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 impliesacting 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, i.e.a Bayesian search for its Attractor(s).
- Cultural Evolution Society: “What Is Cultural Evolution?”
- Dennett (2017): From Bacteria to Bach and Back
- Godfrey-Smith (2009): Darwinian Populations and Natural Selection
- Godfrey-Smith (2012): “Darwinism and cultural change”
- Lewens (2015): Cultural Evolution: Conceptual Challenges
- Richerson and Boyd (2005): Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution
- Wikipedia: “Cultural evolution”