David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 34 (1):109-141 (2003)
The study of culture and cultural selection from a biological perspective has been hampered by the lack of any firm theoretical basis for how the information for cultural traits is stored and transmitted. In addition, the study of any living system with a decentralized or multi-level information structure has been somewhat restricted due to the focus in genetics on the gene and the particular hereditary structure of multicellular organisms. Here a different perspective is used, one which regards living systems as self-constructing energy users that utilize their genome as a library of information, making the genetic system just another component that adds fitness to the overall integrated unit. In this framework, basic fitness is measured as the ability to gather energy for growth and reproduction, and the fitness of the genetic system is broken down into two aspects: first, the effectiveness in searching for new somatic functional information, and second, the effectiveness in searching for better structures to store and process information. With this more generalized perspective, major evolutionary transitions to higher levels of organization become competitions between different information structures; furthermore the functioning and fitness of cultural systems can be more easily described and compared with other modes of information storage within biological systems. Modern technological societies are self-constructing systems that rely on written (symbolic) information storage and very complex algorithms that effectively search for variation with a high probability of successful selection. These systems are currently competing with traditional organic systems, and this competition constitutes the latest major evolutionary transition. Upon comparison of the energy-gathering potential of symbolic-based systems with DNA-based life, it appears that symbolic systems have a tremendous fitness potential and the current shift to a higher level of selection may be as significant and far-reaching as any of the previous major evolutionary transitions.
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