Précis of Genes, Mind, and Culture

Behavioral and Brain Sciences 5 (1):1-7 (1982)
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Despite its importance, the linkage between genetic and cultural evolution has until now been little explored. An understanding of this linkage is needed to extend evolutionary theory so that it can deal for the first time with the phenomena of mind and human social history. We characterize the process of gene-culture coevolution, in which culture is shaped by biological imperatives while biological traits are simultaneously altered by genetic evolution in response to cultural history. A case is made from both theory and evidence that genetic and cultural evolution are inseverable, and that the human mind has tended to evolve so as to bias individuals toward certain patterns of cognition and choice rather than others. With the aid of mathematical models we trace the coevolutionary circuit: The genes prescribe structure in developmental pathways that lay down endocrine and neural systems, imposing regularities in the development of cognition and behavior; these regularities translate upward into holistic patterns of culture, which can be predicted in the form of probability density distributions ; natural selection acts within human history to favor certain epigenetic rules over others; and the selection alters the frequencies of the underlying genes. The effects of genetic and cultural changes reverberate throughout the circuit and are consequently tested with the passage of each life cycle. In addition to modeling gene-culture coevolution, we apply methods from island biogeography and information theory to examine the cultural capacity of the genes, the factors determining the magnitude of cultural diversity, and the possible reasons for the uniqueness of the human achievement.



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