Cultural traits are those phenotypic traits whose development depends on social learning. These include practices, skills, beliefs, desires, values, and artefacts. The distribution of cultural traits in the human species changes over time. But this is not enough to show that culture evolves. That depends on the mechanisms of change. In the cultural realm, one can often observe something similar to biology’s ‘descent with modification’: cultural traits are sometimes modified, their modifications are sometimes retained and passed on to others through (...) social learning, until new modifications are added. In this way, new modifications are piled on top of old modifications, generating cumulative change. But, again, this is not enough to show that culture evolves. For culture to evolve, cumulative change must be the result of hidden-hand mechanisms similar to those that explain cumulative biological change. If cumulative cultural change cannot be explained in these terms, the analogy between cultural change and biological evolution is unhelpful. The best known biological mechanism is natural selection. There are reasons to think that cultural change is at least sometimes due to natural-selection-like mechanisms. The adaptive fit often found between cultural traits and the environment has in many cases been built gradually and in a way that involves natural selection operating at the cultural level. The parallel with morphological adaptation is compelling. No complete and universally accepted account of natural-selectionlike processes operating at the cultural level exists at this stage. But at least three kinds of processes seem possible. (shrink)
Archaeology, of all the human sciences, can dodge this problem the least, and the great virtue of Shennan’s Genes, Memes and Human History is that he confronts it directly. For though humans are now both cultural and ecological beings, it was not always so. Once our hominid ancestors had a social organisation and a material culture roughly equivalent to that of today’s chimpanzees. Chimps are not encultured in the sense that we are encultured: their social life and their ecology does (...) not depend on the accurate and extensive transmission of information from parents to offspring. It falls to archaeology to document and explain the transition from merely social hominids to encultured hominids. Archaeologists cannot escape our dual nature, for they must explain its coming into being. Thus for an evolutionary archaeologist like Shennan, the evolutionary facet of human nature and human history must be geneologically primary. For our enculturation is the product of a continuing evolutionary process grafted onto the top of a pre-existing set of ecological and social relations. (shrink)
This paper explores the connections between inheritance systems, evolvability and modularity. I argue that the transmission of symbiotic micro-organisms is an inheritance system, and one that is evolutionarily significant because symbionts generate biologically crucial aspects of their hosts’ organisation through modular developmental pathways. More specifically, I develop and defend five theses.
Mayr’s distinction between proximate and ultimate explanation is justly famous, marking out a division of explanatory labor in biology. But while it is a useful heuristic in many cases, there are others in which proximate factors play an important role in shaping evolutionary trajectories, and in such cases, each project is sensitive to, and relevant to, the other. This general methodological claim is developed in the context of a discussion of human cooperation, and in particular, in a discussion on the (...) puzzling stability of the social contract over the Pleistocene–Holocene transition. For I argue that while we have a plausible account of the stability of Pleistocene cooperation, the stabilizing factors of the Pleistocene disappear in the Holocene, but cooperation does not. Holocene humans solved many collective action problems; cooperation did not collapse despite the apparent growth of free-riding elites. So the article combines a methodological claim about the interaction of proximate and evolutionary biology with a substantive one about the ecology of human cooperation. (shrink)
Downes, Gerrans, and Sutton all raise important issues for the account of human social learning and cooperation developed in The Evolved Apprentice. Downes suggests that I have bought too uncritically into the view that hunting was economically critical to forager life; I remain unpersuaded, while conceding something to the alternative view that hunting was signaling. Downes also suggests that I consider extending the evolved apprentice model to contemporary issues in social epistemology; I wonder whether that might make the model so (...) general that it loses explanatory force. Gerrans probes the model on the relationship between social learning and imitation; I respond by arguing that imitation became important relatively late in the human social learning career, probably via learning to communicate via gesture. Sutton wonders whether the model of social learning developed is too intellectualist and individualist; I respond by emphasizing the varied task demands in different domains, and the change over time of the different elements involved in social learning. (shrink)
This collection reports on the latest research on an increasingly pivotal issue for evolutionary biology: cooperation. The chapters are written from a variety of disciplinary perspectives and utilize research tools that range from empirical survey to conceptual modeling, reflecting the rich diversity of work in the field. They explore a wide taxonomic range, concentrating on bacteria, social insects, and, especially, humans. -/- Part I (“Agents and Environments”) investigates the connections of social cooperation in social organizations to the conditions that make (...) cooperation profitable and stable, focusing on the interactions of agent, population, and environment. Part II (“Agents and Mechanisms”) focuses on how proximate mechanisms emerge and operate in the evolutionary process and how they shape evolutionary trajectories. Throughout the book, certain themes emerge that demonstrate the ubiquity of questions regarding cooperation in evolutionary biology: the generation and division of the profits of cooperation; transitions in individuality; levels of selection, from gene to organism; and the “human cooperation explosion” that makes our own social behavior particularly puzzling from an evolutionary perspective. (shrink)
Paul Seabright is the first to clearly identify a major puzzle about human social evolution: the expansion of cooperation in the more complex societies of the Holocene. Identifying that problem is a major achievement, but in this paper I give a somewhat different account of the nature of the problem and a somewhat different account of the social world of Pleistocene foragers. So, we agree that there is a problem, but not on its nature or solution.
This paper discusses two perspectives, each of which recognises the importance of environmental resources in enhancing and amplifying our cognitive capacity. One is the Clark–Chalmers model, extended further by Clark and others. The other derives from niche construction models of evolution, models which emphasise the role of active agency in enhancing the adaptive fit between agent and world. In the human case, much niche construction is epistemic: making cognitive tools and assembling other informational resources that support and scaffold intelligent action. (...) I shall argue that extended mind cases are limiting cases of environmental scaffolding, and while the extended mind picture is not false, the niche construction model is a more helpful framework for understanding human action. (shrink)
In the last few years, nativist, modular views of moral cognition have been influential. This paper shares the view that normative cognition develops robustly, and is probably an adaptation. But it develops an alternative view of the developmental basis of moral cognition, based on the idea that adults scaffold moral development by organising the learning environment of the next generation. In addition, I argue that the modular nativist picture has no plausible account of the role of explicit moral judgement, and (...) that no persuasive version of the ‘poverty of the stimulus' applies to moral cognition. (shrink)
What Is Biodiversity? is a theoretical and conceptual exploration of the biological world and how diversity is valued. Maclaurin and Sterelny explore not only the origins of the concept of biodiversity, but also how that concept has been shaped by ecology and more recently by conservation biology. They explain the different types of biodiversity important in evolutionary theory, developmental biology, ecology, morphology and taxonomy and conclude that biological heritage is rich in not just one biodiversity but many. Maclaurin and Sterelny (...) also explore the case for the conservation of these biodiversities using option value theory, a tool borrowed from economics. (shrink)
It is indeed important to identify the rich variety of systems for the adaptive control of behaviour, rather than squeezing this richness into a few boxes. We need to recognise both the variety of systems for the cognitive control of adaptive behaviour and to chart the relationships between such systems. But I shall argue that these projects are not best pursued by asking about the extent of animal rationality. The argument develops in three stages. The first outlines a picture of (...) the selective regimes that drive the evolution of the sophisticated use of information by animal agents. The second argues that hominid cognition has evolved in response to a somewhat different set of
challenges and that (as a consequence) the transmission of social information and skill has come to be both a critical and an unusual feature of hominid selective and developmental environments. The third draws upon the ideas of Dan Sperber and others in arguing that the social transmission of information introduces (or makes much more important) a vetting problem. I shall suggest that we see rationality as an evolved response to this vetting problem. (shrink)
In this paper, I argue that the adaptive fit between human cultures and their environment is persuasive evidence that some form of evolutionary mechanism has been important in driving human cultural change. I distinguish three mechanisms of cultural evolution: niche construction leading to cultural group selection; the vertical flow of cultural information from parents to their children, and the replication and spread of memes. I further argue that both cultural group selection and the vertical flow of cultural information have been (...) important. More conjecturally, I identify a potential role for meme-based cultural evolution in the explanation of the ‘human revolution’ of the last 100 000 or so years, and defuse an important objection to that explanation. Introduction Cultural groups The cultural invention of adaptive complexes Niche construction models Dual inheritance Memes Memes or minds? Conclusion. (shrink)
Joseph Henrich and Richard McElreath begin their survey of theories of cultural evolution with a striking historical example. They contrast the fate of the Bourke and Wills expedition — an attempt to explore some of the arid areas of inland Australia — with the routine survival of the local aboriginals in exactly the same area. That expedition ended in failure and death, despite the fact that it was well equipped, and despite the fact that those on the expedition were tough (...) and experienced. For survival in such areas depended on accumulated local knowledge. The locals had learned how detoxify seeds before making bread from them, and how to catch the local fish. Bourke and Wills and their companions lacked this local knowledge, and died as a result (Henrich and McElreath 2003). (shrink)
The standard picture of evolution, is externalist: a causal arrow runs from environment to organism, and that arrow explains why organisms are as they are (Godfrey-Smith 1996). Natural selection allows a lineage to accommodate itself to the specifics of its environment. As the interior of Australia became hotter and drier, phenotypes changed in many lineages of plants and animals, so that those organisms came to suit the new conditions under which they lived. Odling-Smee, Laland and Feldman, building on the work (...) of Richard Lewontin, have shown that while sometimes appropriate, this is an inadequate conception of the relationship between organisms and the environments in which they live. Over time organisms alter their environment as well as being altered by their environments (Lewontin 1982; Lewontin 1983; Lewontin 1985). For example, animals modulate the effects of their physical and biological environment by building shelters: the beaver’s dam and lodge system, and termite mounds are two famous cases of animal structures, but they are few of many. There are many thousands of animals which make nests, burrows and other shelters. Likewise, animals make tools that give them access to resources from which they would otherwise be excluded: thus the Galapagos woodpecker finch uses a cactus needle to extract insects from crevasses in bark — insects that they would otherwise be unable to catch (Tebbich, Taborsky et al. 2001). Tool making is not as common as shelter-making, but it is common. For example many animals make traps: there are many species of pit-making antlions. Thus in part organisms make the world in which they live. They partially construct their own niches. Odling-Smee, Laland and Feldman argue that this has five major and under-appreciated consequences for biological theory. (shrink)
A common picture of evolution by natural selection sees it as a process through which organisms change so that they become better adapted to their environment. However, agents do not merely respond to the challenges their environments pose. They modify their environments, filtering and transforming the action of the environment on their bodies A beaver, in making a dam, engineers a stream, increasing both the size of its safe refuge and reducing its seasonal variability. Beavers, like many other animals, are (...) ecological engineers. They act to modify the physical challenges posed by their environment. Nests, burrows and other shelters reduce the impacts of adverse weather and of other agents. Animal also modify their exposure to biological risks. Hygienic behaviour reduces the impact of disease. Intensive grooming; moving to new roosts; using a. (shrink)
Language is at the core of the cognitive revolution that has transformed that discipline over the last forty years or so, and it is also the central paradigm for the most prominent attempt to synthesise psychology and evolutionary theory. A single and distinctively modular view of language has emerged out of both these perspectives, one that encourages a certain idealisation. Linguistic competence is uniform, independent of other cognitive capacities, and with a developmental trajectory that is largely independent of environmental input (...) (Pinker 1994; Pinker 1997). Thus language is seen as a paradigm of John Tooby and Leda Cosmides’ concept of “evoked culture”: linguistic experience serves only to select a specific item from a menu of innately available options (Tooby and Cosmides 1992). In explaining this concept, they appeal to the metaphor of a jukebox. The human genome pre-stores a set of options, and the different experiences provided by different cultures select different elements out of this option set. I think an appropriate evolutionary perspective on language substantially undercuts this idealisation and the evoked culture model of language. Variability between speakers; the sensitivity of linguistic development to environmental input; and the limits of encapsulation are not noise. They are central to the language and its evolution. (shrink)
Book Information Philosophy of Mental Representation. Philosophy of Mental Representation Hugh Clapin , ed., Oxford: Clarendon Press , 2002 , xv + 332 , £40 ( cloth ), £18.99 ( paper ) Edited by Hugh Clapin . Oxford: Clarendon Press. Pp. xv + 332. £40.
Humans interpret others. We are able to anticipate both the actions and intentional states of other agents. We do not do so perfectly, but since we are complex and flexible creatures even limited success needs explanation. For some years now Steve Stich (frequently in collaboration with Shaun Nichols) has been both participant in, and observer of, debates about the foundation of these capacities (Stich and Nichols 1992; Stich and Nichols 1995). As a commentator on this debate, Stich (with Nichols) gave (...) explicit and fair-minded sketches of the cognitive architectures presupposed by the various theories of mindreading. As a participant, Stich has mostly been a defender of the theory-theory, the view that normal human agents have an internally represented theory of other agents and they use that theory in interpreting other agents. The main recent rival to this position, simulationism, claims that agents use their own decision-making mechanisms as a model of those of other agents, and derive their predictions by modelling others in something like the way aeronautical engineers derive predictions from the use of scale models in wind-tunnels. Stich has been sceptical about this alternative, for on his view simulation theory makes mistaken predictions about both the development of interpretive competence and about the pattern of interpretive success and failure. (shrink)
Hurley is right to reject the dichotomy between intentional agents and mere stimulus/response habit machines, and she is also right in thinking that it is important to map the space of systems for the adaptive control of behaviour. So there is much in this paper with which I agree. My disagreement concerns folk psychology. Hurley thinks that control space can be charted by asking whether and to what extent animals are intentional agents. In contrast, I doubt that the concepts of (...) folk psychology, especially folk psychology construed as an interpretative practice, are the right mapping tools. If the main function of folk psychology is to make sense of one another, coordinate joint action, or make decisions about moral and legal responsibility, then there is no point in applying folk psychological notions to nonhuman minds. These interpretative functions simply do not arise for our interaction with nonhuman minds, and if folk psychology serves largely as a social tool serving them, there is no need to apply it to nonhumans, nor is there a reasonable expectation that we can usefully do so. If folk psychology does not even carve our sensing and control mechanisms at the joints, if it is not a good theory of human cognitive architecture, then it is not likely to be wellsuited for describing those of nonhuman agents. (shrink)
I outline Gould's conception of evolutionary theory and his ways of contrasting it with contemporary Darwinism; a contemporary Darwinism that focuses on the natural selection of individual organisms. Gould argues for a hierarchical conception of the living world and of the evolutionary processes that have built that living world: organisms are built from smaller components (genes, cells) and are themselves components of groups, populations, species, lineages. Selection, drift and constraint are important to all of these levels of biological organization, not (...) just that of individual organisms. Moreover, both drift and constraint are more important than orthodoxy supposes. While having some sympathy for both of these lines of argument, I argue that they are more problematic than Gould supposes, and that he understates the power and the heterogeneity of orthodox conceptions of life's evolution. (shrink)
Ecological communities, I argue, are objective units of nature if theyhave structure that regulates their membership. Evidence of suchstructure in contemporary ecology is scant, but the palaeoecologicalphenomenon of co-ordinated stasis is a prima facie example ofinternal regulation. I argue that no individualist attempts to explainaway the appearance of internal regulation succeeds. But no internalistmodel is fully satisfactory, either, in explaining the contrast betweenpre and post Pleistocene ecology.
In this paper I develop three conceptions of the relationship between evolutionary and developmental biology. I further argue that: (a) the choice between them largely turns on as yet unresolved empirical considerations; (b) none of these conceptions demand a fundamental conceptual reevaluation of evolutionary biology; and (c) while developmental systems theorists have constructed an important and innovative alternative to the standard view of the genotype/phenotype relations, in considering the general issue of the relationship between evolutionary and developmental biology, we can (...) remain neutral on this debate. (shrink)