Cultural Evolution: Applying the Darwinian perspective for Understanding the Micro Foundations of the Macro-Level Dynamics of Cultural Change

Symposium Abstract
In biology, culture is defined as information socially transmitted from genetically non-related individuals. Analogous to that the genes are selected during the processes of genetic transmission, information culturally transmitted is also selected and evolves like animal species. Since the seminal books by Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman (1981) and Boyd and Richerson (1985), biologists and anthropologists have rigorously developed formal mathematical models describing the processes of cultural evolution but such efforts had not been unnoticed by researchers in the other disciplines interested in the emergence, the persistence and the changes of culture. In the last decade, the situation has drastically changed. Stimulated by the formal models of cultural evolution, many empirical studies emerged for understanding cultural dynamics. In this invited symposium, three speakers will give presentations for demonstrating the importance of understanding micro-level processes of cultural transmission for explaining macro-level cultural dynamics such as emergence of cultural differences.

Chair Details: Masanori Takezawa, Hokkaido University, Japan
Discussant: Peter Richerson, University of California, Davis, USA

Presentation 1
The structure of cultural evolution
Hisashi Nakao, Yamaguchi University, Japan
This talk clarifies the structure of cultural evolution in terms of cultural evolutionary pattern and process, both of which are necessary for adequately understanding how and why cultural differences and similarities are made. Cultural phylogenetic pattern, ancestor-descendant relationship of culture, at the macro level is important to investigate whether two different cultures are adaptations to each environment or due to cultural transmission. Even if the environments are different, the latter explanation is possible when the cultures have different ancestors and there are no evolutionary changes. When two similar cultures are observed, we might need a closer look at cultural evolutionary process, causal factors for cultural evolution, at the micro level: A domain-specific psychological adaptation universally shared among us could explain the similarity if the environments and the ancestors are different. Thus we need to combine the data on cultural evolutionary pattern and process to fully elucidate cultural differences and similarities.
Alternative Type: Paper

Presentation 2
Cultural Evolution in Archaeology
Kohei Tamura, Tohoku University, Japan
Cultural diversity was shaped by the process of ‘descent with modification’ as well as biological diversity, i.e., transmission with modification over generations plays a central role in shaping cultural diversity. This suggests the importance of historical dynamics to understand patterns of cultural diversity within and among populations. Archaeological data have been used to investigate cultural evolution because they can provide rich spatiotemporal information on cultural changes.
In this talk, I will first review the recent studies on cultural evolution of archaeological artifacts at the micro and macro levels. Next, I will talk about our recent works attempting to reconstruct the diffusion process of archaeological artifacts in Japan. Based on the results, I will discuss diversification and homogenization of culture at the macro level and the underlying process at the micro level.

Presentation 3
Cultural Evolution in a Laboratory: Understanding the micro-foundations of convergent and divergent cultural evolution
Masanori Takezawa, Hokkaido University, Japan
In the last decade, researchers started to conduct human laboratory experiments that reproduce cultural evolution of technologies for testing hypotheses derive from formal theories developed in the field of cultural evolution. In this talk, I will present two laboratory experiments conducted by the research team of mine that showed either convergent or divergent cultural evolution of technology and scientific knowledge in a lab. Independent micro-societies in a lab gradually evolved cultural differences in one experiment while cultural similarity gradually emerged in the other experiment even though any exchange of information or migration of members were not allowed between micro-societies in both experiments. Analyzing the processes of emergence of convergent / divergent cultural evolution, I discuss the importance of understanding micro-processes of cultural transmission for understanding macro-level cultural dynamics.

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Added on Sunday, July 10th, 2016

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