Cultural Evolution Is Multilevel Meme Variation, Selection and Replication

#model4 mentions

Cultural Evolution is the change of information capable of affecting individuals’ behavior over time.Wikipedia

This change is usually understood to happen either in a Darwinian process of Meme selection and replication, or as a broader process that incorporates non-Darwinian mechanisms, e.g. “Intelligent Design”.Dennett (2017). For a wider discussion of Darwinian and non-Darwinian processes and a critique of the memetic view, see Richerson and Boyd (2005).

The memetic view: Selection

On a memetic view, cultural evolution acts via Selection of

instances of cultural variants – behaviors, ideas, artifacts, words – [that] can make up Darwinian populations themselves, engaging in formal reproduction of some kind.Godfrey-Smith (2009), 162

For the evolution of cultural variants to count as Darwinian, there needs to be a

particular kind of causal responsibility on the part of past instances, a kind that leads to reproductive lineages and the possibility of heredity. This need not be found at the most coarse and obvious grain of analysis—small features of artifacts might form lineages even when the wholes do not—but the requirement is a strong one.ibid., 163

This requirement can be used as a criterion to select a level of abstraction for analysis (see Causal Emergence).

Because The world is a hierarchy of systems, that means cultural evolution can be understood as Darwinian all the way – as soon as we identify the correct levels of selection – which implies Multi-level Selection acting on a hierarchy of memes. The specific reproduction processes can and will be quite diverse.

In this picture, processes that are usually interpreted as something above and beyond individual variation-and-selection mechanisms can be seen as part of specific reproduction processes.

We start with

our ability to improve what we do by tracking the consequences of behavioural options. This can occur in various ways: it can work at an individual-level, or in a way distributed across a population; it may happen through a simple variation-and-selection mechanism, or through a more complicated kind of information processing. Some combination of these success-tracking capacities figured in the evolutionary process that made humans into specialists in information-gathering and intelligent control.Godfrey-Smith (2012), 2168

Such a capacity could have been

an unusual kind of imitation – high-fidelity token-to-token copying …. If this form of imitation is psychologically distinct, then the question arises of its relations to more flexible and rational ways of tracking success, in which humans can clearly engage, and also to the special role of teaching and ‘scaffolded’ learning in human societies. The very high social cohesion [amounted] to a ‘band-level, central information processing system’ in hunter–gatherer groups ….ibid., 2169

This forms the infrastructure for higher-level reproduction and Darwinian processes “one level up”.

In these processes, humans can be seen as having

integrated several kinds of success-tracking—attending to reinforcement, attending to the success of others and more sophisticated mental modelling—into a unified way of dealing with their social and non-social environment.ibid.

This practically a textbook definition of Sensemaking using Explicit Models.

The systems view: Self-organisation

Equivalent to this is a systems view of cultural evolution that describes it as Self-organisation of a Social System, i.e.a Bayesian search for its Attractor(s).

References