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Five Clarifications about Cultural Evolution

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This paper reviews and clarifies five misunderstandings about cultural evolution identified by Henrich et al. (2008). First, cultural representations are neither discrete nor continuous; they are distributed across neurons that respond to microfeatures. This enables associations to be made, and cultural change to be generated. Second, ‘replicator dynamics’ do not ensure natural selection. The replicator notion does not capture the distinction between actively interpreted self-assembly code and passively copied self-description, which leads to a fundamental principle of natural selection: inherited information is transmitted, whereas acquired information is not. Third, this principle is violated in culture by the ubiquity of acquired change. Moreover, biased transmission is less important to culture than the creative processes by which novelty is generated. Fourth, there is no objective basis for determining cultural fitness. Fifth, the necessity of randomness is discussed. It is concluded that natural selection inappropriate is an explanatory framework for culture.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia, Okanagan Campus 3333 University Way, Kelowna, BC, Canada V1V 1V7

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