Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution (required)

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Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution (required)

Postby ShawnMiller » Mon Aug 10, 2015 12:21 pm

Cultural Evolution by Tim Lewens (2013) (PDF)

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Optional Reading

  • Culture Is Essential by Peter J. Richerson and Robert Boyd, an excerpt from "Not By Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution." Richerson and Boyd have advanced a meme theory of cultural evolution.

uwogisele
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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution

Postby uwogisele » Thu Aug 20, 2015 8:33 pm

I liked the oblique transmission view. The idea that the theory of evolution must be expanded to explain our tendencies. Because people are who they are also because of the environment they live in. The example of the Italian women is perfect because generally in the old days, families used to be really big, but now not so much. And the theory of evolution can't quite fully explain such reduction of most families sizes'. Because in part, nowadays, there is an emphasis on career and individualism; but decades ago, the emphasis was on getting married and having children. So, we do not learn only from our parents, we also learn from people around us.

uwogisele
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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution

Postby uwogisele » Thu Aug 20, 2015 9:16 pm

One of the problems of memes that was presented is that "Cultural units are not replicators". And I agree and disagree with this statement. Depending on what examples we are talking about cultural units can be either replicators or not. Taking an example of a new term, I can argue that cultural units are replicators. Let's say that there is a new word at UC Davis and it is "right on"; student may start using the word because most of the students at school are using it. But if the example we are talking about is making a cake, as the article points out, we can see that "cultural units are not replicators", because the cake that I make will not be the cake that my friend will make even if it's the same recipe. So my point is depending on what examples we are talking about "cultural units are not replicators" is not an all around valid problem of the memetic views.

euriekim
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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution

Postby euriekim » Sat Aug 22, 2015 11:42 am

When I was reading the part of the Italian women choosing to have fewer children, I thought of how family size is usually determined by location. In larger, rural areas, larger family sizes are typically favored. However in smaller, urban areas, smaller family sizes are usually favored. I also think that careers have a big tie into family sizes. In urban settings, women typically wait to have children until they are settled with a secure job to make sure that they can afford their children. While in rural settings, people usually have a big family first in order for the children to help financially when they grow up.

euriekim
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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution

Postby euriekim » Sat Aug 22, 2015 12:20 pm

I found the whole concept of memes and cultural evolution to be interesting. "Another significant worry for memetics is that when the same ideas do spread through a population, it is rarely because they are literally copied from each other." (15) I thought of the game Telephone when I read this. The ideas spread through the population, but with each repetition, the main idea turns out to be a paraphrase or a completely different idea.

twilliams
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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution

Postby twilliams » Sat Aug 22, 2015 5:09 pm

I noticed an interesting parallel between "prestige bias" and Aristotelian ethics. Aristotle argues that in order to understand virtue, you must study a virtuous person; he goes so far with this idea that he says it's nearly impossible to understand virtue without studying a virtuous person. Prestige bias is the idea of copying traits of successful people in order that you may become successful. "Determining who is a success is much easier than determining how to be a success." Of course there is a major difference between the two, one being descriptive and the other being prescriptive, but I just thought it was interesting how we can apply a label to Aristotle's argument.

twilliams
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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution

Postby twilliams » Sat Aug 22, 2015 5:56 pm

"We gain no real explanatory insight if we are told that ideas spread through populations, some more successfully than others. We want to know what makes some ideas fitter than others. And it is not clear that there will be any general rules that can help us to answer this question." This idea struck out at me because I believe it reinforces the gene-meme parallelism, despite that it comes from a section that provides a counterargument against explanatory models.

Other than the obvious genes we know that can kill us, in the big picture of things, we are also ignorant of what genes are really more fit than others. When I'm talking big picture I'm thinking this: let's suppose hypothetically we can build a new organic species from the ground up like a robot, selecting every single individual trait that it will have. Do you think we build a "perfect" species for a given environment? (I know evolutionary perfection is impossible by definition, but bear with me and note that I said "for a given environment.") I don't think so; something is going to be overlooked and it may turn out one gene was better than another. We know a whole lot about what genes make something fit and which ones don't, but we don't (and can't) know everything.

Similar case with memes. The idea we don't have a clue about which memes work better than others is false; ask any dictator in the previous century - political propaganda works, and nearly all political propaganda works the same. Any political demagogue knows what they are doing in how they are spreading their ideas, or "memes." Machiavelli wrote a book on it. So we do have an understanding of memes, just not a complete one, and we probably can never have a complete one. Just like genes.

ktoporovskaya
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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution

Postby ktoporovskaya » Sun Aug 23, 2015 11:48 am

The term evolution is defined as explaining why species are the way they are and explaining diversity within species. There are different theories that can be applied to explain evolution, one of which is evolutionary psychology where most important inheritance mechanism in all species is genetic inheritance. On a contrary Darwin believed that natural selection could explain the origin of many of the adaptive traits through vertical transmission. The mechanism is variation that evolution is acting on. But we also must account the cultural influence on the behavior, which can be explained by prestige bias, when individuals copy the behavior of individuals of prestige status. Genetics and culture are both the components to the complete evolution theory, which need to work together to explain the whole picture and answer all questions.

fdtran
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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution

Postby fdtran » Sun Aug 23, 2015 4:22 pm

In my science courses, I've learned that humans are not as affected by evolution as other species because there is no selective pressure acting upon us, especially due to things like agriculture and technology. It was interesting to read this article because even though we are not physically changing as a species, our culture changes throughout time. The memetics theory was interesting to me because I've personally never thought of culture as a inheritable unit, similar to genes. I am not sure on my personal stance on this theory, as I do see it on both sides of the argument.

eugenekim
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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution

Postby eugenekim » Sun Aug 23, 2015 7:42 pm

I have a bit of a problem with memes. I understand that ideas can be transmitted from one person to another sort of like genes can replicate themselves and be passed down through heredity, but I struggle with this notion of conceptualized "entities". While I do agree that culture plays a large role in shaping an individual's mind,just how big is the role of evolution in creating these notions. For instance, while different cultures place different ideas of beauty onto an individual, every culture seems to be overwhelmingly heterosexual and did not have these ideals passed from one person to another. In other words, it was not one person's idea to create such a heterosexual society but rather something that was embedded in most people's genes that has lead to enforcing this idea. In Christian society, homosexuality is viewed as sin, which could have came about as a result of an idea from numerous people's genes and not from this notion of an idea passed from one person to another.

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KelseyBS
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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution

Postby KelseyBS » Mon Aug 24, 2015 2:29 am

I really like these new terms: vertical and oblique transmission. It keeps the idea of nature and nurture both affecting our evolution in academia.
The idea of prestige bias made me nervous. I realize that we all do have a tendency to try to copy those we think are more prestigious, but the first example that popped into my head was the levels of prestige among my housemates. One of my housemates that has the most financial stability from her family, could be considered the most prestigious of all of us, but she's rather ditsy and makes many mistakes that the rest of us would prefer to avoid. Though she is prestigious, she has the most room for error and is not to be copied.

eridolfi
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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution

Postby eridolfi » Mon Aug 24, 2015 10:00 am

Finally! Somebody has mentioned the roles of both nature and nurture with human evolution. It seems that I have read much literature that only focuses on one or the other but not how they work together. Earlier in the weekend, I watched a documentary on human evolution and it mentioned that it is essential for humans to mimic others of their species in order to learn the basic skills. This is apparent if you watch human populations and cultures today.

kgbaidoo
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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution

Postby kgbaidoo » Mon Aug 24, 2015 10:41 am

I am strong supporter of the Darwin's theory of natural selection where by genes inherieted by an organism from their parents enables them to adapt to their enevionment , survive and live long enough to produce healthy offspring for the next generation.I also beleive environmental changes and variation plays a major role in natural selection process.I refuse to beleieve that the decline in birth rate among Italian is due to natural selection because giving birth is both the husband and the wife's decision.Italian family may be decided to have fewer children based on financial reasons or personal reasons.I am aware that most our peers play role in shaping how we behave after a while but I find very diffcult to believe that natural seletion would hav any thing to do with how many children my wife with produce.

Bowen Tan
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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution

Postby Bowen Tan » Mon Aug 24, 2015 10:44 am

I think the prestige bias explains learning from others in a cramp way for its obscure definition of success. If people learn from those prestige people, will it be better to improve their conditions? Assuming learning from others makes people have the same techniques, skills and even behaviors, it means the tendency of the usage of the environmental resources is declining to the homogeneity. There would happen acute competing activities and those activities are the costs of energy. So why don't they are smart enough to become unique to occupy their own environmental positions? Learning from others is a way to the heterogeneity but not choose so called successful skills.

tschristoffel
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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution

Postby tschristoffel » Mon Aug 24, 2015 11:35 am

I disagree with some of the arguments attacking memetics. The first argument given, that cultural units do not replicate, is inaccurate because replications do not need to perfectly match the thing they replicated. Regardless, the fact that copies do not exactly match the object they copied only strengthens the analogy of cultural evolution to biological evolution, as the imperfections in replications are analogous to genetic variation. It is also worth noting that we are dealing with ideas. In the cake analogy, it does not matter that I have made an imperfect copy of Lewens' cake, for I had in mind the exact same cake he made. I simply did not have the know-how to replicate it exactly.

herrerajen
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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution

Postby herrerajen » Mon Aug 24, 2015 11:53 am

I'm particularly interested in the reference to Boyd and Richerson's theory of 'prestige bias.' According to the view one 'individuals copy techniques from those who are in prestigious positions, then this increases the changes that they will copy techniques that are, in fact, beneficial" (p. 5). I feel as though there is something missing--how do these individuals become prestigious in the first place? I believe that the relationship between power and hegemony needs to be addressed as well for prestige is socially constructed. It could be argued that prestige is formed according to surrounding environments one is in. For example, meanwhile in some countries mental labor is heavily endorsed, in other countries physical labor is much more valued.

dianalee
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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution

Postby dianalee » Mon Aug 24, 2015 1:00 pm

Explaining cultural evolution through oblique transmission view is very interesting and relatable. Many of cultural traits are passed down generation to generation through learning and observation from members within community or population not just from parents. Inheritance can’t be explain just by the genetic materials passed down from parents, learning and adapting traits from one’s environment is important factor of cultural evolution.

pkshah
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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution

Postby pkshah » Mon Aug 24, 2015 1:01 pm

I think that it is super interesting to hear about cultural evolution from this perspective. I never thought of learning as a cultural evolution in such a way that it reduces fitness. This reduction of fitness would be from the traditional definition of fitness being thought to be the propagation of your genetic code throughout generations.

Furthermore, sort of going off that point, I think that it is super interesting how prestige bias is pervasive throughout society. It makes so much sense that we mimic behaviors that would potentially make us successful and more likely to pass down our genes. However, I always thought about this from a social perspective that was a manifestation of personal greed as opposed to human nature from an evolutionary sense.
It seems clear as a result of these various biases that there is a stark difference between evolutionary thinking and traditional natural selection.

Additionally, it sort of blew my mind when the authors of this entry talked about Darwin being a proto-cultural evolutionist in the Descent of Man.

Selestine
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Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution

Postby Selestine » Mon Aug 24, 2015 1:23 pm

I really didn't understand about natural selection and cultural inheritance. I would like to hear more about it. Also when Boyd and Richerson suggest that prestige bias can overcome this problem, I really didn't get well his explanations.
Last edited by Selestine on Mon Aug 24, 2015 1:27 pm, edited 1 time in total.

lksalinero
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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution

Postby lksalinero » Mon Aug 24, 2015 1:25 pm

I really enjoyed this article, and it intuitively made a lot of sense to me. Perhaps the strongest argument against meme theory in the article was that although cultural memes seem to proliferate themselves, they don’t generate exact copies of themselves in the way genes do. Though as the article mentioned, whether or not this renders the meme concept useless is somewhat a matter of opinion.

msnelmida
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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution

Postby msnelmida » Mon Aug 24, 2015 1:31 pm

Cultural inheritance is an interesting topic. The way I understand it is that as communities grows larger we benefited more through adapting via oblique transmission than vertical transmission (genes) by learning heuristically from others. It can also be a hit or miss process as some learned behaviors can actually be maladaptive when practiced at a different environment but this was also overcomed or can be overcome through cultural inheritance through some conformist biases at times with a combination of prestige biases. In another word an individual may learn two techniques and tries it through trial in error and figure out which works the most at certain conditions. I think this does not only apply between individuals or between individuals of our species as we can actually learn by observing other species as well like what we do today in some of our science courses observing their behaviors looking at both proximate and ultimate interpretations of such nature.

Michelle Tarango
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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution

Postby Michelle Tarango » Mon Aug 24, 2015 1:33 pm

I enjoyed that this article recognized that evolution in species is a combination of both nature (Darwin's natural selection) and nurture (offspring learn things by watching their parents). As a psychology major, this is something this is stressed constantly in my classes: that both nature and nurture play large roles in shaping the next generation. However, I do not agree that the Italian women had fewer children as a result of natural selection. There could be many reasons for these changes, such as economic downturn or space limitations.

sarahsilverman
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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution

Postby sarahsilverman » Mon Aug 24, 2015 1:36 pm

I was quite struck by the idea that natural selection need not act on organisms, and that it is a "substrate-neutral" process. This spoke to me because of the existing disagreement in to biological community about what natural selection acts on (genes? genomes? individuals? traits?). I am compelled by the idea that natural selection is best viewed as a process, not a hard fact of biology, especially in light of recent discoveries that show that not all traits are passed on by natural selection (epigenetics).

anjames
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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution

Postby anjames » Mon Aug 24, 2015 1:40 pm

The first time I read through the article, I took great issue with the use of the cake example in particular. I think I was just too tired to comprehend words. I thought the author was going to comment on how techniques (following a recipe) take time to replicate and that the errors leading to an exact duplication are the problem. Memes as a unit seem too vague for such a specific example. At first I was thinking of the cake being the general meme. All those intermediates wouldn't be considered the same thing and I don't think the person learning would think of them as being the same. There is wiggle room in baking if you ask me. It doesn't really matter to a human's taste buds if an extra teaspoon of flour, for example, is added to a cake. It's not that different. Close enough is close enough as long as the idea of that taste gets passed on. I get that the criticism might be that the term "meme" is so hard to define precisely. A direct analogy to genes is problematic. The mixed up metaphors were distracting to me. I was glad the explanation of cultural evolution got back to why we might need memetics or why we wouldn't. Keeping focus on what helps us look at culture is the important part.

pattyt
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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution

Postby pattyt » Mon Aug 24, 2015 1:43 pm

I really liked the integration of both nature and nurture. There are certain characteristics that cannot be explained by nature, or science, alone. Nurture plays a large role in how humans develop and it is very interesting to see how the article connects the two.

nyonan
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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution

Postby nyonan » Mon Aug 24, 2015 1:44 pm

I like how the reading goes into the commonly thought of pathway at first, explaining straight biological inheritance, but then starts to tie in social behaviors using similar logic. I thought it a bit interesting when it speaks of the prestige bias and how that is how most determine which behavior is beneficial versus not. It's very commonly seen, do what the pros do so that you might be able to be a pro yourself. However, I feel like that wouldn't ultimately lead to a better fitness because we, as humans, can get caught in a sort of bad loop. I see this more often than not, people will attempt to be like others blindly causing a torrent of a certain behavior which might not have been necessarily good in the first place (i.e. Greed, lying, etc.). This would also kill any sort of creativity and imagination or variation leading to stunted evolution, and ultimately worse fitness. It is something that happens but I question whether or not it is meant for fitness in a traditional sense.

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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution

Postby jjquintanilla » Mon Aug 24, 2015 1:45 pm

I enjoyed this article and I thought it was interesting how it brought into consideration how individual attempt to find success by identifying individuals who seem to be successful and in some way mimic them. I though it was interesting because with regards to the question of cultural evolution, there are multiple occasions in human history where people from the lower classes attempt to mimic those of the higher class. One example is from a book title the "The Two Prince of Calabar" which although the subject of this book is gruesome, it focuses on this idea that the higher individual of this African society attempted to mimic the living styles of the British by adopting many of the cultural elements of Great Britain at the time: clothing, names, home decor, and even language. This is book, along side the article, run parallel to each other on the topic of cultural evolution because it focuses on how parents are a huge factor to influencing the way we behave, but that other exterior elements may do the same as well.

JustinN
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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution

Postby JustinN » Mon Aug 24, 2015 1:52 pm

I enjoyed how the article used a scientific approach to describe how culture changes over generations. I'm a bit confused with Spencer's concept of "a priori" knowledge.

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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution

Postby lemacias » Mon Aug 24, 2015 2:09 pm

What I lie the most about the reading is how cultural evolution, which is a topic that is not well mentioned in science classes, shapes our lives. What it caught my attention is knowing that cultural values are not only shared vertically but in do many different ways we barely even notice. I relate in some ways to the article in matters of changing ones behavior can lead to a whole new generation to change that behavior too. As being first generation student in my family I can assure that my ''genes'' will benefit and be copied with this new trait of self improvement to my future generations.

herrerajen
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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution

Postby herrerajen » Mon Aug 24, 2015 7:07 pm

I'd like to analyze for a moment his first argument against the concept of memes: "cultural units are not replicators." To begin with, Lewens cleverly defines replicators as units that make copies of themselves. Therefore, cultural items are re-produced, meaning they are produced 'again and again' (p. 16). While it is true that not all ideas are replicators, there are other cultural units that are intended to be copied. Take for example storytelling. The cultural tradition of storytelling has the end goal of regurgitation. That is, a story can have the aim to make copies.

eugenekim
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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution

Postby eugenekim » Mon Aug 24, 2015 8:17 pm

In the "Culture is Essential" article by Peter J. Richerson, he asserts that "culture is an ultimate cause of human behavior". I think that is an important perspective to analyze because its an important distinction made from his earlier point that "culture is crucial for understanding human behavior". With the prevalence of this notion of memes, I believe its universally agreed that culture is important; however, to believe that culture can make imprints for the causing of distinct human behavior, is a crucial theory that needs to be analyzed.

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KelseyBS
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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution

Postby KelseyBS » Mon Aug 24, 2015 9:52 pm

The method of explaining the first argument against meme theory was terrible. There were too many letters representing vague ideas that could have been turned into more thought out "agents" and "beliefs" to create a clearer example that better explains the argument. I think a great explanation would be that memes don't create copies, but "remixes" much like Kirby Ferguson explains in his TED Talk (I'll add a link to that at the bottom). Copies are incredible difficult to make and often things are remixed rather than copied.

https://www.ted.com/talks/kirby_ferguson_embrace_the_remix?language=en

ktoporovskaya
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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution

Postby ktoporovskaya » Mon Aug 24, 2015 10:45 pm

The author explains the theory of memes as an attempt to apply evolutionary thinking to culture, drawing an analogy between evolution at the cultural level and biological evolution. Examples of culture are the ideas and techniques. Criticism can occur by pointing out that cultural units are not replicators due to unknown mechanisms. But the author’s criticism is that imitation of behavior is an error prone and does not have to be exact copies. I don’t agree with this critique because there is no standard of error that is established for a behavior to be a replicate. Another critique that the author points out is that cultural units are hard to trace; however, just because we cannot trace the lineage, this does not mean it does not exist and therefore cannot be traced with better technology or more information.

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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution

Postby lksalinero » Tue Aug 25, 2015 12:10 am

One distinction Lewen makes between memetics and cultural evolutionary theory is that the proposed rules in cultural evolutionary theory “are not merely conjectured, but given experimental support,” (22). This made me curious as to what sort of experiments are employed to research cultural evolutionary theory, and why the same type of experimentation hasn’t been applied to memetics.

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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution

Postby eridolfi » Tue Aug 25, 2015 8:13 am

I also had issues with the cake example. Also, I struggle with the idea of discrete units of culture because it seems plausible for objects to be that eg. paintings, books and the like. I think on of the issues is trying to describe culture and genes using a similar mode of transmission.

fdtran
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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution

Postby fdtran » Tue Aug 25, 2015 10:35 am

After our discussion, I think the memetics theory is more plausible than Tim Lewens' argument because memes and technological memes are heritable units of our daily lives, whether we realize it or not. I didn't agree that Lewens argued that memes couldn't reduced to discrete units because essentially anything that is ingrained in our culture could be reduced down to a unit of culture.

dianalee
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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution (required)

Postby dianalee » Tue Aug 25, 2015 12:22 pm

Culture traits do not copies themselves like genes do. Shared Culture traits are passed down through teaching, learning, observing members to members within community. It doesn’t just hop mind to mind from seeing a certain traits as mention in the article. I am still confused on “Culture cannot be atomised into discrete unites”.

Bowen Tan
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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution (required)

Postby Bowen Tan » Tue Aug 25, 2015 12:40 pm

From a historical view of the cultural evolution, the culture of a specific population can change drastically when a new dynasty is set up. Sometimes a cruel emperor may change the culture in his way thoroughly. Thus, the meme of cultural evolution seems not working well during such a period. Actually, if different dynasties are regarded as different social environment, the stability of a population cannot be defined as bias conformist simply. Although bias conformist can help people avoid hazards in a new environment, in the meanwhile it gives up the resistance ability against the change of the environment. And under monarchy regime, it seems cultural evolves just because of a person's will.

sarahsilverman
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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution (required)

Postby sarahsilverman » Tue Aug 25, 2015 12:51 pm

One aspect of this piece with which i took issue was the idea that not all ideas are "replicators," and thus not all ideas are memes. It doesn't seem realistic that all ideas fall into a replicator/non-replicator binary. It seems much more likely that all ideas have the potential to propagate, and context determines whether they do so, and with how much success. Depending on context, all short you-tube videos have the potential to "go viral," but not all do. Those that do no necessarily possess some suite of traits.

tschristoffel
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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution (required)

Postby tschristoffel » Tue Aug 25, 2015 12:55 pm

I thought it was a good point that reticulation occurs in biological evolution to a certain extent, as demonstrated by hybridization. Despite all the connections that can be drawn between biological evolution and cultural evolution, I cannot rid myself of the feeling that we will need to go beyond biological evolution in order to fully explain cultural evolution. I think that cultural evolution will best be understood by building a model that takes into account historical observations as well as ideas from evolutionary biology.

Additionally, going back to the supposed problems with memes, it seems actually beneficial to the biological-cultural analogy that certain ideas, such as God and forgiveness in certain religions, are spread together. These, contrary to opponents' claims, are simply bundles of discrete units which are analogous to linked genes in my opinion. I think that these "discrete units" can be described as simple atomic sentences, which interact with each other to yield more complex beliefs (i.e. "God exists," "God is good," and "God demands forgiveness" can be used as an argument to form the belief that "forgiveness is good," which might be contrary to an individual's first instinct).

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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution (required)

Postby anjames » Tue Aug 25, 2015 1:02 pm

I don't think the last section "Cultural Phylogenies" quite works with Levins' criticism of meme theory that cultural units do not have lineages. The point about lineages bugged me because Levins seems to think that tracing gene lineage is easy when I do not think that is the case and a quick hop over to Wikipedia on genetic lineages at the very least suggests that this point should be reconsidered. His discussion of cultural phylogenies I think more accurately portrays the case that lineages and phylogenetic trees are presented as hypotheses. The two ideas conflict.

Not to mention are cultural units more like genes (arguably more mappable) or are they more like gene interactions with whatever you'd like to pick (more network-like)? Considering alternate analogies might help point at other ways of defining what might be a set of cultural unit definitions.

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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution (required)

Postby ShawnMiller » Tue Aug 25, 2015 1:15 pm

dianalee wrote:Culture traits do not copies themselves like genes do.

Do genes really copy themselves, as Lewens asserts? It seems that proteins copy genes, or the environment in which genes exist copy genes. The autonomy attributed to genes seems implausible to me.

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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution

Postby ShawnMiller » Tue Aug 25, 2015 1:17 pm

lksalinero wrote:One distinction Lewen makes between memetics and cultural evolutionary theory is that the proposed rules in cultural evolutionary theory “are not merely conjectured, but given experimental support,” (22). This made me curious as to what sort of experiments are employed to research cultural evolutionary theory, and why the same type of experimentation hasn’t been applied to memetics.

Anthropologist Joseph Henrich describes some experiments he has done on, e.g., religious belief.

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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution (required)

Postby pkshah » Tue Aug 25, 2015 1:20 pm

I don't agree with Lewens when he says that cultural units do not form lineages. I think that any meme can manifest itself in an inordinately large amount of ways in each and every person. These ideas create other ideas which create a causal chain of ideology. Therein lies a lineage of cultural units. The only way that this could be true is if cultural units do not function as memes do. Cultural units work in the same ways that memes do. They are the result of an idea or set of ideas. In the same way these cultural units can create even more ideas to those that are passed on to. I am not sure if I am interpreting Lewens correctly when i am reading this particular passage; however, I certainly can share the professors confusion and disagreement with regards to this particular section (Pg. 16 beginning at the bottom of the page).

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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution (required)

Postby ShawnMiller » Tue Aug 25, 2015 1:23 pm

sarahsilverman wrote:One aspect of this piece with which i took issue was the idea that not all ideas are "replicators," and thus not all ideas are memes. It doesn't seem realistic that all ideas fall into a replicator/non-replicator binary. It seems much more likely that all ideas have the potential to propagate, and context determines whether they do so, and with how much success. Depending on context, all short you-tube videos have the potential to "go viral," but not all do. Those that do no necessarily possess some suite of traits.

And maybe there is also a language usage/slippage issue here. Not all traits confer fitness advantages, but they are still heritable. Not all memes are successful (or go viral), but they are still the product of replication. In other words, Lewens seems to be taking "meme" as synonymous with successful or pervasive meme.

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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution (required)

Postby JustinN » Tue Aug 25, 2015 1:39 pm

I think considering ideas as remixes of other ideas works initially to describe the formation of "new ideas" in well developed cultures with long histories of cooperation and ideas that build off of each other. However, it seems paradoxical to assume that all ideas are remixes of other ideas. It assumes that either there is some primordial idea that gave birth to all other ideas or that there is an infinite number of ideas spanning back to the beginning of human thinking (Turtles all the way down). It's looking at the extremes but its still worth looking into.

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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution (required)

Postby jjquintanilla » Tue Aug 25, 2015 1:39 pm

I honestly did not like when the Lewis mentions that "Culture cannot be atomized into discrete units" because it turns outs that there are various instances in which it can. For example, the birth of nationalism which encompasses a national identity is an example of how culture become uniform with a population of individuals, but this then brings into question what came before nationalism. Using the example of France, before the birth of nationalism in which the people of France began to recognize themselves as French, there were a multitude of separate communities which had their own dialects and practices. In the medieval period of France; the Carolingian era, the emergence of the French language as a language used in the royal court began to emerge and it was used among the elites of society during that time. Hence, this is am example of a new culture which was isolated within a selected few. Perhaps another example which can be acquainted to the understanding culture as a distinct unit can be seen within the ancient Greek civilization. Ancient Greece was not unified but rather was composed of city-states which had their own laws and customs, and although they had their own language, each derived from a separate ancestor; Dorians, Aeolians, or Ionians, which gave rise to the modern nation of Greece, but also serve as a representation of how each had their own roots. These are simply all examples which demonstrate that culture can be understood as separate units because they have been the foundation of various societies from the past.

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Aug 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution (required)

Postby Selestine » Tue Aug 25, 2015 1:42 pm

I strongly agree with the cultural evolutionary theories. I would say that it is hard to explain how species have changed in a period of time without using going into details of how cultural inheritance has played its role. I would say that if someone is born with a gene that makes him become rude to others it will not have a profound effect or that characteristic will not showcase itself once that person will be subjected to a culture where everyone is always nice, humble and respectful to others. So cultural inheritance plays a greater role in explaining the evolution of species.

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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution (required)

Postby pattyt » Tue Aug 25, 2015 2:05 pm

jjquintanilla wrote:I honestly did not like when the Lewis mentions that "Culture cannot be atomized into discrete units" because it turns outs that there are various instances in which it can. For example, the birth of nationalism which encompasses a national identity is an example of how culture become uniform with a population of individuals, but this then brings into question what came before nationalism. Using the example of France, before the birth of nationalism in which the people of France began to recognize themselves as French, there were a multitude of separate communities which had their own dialects and practices. In the medieval period of France; the Carolingian era, the emergence of the French language as a language used in the royal court began to emerge and it was used among the elites of society during that time. Hence, this is am example of a new culture which was isolated within a selected few. Perhaps another example which can be acquainted to the understanding culture as a distinct unit can be seen within the ancient Greek civilization. Ancient Greece was not unified but rather was composed of city-states which had their own laws and customs, and although they had their own language, each derived from a separate ancestor; Dorians, Aeolians, or Ionians, which gave rise to the modern nation of Greece, but also serve as a representation of how each had their own roots. These are simply all examples which demonstrate that culture can be understood as separate units because they have been the foundation of various societies from the past.


I agree with jjquintanilla. Culture is a foundation of society. Each country in the world has its own cultures and subcultures. In class it was mentioned that Lewis does not believe that culture is something that can be passed down or traced to its origin; however I would disagree. Culture is something that can be handed down from generation to generation. Culture is something that is ever present and can be traced back. Culture evolves with each growing generation but there are still traces of its origins.

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Re: Aug. 24 and 25: Cultural Evolution (required)

Postby Nancy Galeno » Tue Aug 25, 2015 2:08 pm

I found it interesting how the article addressed the idea of memes and how it is also tied into human evolution just as genes are. It is a critical concept that not many animals have and could have been one of the main reasons we have evolved in the way that we have. Since birth a child learns to do many things for survival including how to eat. However, as discussed in class yesterday, the "technological" memes can be dangerous when we no longer control what gets copied.


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