One of the most repeated criticism of the analogy between cultural and biological evolution is that inheritance in the former, but not in the latter, is Lamarckian. Things may be, to a certain extent, complicated (“Lamarckian” evolution might mean different things; the concept of soft inheritance, which might include “Lamarckian” forms, is no more a taboo in biology), but the nuts and bolts – which are, I think, what really matters for the analogy cultural/biological evolution – are not.
Massimo Pigliucci discusses, over at The Philosophers’ Magazine online, a recent paper I wrote together with Alex Mesoudi (“If we are all cultural Darwinians what’s the fuss about? Clarifying recent disagreements in the field of cultural evolution”, open access here), in the context of a more general meditation on the opportunity to consider culture as a Darwinian process.
Around two years and a half ago (!), I wrote a post discussing the opportunity for the creation of an academic journal dedicated to the field of cultural evolution. The rationale was that a publishing niche was empty, with a fast-growing field that was starting to have a precise identity, and a large enough number of practitioners, that often found difficult to publish in more disciplinary-oriented journals. The post had a good success, and many cultural evolutionists showed their support to the idea.
A couple of weeks ago I stumbled upon a Guardian review of the new Matt Ridley‘s book, The Evolution of Everything. In the past I read a couple of books of Ridley (The Red Queen and Genome), and the subtitle of this new one (“How new ideas emerge”) seemed quite relevant. On top of this, the Guardian review was not just negative, but full of genuine, quasi-emotional, hate for the volume, so I decided to invest some time to read it.
I am reading Tim Lewens’ new book Cultural Evolution (I am still halfway through it, so perhaps other posts will follow). One aspect I found interesting – and I imagine this will not come as a surprise to readers of this blog – is a peculiar conception of what identifies an approach to culture as “evolutionary”.
Lewens attacks the problem from a familiar perspective (see, for example, here), defining a taxonomy of possible evolutionary commitments for cultural explanations. As usual, some of them are too broad (Lewens calls them “historical” approaches), while others are too restrictive (he is skeptical of replication-based accounts of cultural evolution): things are more interesting in the middle.