural evolution has been a thing before recorded history and we haven't managed to screw up anything massively (we have made mistakes, certainly, but nothing irreparable). The closest thing that could have been a permanent mistake was nuclear war with the USSR, but that didn't happen thankfully. But this has got me thinking that maybe I should be weary of what sorts of thing I support in society and what I do not; the whole butterfly effect thing. Because some "memes" certainly have developed that do not enhance our fitness...

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Re: Aug. 31: No reading, open thread (required)

Postby uwogisele » Sat Aug 29, 2015 12:15 pm

Sober writes, "Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman show how the cultural process can overwhelm the biological one"; Reading this, I wasn't sure what Sober means why "cultural process overwhelm biological one". By "cultural process" are we talking about cultural evolution or something else? Because the way I was thinking about this is in terms of vertical transmission and oblique transmission. And "vertical transmission doesn't overwhelm vertical transmission" from what we have seen so far. Oblique transmission further explains what vertical transmission doesn't explain, as in the example of Italian women that we have seen.

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Re: Aug. 31: No reading, open thread (required)

Postby lksalinero » Sat Aug 29, 2015 5:54 pm

As we discussed in class, one of Sober’s arguments against memetics is that it is of little value because it lacks quantitative predictive power. In other words, memetics theories of cultural evolution are not useful because they can’t explain what makes one idea more attractive/culturally fit than another and instead only serve to explain the consequences of these variations in attractiveness. I wonder if this inability to quantify a meme’s attractiveness is because the attractiveness of an idea fundamentally cannot be quantified, or because - well, because we just haven’t tried hard enough. This brings to mind marketing focus groups and movie test screenings as modern examples of attempts to quantify the attractiveness of a piece of culture.

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Re: Aug. 31: No reading, open thread (required)

Postby euriekim » Sun Aug 30, 2015 11:56 am

I didn't consider cultural evolution to be as influential as it has been until last week's discussions and video. It's fascinating to think how much cultural evolution is linked to biological evolution and how oblique transmission has as much effect as vertical transmission does. It would make sense for a person to listen and learn from their parents since they are related, but it's intriguing for a person to alter their lifestyle based on other people who have no direct relation to them.

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Re: Aug. 31: No reading, open thread (required)

Postby tschristoffel » Sun Aug 30, 2015 12:43 pm

Sober states that "A social scientist will explain incest avoidance by describing the spread of a custom; the evolutionary biologist goes deeper by showing us why the behaviour evolved." Perhaps I'm not reading closely enough, but I cannot find any examples of this in his essay. If anything, it seems that Sober has instead provided a counter example, noting that the lower fertility rates in Europe cannot be explained biologically, as it reduces the biological fitness of individuals. He goes on to state that the model which was used combined to forms of selection, but it seems that only a cultural selection process can possibly model this situation.

On the other hand, I see how evolutionary biology can explain the appearance altruism in the case Japanese military tradition, though Sober does not seem to explore group fitness in any detail.

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Re: Aug. 31: No reading, open thread (required)

Postby eugenekim » Sun Aug 30, 2015 8:15 pm

I do not consider cultural evolution to be as much as an important factor as say others have attempted to argue. Dawkin's idea of memes where ideas are impressed upon a person similar to genes does not really resonate with me. I agree more with the traditional arguments that biology holds a deeper understanding than culture does. After all, ideas do not come out of a whim, they come from a genetic outline where people's urges and desires dictate the ideas and creativity that drives humans.

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Re: Aug. 31: No reading, open thread (required)

Postby ShawnMiller » Sun Aug 30, 2015 8:32 pm

eugenekim wrote:I do not consider cultural evolution to be as much as an important factor as say others have attempted to argue. Dawkin's idea of memes where ideas are impressed upon a person similar to genes does not really resonate with me. I agree more with the traditional arguments that biology holds a deeper understanding than culture does. After all, ideas do not come out of a whim, they come from a genetic outline where people's urges and desires dictate the ideas and creativity that drives humans.

We haven't discussed Dawkins at all, so that really isn't the target. What does it mean that "biology holds a deeper understanding than culture"? Ideas that come from culture needn't be whims, and the relationship between DNA and ideas/creativity is hard to specify at this point in a way that shows anything but the most tenuous causal path.

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Re: Aug. 31: No reading, open thread (required)

Postby ShawnMiller » Sun Aug 30, 2015 8:56 pm

tschristoffel wrote:Sober states that "A social scientist will explain incest avoidance by describing the spread of a custom; the evolutionary biologist goes deeper by showing us why the behaviour evolved." Perhaps I'm not reading closely enough, but I cannot find any examples of this in his essay.

Sober is referring to the work of others on incest avoidance. In particular, he cites, R Colwell and M. King (1983), "Disentangling Genetic and Cultural Influences on Human Behaviour: Problems and Prospects," in D. Rajecki (ed.), Comparing Behavior: Studying Man Studying Animals, Lawrence Erlbaum Publishers.

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Re: Aug. 31: No reading, open thread (required)

Postby ShawnMiller » Sun Aug 30, 2015 9:05 pm

uwogisele wrote:Sober writes, "Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman show how the cultural process can overwhelm the biological one"; Reading this, I wasn't sure what Sober means why "cultural process overwhelm biological one".

The specific case this quote refers to is that of women in 19th century Italy having fewer children than previous generations. For one process to overwhelm another doesn't require that the overwhelming process is more important, just that it somehow renders the overwhelmed process inert (for a time, anyway). E.g., someone who is overwhelmed by emotion (upon hearing, say, that their spouse is leaving them or that a loved one has died) may find it difficult to speak for a short time, though the power of speech will return. A biological process/impulse (to "have babies," as Sober puts it) can be overwhelmed by a cultural one (to have smaller families).

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Re: Aug. 31: No reading, open thread (required)

Postby ShawnMiller » Sun Aug 30, 2015 9:15 pm

lksalinero wrote:As we discussed in class, one of Sober’s arguments against memetics is that it is of little value because it lacks quantitative predictive power. In other words, memetics theories of cultural evolution are not useful because they can’t explain what makes one idea more attractive/culturally fit than another and instead only serve to explain the consequences of these variations in attractiveness.

Sober doesn't argue against memetics, per se (though the authors of both books are listed by Lewens as meme advocates). His arguments against the suitability of theories of cultural evolution for social science generally aren't b/c they lack quantitative predictive power (though that is sometimes true); in fact, Sober acknowledges that "models of transmission systems describe the quantitative consequences of systems of cultural influence" (p. 33). His argument is that these models leave out the qualitative element that is important to social scientists, which is related to your point that these theories are therefore not useful.

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Re: Aug. 31: No reading, open thread (required)

Postby jjquintanilla » Sun Aug 30, 2015 9:23 pm

With regards to cultural evolution in my personal life, I have come to understand it better because of my background in history. My family and to larger extent, Honduran culture, and perhaps those of many Latin American countries, are the products of a continuous association with other nations and with the original inhabitants. In Honduras, culture is not solely one single unit that can be said to unique. Although we have a national identity, the demographics of honduras can not come to be identified as a single ethnic group. There are Asians, Middle Eastern, Spanish, Italian Jewish, Native, and African elements that all shift and congregate together to create the cultural facets that make Honduras. Hence, Honduran culture evolved as a result to the interaction of these groups over the past few centuries. This class, and specifically this section of the course, made me realize that what I viewed as Honduran culture to be unique, I now see it as the outcome of relationships between different past groups.

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Re: Aug. 31: No reading, open thread (required)

Postby Michelle Tarango » Sun Aug 30, 2015 9:43 pm

As a social science major, cultural evolution has always been stressed as an important part of human evolution in my classes. However, after the readings, class discussions, and video watched in class, I understand better the interaction between biological and cultural evolution. I found it extremely interesting that the video stated that the cultural evolution of using fire to cook food resulted in biological changes such as changes in teeth and intestinal structures.

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Re: Aug. 31: No reading, open thread (required)

Postby msnelmida » Sun Aug 30, 2015 10:54 pm

Cultural Evolution specifically culture being autonomous is a new topic for me and particularly interested on learning more about it. I had always think of culture and behavior to always involve indirectly by biological concepts such as genes and learned behaviors from a group to increase group fitness. I also learned that cultural inheritance is a heuristic process to increase fitness as well. I think I had always consider fitness to be involved with biological concepts. I do witness some behaviors that I act on entirely just based on what I was exposed from.

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Re: Aug. 31: No reading, open thread (required)

Postby KelseyBS » Mon Aug 31, 2015 12:57 am

The controversy between cultural and biological evolution has me stumped. When discussing situations in which culture and biology mix, why do people become fixated on whether the cultural or the biological components are more or less significant than the other? It really doesn't matter, does it? How would determining the difference in strength between culture and biology determine anything? How does it help us in any way? Is there a purpose to the argument that I'm not seeing???

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Re: Aug. 31: No reading, open thread (required)

Postby anjames » Mon Aug 31, 2015 1:50 am

There's one example of cultural evolution being at work in my family, but I wouldn't know how to pick it apart. My grandma once said that meekness was a favored trait when she was young. Over the years, she's seen an increase in favoring aggressive behaviors. She didn't say much about how that related to the family, except in a very short, lighthearted debate with my grandpa over who was the meek one back then (they met in high school). Really, neither really could fit either description clearly. But her perception of a trend could be based on changes in religious practices across the generations (missionaries came to the island where she grew up when she was young), or a mish-mash of her perceptions of the U.S. and Colombia, or the people marrying into the family, or changes in parenting, or aging, or movie choices... It's not entirely clear. But it does make me appreciate Griesemer's criticism to reductionism and Sober's analysis of the cultural evolution models, and social sciences in general.

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Re: Aug. 31: No reading, open thread (required)

Postby fdtran » Mon Aug 31, 2015 4:03 am

Cultural evolution has played a big role into shaping who the person that I am. Both of my parents were immigrants from Vietnam and I was raised speaking only Vietnamese. By the time I enrolled in public education, I had a very difficult time communicating with my peers and teachers. It was due the nature of oblique transmission that I gained cultural fitness to effectively communicate in multiple languages.

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Re: Aug. 31: No reading, open thread (required)

Postby pkshah » Mon Aug 31, 2015 5:17 am

Cultural evolution has influenced the development of myself and my family. In my family, having a voice or an opinion depends on the amount that you have accomplished. Typically, when people are extremely accomplished people listen to what they have to say with greater interest than those that have less credibility to their name. Usually you see this in the world at large and less so in the microcosms of families; however, because of the want for attention and credibility, many of my cousins, siblings, aunts, uncles, and parents have strived to achieve so that their voices and opinions can matter. For better or for worse, I face a similar social pressure. This pressure to be appreciated by those that are dear to you is a driving force behind success in my family. I believe this is a product of cultural evolution.

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Re: Aug. 31: No reading, open thread (required)

Postby ktoporovskaya » Mon Aug 31, 2015 8:03 am

When I immigrated to America I was able to see and feel a huge difference in the culture. It was a great experience adjusting to the new culture in school and friends but going back to my original culture at home and with the family. Though the different practices a subtle there is a lot to learn when coming in into different culture. I was lucky to come at a young age and was quickly socked up by the new culture. I noticed though, the older you are, the harder it is to adjust to new things. I watched my cousins adjust quickly as well, but my grandma and parents kept the culture all their lives. The decorations in the house, food, and other practices continued on. It seems like the longer you are amerced in your culture the longer it will stay with you even through huge environmental changes.

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Re: Aug. 31: No reading, open thread (required)

Postby eridolfi » Mon Aug 31, 2015 9:48 am

You can even experience culture differences in the united states. The town I was born in was relatively homogenized because it was small. There wasn't much ethnic diversity at all. Now that I am in Davis, I am much happier because of the diversity and it is much easier to be myself because I don't have to obey some of the societal norms present in my hometown. And as I always say, a garden with all of the flowers being the same is a really boring garden.

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Re: Aug. 31: No reading, open thread (required)

Postby ShawnMiller » Mon Aug 31, 2015 10:08 am

Michelle Tarango wrote:I found it extremely interesting that the video stated that the cultural evolution of using fire to cook food resulted in biological changes such as changes in teeth and intestinal structures.

Cooking also likely freed up a lot of time since we could consume more calorically dense foods rather than grazing on food with fewer calories. Pandas, e.g., spend a lot of time eating bamboo because they don't get a lot of nutrients from it.

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Re: Aug. 31: No reading, open thread (required)

Postby ShawnMiller » Mon Aug 31, 2015 10:15 am

KelseyBS wrote:The controversy between cultural and biological evolution has me stumped. When discussing situations in which culture and biology mix, why do people become fixated on whether the cultural or the biological components are more or less significant than the other? It really doesn't matter, does it? How would determining the difference in strength between culture and biology determine anything? How does it help us in any way? Is there a purpose to the argument that I'm not seeing???

There seem to be two issues here. The first is whether the arguments over whether culture is more {b]important[/b] than biology or vice versa are worth having. To this, someone can argue that this either/or is too simple. The second issue is whether we should care about the relative strength of cultural vs. biological influences in human evolution. This is just a straightforward scientific question that we might want to answer for any number of reasons, e.g., to explain why two populations of individuals can be so behaviorally different despite overwhelming genetic similarity (such as Northerners vs. Southerns in rates of violence). Altruistic behavior is also something that this question can help illuminate.

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Re: Aug. 31: No reading, open thread (required)

Postby ShawnMiller » Mon Aug 31, 2015 10:19 am

eridolfi wrote:You can even experience culture differences in the united states. The town I was born in was relatively homogenized because it was small. There wasn't much ethnic diversity at all. Now that I am in Davis, I am much happier because of the diversity and it is much easier to be myself because I don't have to obey some of the societal norms present in my hometown. And as I always say, a garden with all of the flowers being the same is a really boring garden.

Something else to note is that while Davis is diverse in certain respects, e.g., ethnic diversity, as you point out, in other respects it is very homogenous, e.g., in terms of affluence and (high levels of) education.

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Re: Aug. 31: No reading, open thread (required)

Postby nyonan » Mon Aug 31, 2015 11:03 am

I still think cultural evolution works on slightly different mechanisms than biological evolution. As much as people will say this and that is selected in cultural evolution, a culture is still decided by people more so than environment. I like to think of cultural evolution working with 2 mechanisms; one being like biological evolution and one being more circular that sticks with humans throughout the ages. And I believe the idea of will has a role in cultural evolution whereas it does not in biological evolution.

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Re: Aug. 31: No reading, open thread (required)

Postby SamGarcia25 » Mon Aug 31, 2015 11:16 am

On p.30 when Sober mentions genetic drift, it is concluded that these random walks will ultimately reduce variation in genetics and culture. I can see how one integrating into a new population would influence assimilation for improving fitness, but would the individual’s culture surely be lost and not somewhat spread into the new community if it increased fitness? Genetically, it makes sense that the more common traits in a homogeneous population will prevail over the rare ones, but one cannot predict the mutations and more complex consequences that may or may not occur due to genetic drift. Perhaps I misread, but this example was a bit confusing.

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Re: Aug. 31: No reading, open thread (required)

Postby herrerajen » Mon Aug 31, 2015 11:26 am

I'm interested in the concept of attractiveness in the context of cultural evolution. When discussing the Italian women that had 2 children as opposed to 5, Sober finds that "having a small family was more attractive than having a large one, even though the former trait had a lower Darwinian fitness than the latter" (p. 26).This attractive idea was also spread through horizontal and oblique transmission systems. I agree with Sober that cultural models used by Cavalli-Sfroza and Feldman do not describe why educated women in 19th c. Italy preferred smaller families, or why higher classes cascaded down to lower ones. In this train of thought I believe a sociological perspective is needed. The higher classes developed what is a 'normative' familial institution that was therefore imposed on the other classes. I think what is problematic with the concept of attractiveness is the fact that it gives everyone in a population equal power (to change a culture, to provide normative structures, etc), which in almost all societies, is not the case.

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Re: Aug. 31: No reading, open thread (required)

Postby ShawnMiller » Mon Aug 31, 2015 11:28 am

nyonan wrote:I still think cultural evolution works on slightly different mechanisms than biological evolution. As much as people will say this and that is selected in cultural evolution, a culture is still decided by people more so than environment. I like to think of cultural evolution working with 2 mechanisms; one being like biological evolution and one being more circular that sticks with humans throughout the ages. And I believe the idea of will has a role in cultural evolution whereas it does not in biological evolution.

Are people and environment distinct? Davis is a community that is comprised of a geography and a population of people. As for "will" having a role in cultural evolution but not biological evolution, what exactly does that mean? By "will," do you mean freedom to chose? It seems that culture can radically suppress freedom of choice, e.g., in cultures that oppress women by denying essential rights such as women being denied the right to vote in the U.S. until 1920. And we are able to make free choices regarding biological evolution, e.g., to breed or not to breed, who to couple with, etc.

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Postby lemacias » Mon Aug 31, 2015 11:38 am

Humanity has become disconnected from nature, as we see in the media, our economic system, even religious system, they always depict humans as this separate (or supreme) beings that everything around them happens without contemplating that we are part of that everything. Nature is in us- as Neil deGrasse Tyson said. Cultural evolution is a topic that should be mandatory and incorporated in our academics.

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Re: Aug. 31: No reading, open thread (required)

Postby sarahsilverman » Mon Aug 31, 2015 11:39 am

nyonan wrote:I still think cultural evolution works on slightly different mechanisms than biological evolution. As much as people will say this and that is selected in cultural evolution, a culture is still decided by people more so than environment. I like to think of cultural evolution working with 2 mechanisms; one being like biological evolution and one being more circular that sticks with humans throughout the ages. And I believe the idea of will has a role in cultural evolution whereas it does not in biological evolution.


My impression that biological evolution can ALSO be circular has been strengthened by our discussion of cultural evolution. Biological evolution, (through the process of natural selection) is certainly a directional process, it does not necessarily mean that there is a progression from worse traits to better traits, or that the nature of a favourable trait is universal. So too with cultural evolution, the progress can be circular in a way. Culturally favourable traits are context dependent, and the complex matrix of environmental and cultural conditions at any given moment means that a trait which is favourable in one environment might not be at all in another.

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Re: Aug. 31: No reading, open thread (required)

Postby ShawnMiller » Mon Aug 31, 2015 12:34 pm

sarahsilverman wrote:My impression that biological evolution can ALSO be circular has been strengthened by our discussion of cultural evolution. Biological evolution, (through the process of natural selection) is certainly a directional process, it does not necessarily mean that there is a progression from worse traits to better traits, or that the nature of a favourable trait is universal. So too with cultural evolution, the progress can be circular in a way. Culturally favourable traits are context dependent, and the complex matrix of environmental and cultural conditions at any given moment means that a trait which is favourable in one environment might not be at all in another.

An example of this: We had a postdoc in the philosophy department who received his PhD from Indiana University, but he was originally from Japan. He has since moved back to Japan for a professorship, and noted the following: Standing out from others in frowned up in Japanese culture. Early schooling (starting in kindergarten) in very important. So he and his wife visited numerous schools for their young daughter. However, it is unusual for a man to be involved in the process, so our former postdoc was looked at a bit askance. This doesn't bother him, but he worries about how it will affect how his daughter is treated.

So how are cultural traits/factors interacting here? Well, I think the gender rolls at play are at least mildly sexist. But the freedom to flout them is limited by the cultural expectation of conformity. Another culture may be equally (or more) sexist, but if it is less conformist, then the sexist cultural mores can be resisted. So sexist cultural attitudes can be reinforced by conformist attitudes

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Re: Aug. 31: No reading, open thread (required)

Postby Bowen Tan » Mon Aug 31, 2015 1:21 pm

The abandon of intermarriage can be regarded as a cultural background. But it is hard to argue that it has nothing to do with biology or a weak interaction with biology. Because intermarriage people may find that their next generation usually has some special disease in contrast to those without intermarriage. Then the avoidance becomes a custom to alert other people. However, from the perspective of ethics, intermarriage substantially allows people to marry their relatives even their parents. It will bring a lot of ethical problems. For this cultural reason, intermarriage is forbidden. This is an exact example to clarify the relative importance of biology and culture in the cultural evolution further.

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Re: Aug. 31: No reading, open thread (required)

Postby kgbaidoo » Mon Aug 31, 2015 1:27 pm

I used to think of evolution only in terms of of the Darwin's theory of natural selection or biological evolution. I did not buy the idea that cultural evolution shapes the way in which we live and survive in our society.After reading Sober's article about the model of cultural evolution, i am not convinced that cultural evolution just like biological evolution influences our survival and fitness .i am still confused about how cultural ideas or memes replicate?

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Re: Aug. 31: No reading, open thread (required)

Postby dianalee » Mon Aug 31, 2015 1:29 pm

euriekim wrote:I didn't consider cultural evolution to be as influential as it has been until last week's discussions and video. It's fascinating to think how much cultural evolution is linked to biological evolution and how oblique transmission has as much effect as vertical transmission does. It would make sense for a person to listen and learn from their parents since they are related, but it's intriguing for a person to alter their lifestyle based on other people who have no direct relation to them.


I was thinking the same thing. In the video, human learning to make fire and cooking had made a huge dent on human development. Human evolved to have smaller teeth and smaller stomach through selection of fire and cooking.

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Aug. 31: No reading, open thread (required)

Postby Selestine » Mon Aug 31, 2015 2:00 pm

I would like to talk about what I think about cultural evolution. So I do think that cultural evolution is not something to do with biology only. It is significantly being affected by the environment that we live in. So whenever cultural evolution occurs, our surrounding environment plays a key role in bringing about these changes.

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Re: Aug. 31: No reading, open thread (required)

Postby pattyt » Mon Aug 31, 2015 2:04 pm

The topic of cultural evolution is really intriguing. I agree with what someone else previously stated in that many people quickly try to make a distinction between cultural and biological evolution and which is better. Looking at the blending of the two might be more productive/interesting if we could look at it more objectively. On another note, the application of cultural evolution to one's own life is very interersting as well. In many Latin American countries there are very rich cultures that have evolved over time. As someone else mentioned, Latin American culture can be described as the convergence of many cultures, but beyond that blending the new cultures that were formed continued to grow and evolve. These cultures may have had their roots in other cultures, but with time they have changed and become something new.

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Re: Aug. 31: No reading, open thread (required)

Postby Nancy Galeno » Mon Aug 31, 2015 2:15 pm

With the articles and discussions we have had this past week about cultural evolution I have been able to see and think of things from a new perspective. Whereas before I thought of cultural evolution simply as a a way to explain how certain regions of the world do things, now I see it as something that goes hand in hand with biological evolution. As said in the articles, genetics alone cannot explain the "how" part of evolution. I really find it mind blowing how studying cultural evolution can have so much more to it than I thought before.


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