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    Evolutionary theory famously predated the emergence of genetics by decades. Initially there was some conflict between the heirs of Charles Darwin and the first geneticists in terms of their mechanistic understanding of how evolutionary process occurs. Within a few decades though genetics and evolutionary biology were synthesized so that the former came to be integral...
  • Disclaimer: Engineering PH.d, not a biologist, and I am only commenting because of the use of Price Covariance equations to a domain beyond what it was posibly intended for. I accept thate that I may wrong in commenting in a domain that I am not an expert in.

    I read the paper ” Gene-culture co-inheritance of a behavioral trait” a few times, and I am less enthused than you about the culture inheritance of a trait. Here I follow Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman (1981), who distinguished natural selection, which operates on biological items, from cultural selection; they characterize the latter as any process that results in differential rates of transmission of cultural traits. CS and F emphasized a central similarity with natural selection, while leaving room for the many differences between biological and cultural change. I caution against extravagant extrapolations of Price’s equation (model?) to cultural.

    My difficulty with the cultural inheritance models are cultural changes that involve in many processes that result in the Cavalli-Sforza “differential transmission” of cultural traits. Some of these involve natural selection of the bearers of cultural traits, i.e., people. Other processes may involve natural selection of cultural items, resulting in cultural adaptations. Still other processes may not involve natural selection in any sense, e.g., technology diffusion that is driven by obsolescence. All of these processes may be called ‘cultural selection’, but the crucial point of the dual-selectionist interpretation appeals to the second type, which superficially resembles natural selection both in resulting in differential transmission rates and in adaptations.

    Of course, you can point to Lactase persistence-related genetic changes, agriculture-malaria resistance genetic adaptation as examples of cultural inheritance. Extending to more detailed traits is what I am afraid of, and may involve multiple stages and steps that may be hidden in a single word of cultural inheritance.

    I apologize If I did not get your gist.

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  • thanks for linking to this paper. Super interesting topic. Noticed the Heinrich cite in the paper, which was also something I wasn’t aware of, as I only read his book (no doubt he mentions his paper in his book, but don’t recall it)

    The paper doesn’t take this to the point of developing stats to detect this (obviously enough to do in just putting together basic framework). But you seem to imply that this is possible in your “data is out there” comment. If some type of statistical test is possible for this class of model, it will settle a huge amount of theoretic noise about group selection/altruism.

    Am somewhat sympathetic to group selection altruism form posited by David Sloan Wilson, as at least he’s strongly saying it’s not a new framework, but rather an alternative way to partition fitness. And so completely compatible with existing frameworks. And knows enough about his math limits to stay within them. In contrast to, for example, the “we have overtuned the entire past” mode in Nowak, Tarnita, EO Wilson.

    Slicing the endless debates on this topic with a model that is testable real data would be something I’d like to live to see.

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  • A a simple population genetic rule of thumb is that one needs to have less than one migrant between two populations for their genetic variation to increase

    I think you want to say “less than one migrant per generation”. (And, um, while I’m here, it looks like there’s a duplicated “a” at the beginning of the sentence.)

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  • Another book along these lines worth reading is “Mixed Messages: Cultural and Genetic Inheritance in the Constitution of Human Society,” by Robert Paul

    https://www.amazon.com/Mixed-Messages-Cultural-Inheritance-Constitution/dp/022624086X/

    Robert Paul has an unusual background for somebody getting into dual inheritance theory. He’s a a cultural anthropologist, did a lot of fieldwork in Nepal (I think), and also trained in psychoanalysis, long, long ago. But he was converted to dual inheritance by Pete Richerson (I believe).

    The book is interesting because it makes a good case that a cultural anthropologist who bothers to get the theory right can make a significant contribution using traditional interpretive methods, rather than mathematical modelling, or numerical data crunching. For example, a theme in a lot of classic ethnography of all sorts of cultures is that you have to go through some kind of spiritual birth (circumcision, baptism, etc) in addition to biological birth to be a full member of society. Paul argues that this commonplace devaluation of the biological and exaltation of the spiritual/sacred/cultural is what you’d expect given the evolutionary contest between two channels of inheritance.

    I would have various nits to pick in a longer comment/review. Here I’ll just say I think he’s pretty persuasive that dual inheritance theory does a better job accounting for some major cultural themes than either straight-up monads-with-gonads human sociobiology, or blank slate cultural constructionism.

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  • you’re full of shit (i think, it’s hard for me to understand you).

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  • The great thing about religion is it stops peoples settling their differences amicably irrespective of genes and culture. Acceptance of mass inflows of immigrants, like the French did every time they lost a war with Germany, was, like their secular natalism, a way to make their country stronger against a potential enemy. In the final analysis everything states do can be traced to their need to be stronger, because they might have to fight for survival. That is the truth behind the assertion that diversity makes us stronger.

    But as with most good things it can overheat and manifest a reversal into the opposite. So immigration instead of strengthening the country against those who threaten it, becomes a way to lose the country without a fight. Cultural selection can overcome genetic selection but it none the less can have profound effects on the gene pool if culture is easilly adopted. Religion comes to the rescue because it is not so easily adopted.

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  • Though we often think of evolutionary processes as either matters of bones (i.e., paleontology) and genes (i.e., evolutionary genetics), that is not strictly true. There are other domains of study where evolutionary thinking and frameworks have been applied. In particular I'm thinking of evolutionary thought in the context of culture. This has a long history,...
  • Anonymous • Disclaimer says: • Website

    I am writing a book, titled “ON Social Evolution”. The book is to sort out many things concerning social evolution (the evolution of the human society), beyond what has been written on this subject so far. Suffice to say here that cultural evolution is only a dimension (though a critical dimension) of social evolution. To get a glimpse of what I have in mind, you are encouraged to read two of my books that deploy Social Evolution Paradigm (SEP). One of them received a major book award.

    http://www.amazon.com/General-Institutional-Routledge-Studies-Economy/dp/0415827477/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1451460492&sr=1-3&keywords=shiping+tang

    http://www.amazon.com/Social-Evolution-International-Politics/dp/0198753586/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1451460492&sr=1-1&keywords=shiping+tang

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  • The trouble I have with attempts to apply the quantitative methods familiar to evolutionary biologists to cultural topics is that unlike in biology, is that it is rarely obvious where one ‘generation’ begins and another one ends. This was a problem I ran into when I tried to apply Darwinian logic to state formation in ancient China and early modern Europe–my initial idea was to calculate something like “fitness” of various institutional models using the standard measurement for relative fitness, but you cannot get W without separating the data into a parent generation and an offspring generation. I couldn’t think of any generational divide for the political units in the population that was not completely arbitrary (every ten years? Every time a new ruler ascends? etc.). I imagine a similar problem occurs in quite a few cases where quantification would be useful.

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  • @Nathan Taylor
    Thanks for providing more detail on the Cultural Evolution Society, plus the related book recommendations.

    One obvious question here is how David Sloan Wilson's Social Evolution Forum fits into this. I know Peter Turchin is on the board of directors for that, and that David Sloan Wilson for the past decade or so been pushing an evolutionary approach to solving social problems. Though of course he has a tendency to interpret evolutionary theory from the perspective of his version of group selection. Plus of course economics, aka "evonomics". I've been reading that site off and on, as some articles are quite good, though the overall quality varies quite a bit.

    Link to Evolution Institute site
    https://evolution-institute.org/about/who-we-are/

    So my question: are Turchin's Cultural Evolution Society and Sloan Wilson's Social Evolution Forum parallel efforts, intertwined, separate?

    Maybe that's not clear or somewhat still under discussion before they can share. So you left it out on purpose. But if there's public information on how these two groups will work together that would be interesting to know.

    agree it’s confusing. ds wilson’s area of inquiry is much broader i think than turchin, richerson, etc.

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  • Thanks for providing more detail on the Cultural Evolution Society, plus the related book recommendations.

    One obvious question here is how David Sloan Wilson’s Social Evolution Forum fits into this. I know Peter Turchin is on the board of directors for that, and that David Sloan Wilson for the past decade or so been pushing an evolutionary approach to solving social problems. Though of course he has a tendency to interpret evolutionary theory from the perspective of his version of group selection. Plus of course economics, aka “evonomics”. I’ve been reading that site off and on, as some articles are quite good, though the overall quality varies quite a bit.

    Link to Evolution Institute site

    https://evolution-institute.org/about/who-we-are/

    So my question: are Turchin’s Cultural Evolution Society and Sloan Wilson’s Social Evolution Forum parallel efforts, intertwined, separate?

    Maybe that’s not clear or somewhat still under discussion before they can share. So you left it out on purpose. But if there’s public information on how these two groups will work together that would be interesting to know.

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    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    agree it's confusing. ds wilson's area of inquiry is much broader i think than turchin, richerson, etc.
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  • Interesting, I was thinking that one test of the theory that environment drives cultural/genetic evolution would be to compare two unrelated groups that are in similar environments. For example Melanesians live in environments that are like sub-Saharan Africa. They look like Africans but are more closely related to Asians. The question I would have is are their societies more like African societies or more like other Asian societies?

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  • @Larry, San Francisco
    I just finished the Secrets of Our Success. I liked it and found the arguments very compelling. I would certainly love to hear Razib's review of it when he gets a chance. The one element that bothered me is his claim that traditional racial categories don't tell us much because there has been so much evolution within race. Seems unlikely to me since I would presume that the different environments (which drive culture and evolution) containing one racial group are more similar to each other than the environments where other racial groups live . Is Henrich just being overly PC here?

    well, i try and get cult evo ppl up to date on latest pop genomics when i can. a lot of it is not knowing the latest in a lateral field. though arguably many ‘traditional’ categories are pretty misleading (e.g., the ‘black’ people of asia are as distant from ss africans as the white people of europe).

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  • I just finished the Secrets of Our Success. I liked it and found the arguments very compelling. I would certainly love to hear Razib’s review of it when he gets a chance. The one element that bothered me is his claim that traditional racial categories don’t tell us much because there has been so much evolution within race. Seems unlikely to me since I would presume that the different environments (which drive culture and evolution) containing one racial group are more similar to each other than the environments where other racial groups live . Is Henrich just being overly PC here?

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    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    well, i try and get cult evo ppl up to date on latest pop genomics when i can. a lot of it is not knowing the latest in a lateral field. though arguably many 'traditional' categories are pretty misleading (e.g., the 'black' people of asia are as distant from ss africans as the white people of europe).
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  • @Seth Largo
    Razib, are you familiar with Franco Moretti? His work at the Stanford Literary Lab, though lacking statistical sophistication, has nevertheless inspired recent attempts to model literary history in an evolutionary framework. Moretti even inspired Alberto Piazza (who worked with Cavalli-Sforza on HGHG) to write an excellent afterword to one of his books, exploring the points of contact/divergence between evolutionary biology and cultural evolution. Cosma Shalizi has written about him, too.

    Right now, most of us modeling literary evolution are using methods from natural language processing, which is great for descriptive classification but not so great for a theory of diachronic change. We have turned thousands and even millions of books into numbers and aren't sure what to do with those numbers. The McElreath/Boyd book looks like a good guide to help us step up our game.

    i’ll check out moretti.

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  • @Seth Largo
    Razib, are you familiar with Franco Moretti? His work at the Stanford Literary Lab, though lacking statistical sophistication, has nevertheless inspired recent attempts to model literary history in an evolutionary framework. Moretti even inspired Alberto Piazza (who worked with Cavalli-Sforza on HGHG) to write an excellent afterword to one of his books, exploring the points of contact/divergence between evolutionary biology and cultural evolution. Cosma Shalizi has written about him, too.

    Right now, most of us modeling literary evolution are using methods from natural language processing, which is great for descriptive classification but not so great for a theory of diachronic change. We have turned thousands and even millions of books into numbers and aren't sure what to do with those numbers. The McElreath/Boyd book looks like a good guide to help us step up our game.

    We have turned thousands and even millions of books into numbers and aren’t sure what to do with those numbers.

    this is turchin’s primary critique of big data humanistic studies (the stuff that’s come out of ngram). no theory.

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  • @Yudi
    Henrich talks quite about about gene-culture coevolution in his new book. I am partway through Peter Turchin's book but I find it more uneven than Henrich's, which was top quality throughout.

    thanks! i need to hit the henrich book. not a big surprise, as he and richerson have been talking about how genomics is going to impact the field.

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  • Henrich talks quite about about gene-culture coevolution in his new book. I am partway through Peter Turchin’s book but I find it more uneven than Henrich’s, which was top quality throughout.

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    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    thanks! i need to hit the henrich book. not a big surprise, as he and richerson have been talking about how genomics is going to impact the field.
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  • Razib, are you familiar with Franco Moretti? His work at the Stanford Literary Lab, though lacking statistical sophistication, has nevertheless inspired recent attempts to model literary history in an evolutionary framework. Moretti even inspired Alberto Piazza (who worked with Cavalli-Sforza on HGHG) to write an excellent afterword to one of his books, exploring the points of contact/divergence between evolutionary biology and cultural evolution. Cosma Shalizi has written about him, too.

    Right now, most of us modeling literary evolution are using methods from natural language processing, which is great for descriptive classification but not so great for a theory of diachronic change. We have turned thousands and even millions of books into numbers and aren’t sure what to do with those numbers. The McElreath/Boyd book looks like a good guide to help us step up our game.

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    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    We have turned thousands and even millions of books into numbers and aren’t sure what to do with those numbers.

    this is turchin's primary critique of big data humanistic studies (the stuff that's come out of ngram). no theory.
    , @Razib Khan
    i'll check out moretti.
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  • Genes, Mind, And Culture: The Coevolutionary Process can be had cheaply at a number of sites: https://goo.gl/bu6a0z

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  • Pre-Columbian copper artifacts from Illinois, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Illinois. In my last post, I criticized Jared Diamond’s theory about continent orientation and cultural evolution. This theory posits that people, and hence ideas, are likelier to circulate along an east-west axis than along a north-south one. This is because people tend to move about in environments...
  • […] to explain the dominance of Eurasian cultures over African and American. Anthropologist Peter Frost notes higher levels of technological development in the Americas than sub-Saharan Africa which […]

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  • A very fertile area of evolutionary science is the understanding and modeling of human culture. But it's hard, which is why my aspiration is to be an evolutionary geneticist in a more classical sense. Not only is it hard, but people don't appreciate it, because they think they understand "culture." Robert Boyd and Peter Richerson's...
  • […] evolution. Questioning the language instinct. New genetic codes. Cooperation and (then) collapse. Thinking […]

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  • There's a new paper in Science, A network framework of cultural history, which is interesting, and naturally a media splash (it is in Science). The paper illustrates the power of "Big Data" in a domain where most people have not thought to utilize big data. The authors state that "we have reconstructed aggregate intellectual mobility...
  • Fulltext: https://pdf.yt/d/SXEdbTithFJCEAK3 / http://libgen.org/scimag/get.php?doi=10.1126%2Fscience.1240064 / https://www.dropbox.com/s/06ak2szk520dd74/2014-schich.pdf

    There is value to be gained in formalizing this, to establish an algebra of history if you will. But this is not revolutionary; the field of cliometrics has been around for two generations.

    Skimming the paper, I don’t see much new in it either. For example, Murray’s Human Accomplishment (http://www.gwern.net/docs/2003-murray-human-accomplishment.pdf) seems to provide much more of interest than their maps of births/deaths.

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  • My daughter has four grandparents. Genetically she is a little over 25 percent her paternal grandfather and maternal grandmother, and a little under 25 percent her maternal grandfather and paternal grandmother.* Why? Because she is 50 percent genetically identical by descent with her mother and likewise with her father. This is all rather straightforward. But...
  • I think this is misleading if it suggests that culture and language are much the same thing

    it doesn’t, so it’s not misleading. though i suppose that stupid people might infer that language == culture

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  • This actually answers a long standing question of mine. Why people who remarkably are similar( ex: people in South India ) kill each other over caste differences.

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  • I’d love to see you try to apply the same methodology and reasoning on Malaysia’s multicultural.

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  • It is also worth considering that different domains of cultural inheritance have different transmission and survival properties.

    For example, it takes much more powerful and particularized conditions to effect language shift than it does to effect a change in religious affiliation. Almost no one changes their “native” language or makes major adjustments to their phoneme set as an adult, even if adults learn new languages, but many people undergo religious conversions as adults.
    Despite (or perhaps because of) the ease of transmission, folk tales and folk religion often persist long after language shift and organized religion have obliterated many other residual traces of prior cultures.
    Part of the chunky v. creamy distinction arises from the powerful impact of social status inequalities on cultural transmission. Historical, children learn the language of their at that time higher social status fathers. Ordinary people emulate elites but not visa versa for the most part. People adopt languages that are associated success in an area and shed languages when they feel that their own fellow language speakers are socio-economically or culturally inferior. This hierarchical pattern of cultural transmission homogenizes the culture of everyone within the scope of influence of any given elite group, and the bigger coherently organized societies get, the bigger the chunks become. The culture of Paleolithic peoples may have had considerable smaller chunks than we do today.

    “Language, religion, and culinary preferences are accidents contingent upon one’s parents’ preferences.”

    Yes, mostly and partially. Culinary taboos are cultural, but culinary preferences have a significant genetic component. Lactose intolerance is the most famouos case, but there is material genetic diversity in how one’s taste buds process different taste – for example, some people have hypersensitive “bitter” tastebuds and often develop an aversion of raw vegetables with some bitterness in them as a result. Other people find that olive oil in large quantities doesn’t agree with them.

    Likewise, while the content of the religious beliefs that a person holds is transmitted culturally the propensity of a person to show religiousity may well have a substantial genetic component.

    Also saying “parental preferences” drive what is culturally transmitted to children really isn’t even very close to right (“parental choices” would be more accurate). Parents in immigrant families routinely and indeed, almost invariably, intensely want to instill elements of their birth culture in their native born or young migrant children, and they almost always mostly fail in the attempt. The only places where the failure rates isn’t so intense are immigrant communities that have sufficient critical mass and insularity that the entire village that raises a child shares the cultural features that the parents want to transmit, not just the parents. Assimilation is virtually inevitable in the absence of ethnic ghettos.

    Parsing nuture v. nature on some behavioral traits generally viewed as cultural (e.g. culture of honor style aggression-incitation responses) is often hard because even if you do find a gene correlated to a cultural trait, it could simply be an unrelated ancestry informative trait for a disproportionate share of people in that culture.

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  • @Karl Zimmerman
    An interesting conclusion one might draw is if there are strong differences between populations on a given mental trait,it is likely those are a result of socialization rather than genetic differences. Further, the likelihood of these traits being cultural rather than genetic becomes greater the closer the two populations are geographically. Presuming, of course, a given trait is neither heavily selected for or against in either population. Indeed, this seems the case for cross-cultural differences in the "big five" personality traits.

    Whether it extends to other domains remains to be seen I suppose. "Big data" should be able to quickly show us if things like IQ have sharp boundaries (suggesting culture is the root between variance), or fuzzy boundaries (suggesting genes play a major role).

    What a fascinating methodology to tease out nuture v. nature distinctions and to quantify gene x environment relationships. Also interesting is that the methodology will generally show relevative nuture v. nature contributons as a percentage or ratio, rather than simply assigning a trait to one or the other.

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  • @Robert Ford
    Razib, is there a way to get the larger version of the bottom map? When I click on it it doesn't get bigger and I'd really like to read it.
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  • Razib, is there a way to get the larger version of the bottom map? When I click on it it doesn’t get bigger and I’d really like to read it.

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    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Template:Distribution_of_languages_in_the_world
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  • And with that, back to my daughter. She will speak English, and she will her parents will raise her to be irreligious.

    Fixed.

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  • Thanks for the piece. Just a note regarding something stated on Wikipedia. It may not be of any particular significance to your article, so I hope you do not mind the comment.The term “shibboleth” may not be Hebrew in origin, as stated in the Wikipedia article. It may be Akkadian. In addition to the meaning “ear of grain” in Akkadian, in the Standard Babylonian variety of Akkadian it was another term for the constellation Virgo.

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  • An interesting conclusion one might draw is if there are strong differences between populations on a given mental trait,it is likely those are a result of socialization rather than genetic differences. Further, the likelihood of these traits being cultural rather than genetic becomes greater the closer the two populations are geographically. Presuming, of course, a given trait is neither heavily selected for or against in either population. Indeed, this seems the case for cross-cultural differences in the “big five” personality traits.

    Whether it extends to other domains remains to be seen I suppose. “Big data” should be able to quickly show us if things like IQ have sharp boundaries (suggesting culture is the root between variance), or fuzzy boundaries (suggesting genes play a major role).

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    • Replies: @ohwilleke
    What a fascinating methodology to tease out nuture v. nature distinctions and to quantify gene x environment relationships. Also interesting is that the methodology will generally show relevative nuture v. nature contributons as a percentage or ratio, rather than simply assigning a trait to one or the other.
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  • Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    It’s probably not very fruitful to look at cultural inheritance at the individual level. After all, quite often the four (unrelated) grandparents who come from the same generation and lived through the same events, (maybe) listened to the same music, used the same technologies, will have more in common with each other than with their grandchildren (to whom each of them is related genetically) who move in a different cultural milieu and will absorb different influences, more from society at large than from their parents and grandparents.

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  • Fascinating paper, Evolution of music by public choice, in PNAS.* The paper is open access, but ScienceNow has a serviceable summary. One somewhat obvious implication from this sort of research, which utilizes human preference to shape a cultural form, is that the topography of human artistic expression is non-arbitrary. In other words, aesthetics is not...
  • The end result of these tinkerings is, of course, constrained by the WEIRD phenomenon. It would be interesting to have some tailored sites in Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Swahili, and see what the resulting “tunes” would be like…

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  • @Dune – yes if it wasn’t for the work of Francis James Child and a few others of that era (late 19th early 20th C)we would have lost a major heritage

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  • Well, it’s not like folk music ever really went away… In fact, it was almost certainly far more prevalent during the “early modern period” than during much of the 20th century. Music was always mostly free and amateur-produced, at least until the heyday of the vertically-integrated music industry, which was an entirely 20th century phenomenon. We just don’t see it because of a sampling bias – there was far more folk music than there was baroque or classical, but nobody ever bothered to record much of it. Even in my grandparents day, pretty much everybody was involved in the folk process to some extent – but it only began to be captured and documented when it was already in serious decline.

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  • Cover of Time, August 28, 1995. Evolutionary psychology beat out its rivals in the race to win public acceptance. During the 1990s, evolutionary psychology overtook and replaced sociobiology. Its success was total, much like that of many paradigms we now accept as normal science. Did it succeed for the same reason? Did it better fit...
  • Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    "The Italian geneticist argued that the natural environment has not been the main driving force of human evolution."

    If a population group are in a particular ecological niche it seems plausible their culture would evolve to adapt to it and that culture will then start to exert selective pressure on individuals.

    If the group moves into a different ecological niche then the process will start over again.

    As humans are social animals culture could be seen as the group adaptation to the environment which then creates selection pressure for individual level adaptations.

    .
    The EP vs sociobiology thing sounds like a battle in the ongoing hundred years war to prevent science getting to the truth in case the conclusions are politically incorrect.

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  • Harmonious Jim,

    Evolutionary psychologists have been better at PR. This might have something to do with the field of psychology itself, which seems to have a higher profile in the media and popular culture. Academics in other fields tend to be wary of non-academics.

    Kiwiguy,

    Yes. He told the folks at Queen's University that he had to quit because of poor health, and that was it. Even with research associates, Cavalli-Sforza tends to be circumspect.

    Anon,

    In other words, the ability to learn is not a learned ability.

    Chris,

    Yes, gene-culture co-evolution was spun that way. "We're not just interested in how genes determine culture. We're also interested in how culture determines genes."

    That "spin" was surprisingly successful. When you think about it, both ideas are equally controversial.

    "Organ", like "mental mechanism", is just a word. A better term might be "mental algorithm."

    Would you call the human voice box an organ? Wasn't that a big change?

    In my opinion, the biggest change in recent human evolution was the shift to symbolic thinking and the ability not only to imagine objects in all three dimensions (and the dimension of time) but also to manipulate this mental simulation, i.e., examine the outcomes of different hypothetical scenarios.

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  • A fascinating tale; thanks so much for taking all that effort to get those details together. My gut hunch is that, at some point in the future, scholars will look back on those decades with the same awe that physicists feel when they consider the quantum revolution of the late 20s through the 30s.

    Two questions:

    First, I was under the impression that the concept of "gene-culture coevolution" was something a political ploy to counter the angry criticisms early directed at what was termed "genetic determinism". Am I wrong here?

    Second, on the matter of Cosmides and Tooby insisting that no new organs developed since the Pleistocene: it seems to me that everything hinges on the definition of "organ". Basic mammalian anatomy (eyes, ears, kidneys, lungs, livers, etc) has not changed for a very long time, possibly not since Triassic times. Hence, it is possible to treat "organ" as something that has most certainly not changed in a mere million years.

    How finely do we cut up the human mind? Sure, we can readily differentiate some functions, such as the visual cortex, because they are strongly localized — but the visual cortex has had its basic layout since the first full primates. We can divvy up aural processing less cleanly, and when it comes to linguistic processing, there are some clear localizations, (Broca's area, Wernicke's area) but there are also some functions distributed over a lot of neural territory.

    I'd like to again thank Peter Frost for his list of papers discussing recent changes in human mental function. One thing that struck me about these papers is that (so far, at least), the changes in mentation that we have seen in the last 35,000 years seem to be fairly low down in the architecture of the mind — that is, not representing fundamental shifts. This is, of course, obvious — but again, where do we draw a line between "big changes" and "little changes"?

    We should surely expect some major changes in mentation to arise from the huge step from the hunter-gatherer lifestyle to the agricultural lifestyle; Cavalli-Sforza's proposed research program seemed like a perfect way to address this — has anybody ever completed such a project? Is there any overall compilation of differences in mentation between hunter-gatherers and agricultural peoples?

    OK, I lied — six questions, maybe seven…

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  • Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Bruce Lahn: The fact that humans are capable of advanced culture and other species are not must be genetically based. Humans are cultural not just because of the environment, but rather because humans have acquired a set of genetic changes that other species didn’t have the great fortune to acquire. Cultural evolution definitely has a genetic basis. Nobody would deny that.

    http://hplusmagazine.com/2011/05/12/bruce-lahn-interview/

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  • Have you or anyone else asked Cavalli-Sforza about the Inuit project?

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  • Maybe evolutionary psychology became more sexy because it studied sex, always a hot topic with the media, whereas the other rival evolutionists were looking at duller subjects?

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  • Cahokia, an Amerindian town on the Mississippi of 10,000 to 20,000 people. A forerunner of what might have been? Native Indian societies are widely seen as unchanging before Europeans came into the picture. This view sometimes has almost religious overtones. Amerindians lived in harmony with their world, and this harmony was broken by the White...
  • I know that this wasn't the point of the article, but this bit:

    "This view sometimes has almost religious overtones. Amerindians lived in harmony with their world, and this harmony was broken by the White man."

    …reminded me of Lawrence H. Keeley's book "War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage", in which he compares the percentage of violent male deaths due to homicide, warfare and blood feuds in extant hunter-gatherer cultures with the number of violent deaths in Western civilizations.

    Among the Jivaroan people, the chance of a man to be killed by other men was up to 60%. In most other hunter-gatherer tribes, the chance of a violent anthropogenic death ranged somewhere between 20 and 40%. In comparison, the rate of violent deaths in the USA and Europe during the 20th century was below 1.5%, and that includes the victims of both world wars!

    According to Keeley, 87% of the indigenous peoples of the Americas engaged in brutally violent wars with their neighbors at least once a year. Sometimes the majority of the population of a neighbor village or camp was slaughtered during an attack. The mass grave found at Crow Creek in South Dakota is evidence of such a massacre. Even genocide wasn't uncommon. For example, the Yellowknives tribe in Canada was completely wiped out by continued attacks of the Dogrib Indians.

    But people nonetheless believe that that the members of pre-state and pre-civilization (i.e. pre-agriculture) societies in general and tribal Native Americans in particular were peaceable and benevolent and lived in harmony with both their neighbors and the local wildlife (many species of which were likely hunted to extinction by the Clovis people at the end of the last ice age). The myth of the Noble Savage, as opposed to the Evil White Man, is even taught in schools.

    It is hardly surprising that most people buy into this romantic Rousseauian lie and are convinced that modern civilization is responsible for all our misery, all strife and warfare and substance abuse (coca leaves, peyote / mescaline or tobacco, anyone?). And of course for the supposedly ever-increasing crime rates that are actually continuously declining. It boggles the mind.

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  • "Civilization" seems to refer to vague emotive concepts like "good", "not evil", etc. in most people's minds. If prompted the average person probably can't really define "civilization" aside from offering these kinds of vague terms.

    Civilization means population structure of cities built on agriculture.

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  • Peru and Mexico don´t have ´´seasons´´ the way Europe does. There is no time of year when food cannot be grown in those areas.

    They didn´t have the desperate need for planning that people who lived in climates that feature Snow did.

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  • Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Mr. Frost,

    Estimates of when disease began to wipe out Amerindians is inconclusive, because of the large time gap between first contact with European disease (late 1400s/early 1500s) and when Europeans fully spread out through the Americas.

    In many cases population estimates are very low, because when Europeans first got to the Missippi valley, disease had already taken its toll on a huge % of the population. They didn´t quite realize that at the time.

    I don´t know about your specific Canadian example, but it´s possible that the population suffered from various European epidemics, and then stabalized by the time Canadian traders started living with them, introducing new diseases or reintroducing old ones, which further took the population down.

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  • Robert,
    Can a civilization not be potentially evil at its core?

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  • Calling the human sacrificing cannibals of Mexico and their emulators civilizations is a sick multi-cultural relativist joke.

    Robert in Arabia

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  • The same thought crossed my mind. What happened to the proto-civilizations of ancient Europe?

    And now comes the news that migrants from Africa likely caused the demise of the Neandertals … of course, the question is: Just which Africans? Modern Africans?

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  • Anon,

    The Iroquois were still getting some food from hunting, although this had become much less important than horticulture. In time, domestic turkeys would have probably spread north from Mesoamerica.

    Anon,

    To some degree, sedentary Amerindians were already "pre-adapted" by their earlier heritage as hunter-gatherers in temperate/sub-Arctic environments (which require planning over a yearly cycle).

    It may be significant that the pace of cultural change seems to have been faster in eastern North America than in Mesoamerica, and faster still at the northern end (i.e., among the Iroquois). It looks as if advanced sedentary societies tend to arise at lower latitudes but are then overtaken by faster developing societies at higher latitudes.

    This may tie in with the correlation between cranial capacity and latitude, even among Amerindians. Northern hunter-gatherers tend to evolve the highest cranial capacities because hunting distances are longer and require greater storage of spatiotemporal information. When these same hunter-gatherers become sedentary and agricultural, they have more potential for further cultural evolution.

    Anon,

    The same thought crossed my mind. What happened to the proto-civilizations of ancient Europe?

    Theslittyeye,

    The English and French settlers would likely have formed Prussian-style "marches" on the Eastern Seaboard. There would have been no Quakerism or pacifist musings by the shores of Walden Pond. The settlers would have eventually subordinated the sedentary Amerindians of the interior, but only at a high cost of human life.

    Anon,

    In Canada, European diseases didn't begin to wipe out the Amerindians until the latter began to live in close proximity to European traders and missionaries.

    In any case, a population can rebound from an epidemic if it has (a) enough time and (b) a large enough surviving population. Europe did recover from the Black Death, which wiped out a third of its population. Mexico and Peru are still mainly Amerindian today because they entered the post-Columbian period with a large sedentary population.

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  • Disease would have still wiped out the 90% of the population that it probably did. Amerindian immunology would've been no different, and the Europeans easily conquered the Aztecs and Incas because European diseases so effectively cut these people down.

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  • One more cross for the white man to bear.

    The destruction of the incipient high Amerindian Civilization.

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  • "And beyond the Appalachians, they would have found millions of sedentary Amerindians living in fortified cities and recently united under the aegis of the Iroquois Confederacy …"

    That's a very interesting thought. I'd like to think even further in this point. Let's say when the British and French arrived much later in Norther America when Iroquois has already developed a civilization that of Aztec. I don't think US would end up like Latino American countries either. British in the US would then probably undergo the colonization process similar to that of Australia and New Zealand. I don't think US would end up being a mestizo majority country in the new continent. Indians would probably be systematically persecuted and enslaved in early colonial era. In that case there's probably a lesser demand of black slaves and the Amerindians are likely to replace the demographic role of African Americans in contemporary America…. Hmm..

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  • Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Seems reminiscent of the buildup of large scale settlements in the Balkan and Ukrainian Neolithics, proto-civilizations contemporary with those in the Middle East through to India, only to leave no trace, perhaps due to a collision with a more nomadic way of life that was more fit (which seems parallel), a way of life which would have been near impossible in the domestic animal free Americas.

    Of course, the above proto-civilizations would be seem to be due to migration, not cultural diffusion (unlike the Iroquois?).

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  • Pre-Columbian copper artifacts from Illinois, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Illinois. In my last post, I criticized Jared Diamond’s theory about continent orientation and cultural evolution. This theory posits that people, and hence ideas, are likelier to circulate along an east-west axis than along a north-south one. This is because people tend to move about in environments...
  • Mark says: • Website

    Thanks for the perspective.
    I suspect there are more double-edged bugs in the code than have been illustrated. The Americas and Africa both lacked horses, which gave Eurasia a real force multiplier for constructive and destructive expressions. Also, there is no certainty in the assumption that the Iroquois would have continued to accelerate their rate of civilizing without imploding or being overthrown. Let's not forget the stone-building, urban, Mayans. Their descendants walk among us, their civilization does not.
    The imagination that a people encourages and allows its children to explore is a powerful indicator of that people's fate, in my opinion.
    Let's see what the next 1000 years bring, since this experiment is still running. Perhaps Cahokia will be the capital again?

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  • Cahokia, an Amerindian town on the Mississippi of 10,000 to 20,000 people. A forerunner of what might have been? Native Indian societies are widely seen as unchanging before Europeans came into the picture. This view sometimes has almost religious overtones. Amerindians lived in harmony with their world, and this harmony was broken by the White...
  • Since the agricultural developments were fairly recent (in evolutionary terms), would there have been much time for gene selection favoring agricultural traits (e.g. planning, forethought, cooperation, etc.)?

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  • Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    I view the North American Indians as having an incomplete nutritional package. Animal foods are essential to the diet in order to grow properly. (I base this on my reading of Weston Price's Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.) Skeletal remains from corn eaters are much less healthy than the hunter gathers. I suspect that population density was limited by the amount of animal food that the tribes could hunt or fish.

    I view cannibalism as a means to nutritionally supplement their diet. Compared to regular muscle meat, meat from heart is very nutritious, particularly in vitamin B12 which is only found in animal foods.

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  • Pre-Columbian copper artifacts from Illinois, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Illinois. In my last post, I criticized Jared Diamond’s theory about continent orientation and cultural evolution. This theory posits that people, and hence ideas, are likelier to circulate along an east-west axis than along a north-south one. This is because people tend to move about in environments...
  • UncleTom,

    The Malagasy language has Sanskrit loanwords, so there must have been some Hindu cultural influence. Most writers place the establishment of Malay-speakers in Madagascar between 600 and 1200 AD.

    Class stratification was generally weak throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Exceptions tended to be ephemeral or intrusive.

    A big man's power was likewise ephemeral and, thus, incompatible with sponsorship of long-term projects (works of literature, architecture, public works, etc.) He was powerful as long as he could display charisma, verbal bombast, and physical strength. These are all qualities that decline with age.

    You're right about patriarchy (which has been introduced by Islam into much of Africa). I should have used the term 'paternal investment.'

    African rice (fonio) is indigenous to West Africa.

    Anon,

    Your model is faulty. It does not adjust for the approximately 30,000 year head start of Eurasians over Amerindians.

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  • @ Peter Frost
    My comparison was more or less synchronic, it does not picture cultural dynamics of single societies. Ideally it should reflect the status of 1500 AD, but that could not be reached with the data at hand.

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  • Mike Zwick [AKA "Dahinda"] says:

    @theslittyeye:
    From Wikipedia

    Cahokia was the most important center for the peoples known today as Mississippians. Their settlements ranged across what is now the Midwest, Eastern, and Southeastern United States. Cahokia was located in a strategic position near the confluence of the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois rivers. It maintained trade links with communities as far away as the Great Lakes to the north and the Gulf Coast to the south, trading in such exotic items as copper, Mill Creek chert,[15] and whelk shells. Mississippian culture pottery and stone tools in the Cahokian style were found at the Silvernale site near Red Wing, Minnesota, and materials and trade goods from Pennsylvania, the Gulf Coast and Lake Superior have been excavated at Cahokia.

    At the high point of its development, Cahokia was the largest urban center north of the great Mesoamerican cities in Mexico. Although it was home to only about 1,000 people before c. 1050, its population grew explosively after that date. Archaeologists estimate the city's population at between 8,000 and 40,000 at its peak, with more people living in outlying farming villages that supplied the main urban center. In 1250, its population was about 15,000, comparable to that of London or Paris during the same period.[16]

    If the highest population estimates are correct, Cahokia was larger than any subsequent city in the United States until about 1800, when Philadelphia's population grew beyond 40,000.

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  • The Melagasy's ancestors came from present-day Borneo at some undetermined point, possible as early as 200BCE. There is little evidence of state formation or Hinduism, to my knowledge, on Borneo at that date.

    The fact the Melagasy have no written record of their migration (on either side of the Indian Ocean)…says enough.

    for example, the Chinese have written records of Borneo very early in history, but it does not seem the locals were writing that early, as they were not exposed to South Indian culture that early.

    I understand your point, but…to imply there was no patronage network and big man in East African tribal society…well that is hard to believe. Most societies above hunter-gathers have some form of chieftain, elder council, big-man, etc.

    Funny in the same location, about 1,000 years later Islam spread quickly among the coastal Bantu and Somali…which is extremely patriarchal.

    Rice farming did may not have existed in East Africa, but when was it brought to West Africa? There were plenty of rice farmers taken as slaves to the Americas, for the specific reason they knew how to grow rice already.

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  • Uncletom,

    In Eurasia, gunpowder, papermaking, and possibly the printing press were spread from east to west.

    On the Swahili coast of East Africa, Malay traders introduced several food plants that quickly spread throughout subSaharan Africa (plantains, bananas, one type of cocoyam and citrus fruits). These cultural innovations were accepted because they could easily fit into simple agricultural societies where women did most of the actual food production.

    The Malays could not introduce intensive rice-based food production. Nor could they introduce their religion (Hinduism at the time) with its notions of patriarchy and numerous restraints on behavior. Nor could they introduce their methods of architecture, garment-making, and the like. Such innovations could thrive only in a more complex society with State formation, class differentiation, and patronage by higher-ranking individuals.

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  • "Many cultivars now used throughout sub-Saharan Africa were introduced by Malay traders to East Africa during late antiquity (plantains, bananas, one type of cocoyam and citrus fruits). Clearly, new food plants could and did spread to sub-Saharan Africa from Eurasia. Why did other other cultural innovations fail to take root? '

    Please given an example? I believe Ethiopia, Swahili coast, and West Africa got many cultural innovations from the Middle East, including Islam.

    Or maybe a comparison? What cultural innovations spread from Central Asia or East Asia into Europe or vice versa?

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  • Theslittyeye,

    The most accessible source would be the Encyclopedia Britannica (under "American Peoples, Native"). I would also recommend:

    Trigger, Bruce G. Natives and Newcomers: Canada's "Heroic Age" Reconsidered. Montreal, QC, McGill-Queen's University Press, 1986.

    The Iroquois confederacy probably originated before the 16th century:

    "Until recently most anthropologists viewed the growth of large tribes and confederacies as well as destructive warfare as responses to indirect European pressure upon the native societies of eastern North America. It now appears that, as a result of believing this and concentrating too heavily upon changes in subsistence patterns, archaeologists may have oversimplified the late prehistory of the Iroquoian peoples and underestimated the dynamism of their cultural pattern and its capacity to generate new forms of creative and destructive behaviour. The Iroquoians now seem to have evolved the essential features of their way of life before the first Europeans appeared along the east coast of Canada."

    Natives and Newcomers, p. 108

    Anon,

    Yes, there are common cultural traits between the Solutreans (southwestern France, c. 20,000) and early Amerindians, but this similarity extends into Sibera and eastern Europe at the same time depth (e.g., beveled-base bone points, use of grave goods with ocher, bifacial basally thinned projectile points, end scrapers, etc.).

    In other words, around 20,000 years ago, there was a common cultural tradition in the steppe-tundra belt extending from southwestern France to Beringia.

    Anon,

    The transition from hunting/gathering/fishing to agriculture was slower in Europe for a number of reasons. (1) The cultivars (developed in the Middle East) were less suitable in northern Europe; (2) In northwestern Europe, fishing provided a very productive alternative to farming; (3) Hunting was already being supplemented with pig farming (and reindeer domestication farther north).

    I wasn't trying to argue that Amerindians were more innovative than Eurasians. My argument was that they were no less innovative, despite reduced access to east-west cultural diffusion.

    Uncle Tom,

    "Once again comparing Meso AMerica and the Andes, which are probably less than 10% of the America's land mass"

    10% of the land mass, perhaps. 10% of the New World's population, definitely not.

    In any case, this post is not about cultural evolution in Mesoamerica.

    "Most Americans lived nothing like people in Meso-America"

    Actually, the mound builders of the Mississippi valley were very comparable to Mesoamerican civilizations. The difference was largely one of degree. The main qualitative difference was the absence of a writing system and a calendar (which the Mayans had developed).

    Your points about Africa are mostly valid. My main comparison, in this post, was between cultural evolution in pre-Columbian America and cultural evolution in Eurasia.

    We know, however, that cultural traits did diffuse from Eurasia into the Horn of Africa and also to the coasts of present-day Tanzania and Kenya. Many cultivars now used throughout sub-Saharan Africa were introduced by Malay traders to East Africa during late antiquity (plantains, bananas, one type of cocoyam and citrus fruits). Clearly, new food plants could and did spread to sub-Saharan Africa from Eurasia. Why did other other cultural innovations fail to take root?

    Anon,

    Is your correlation based on the pace of cultural evolution or the final end point of cultural evolution? Modern humans have been in Eurasia for a longer time than in the Americas.

    Artur,

    What's an NBD? (I regularly discuss IQ on this blog, the last time being two weeks ago).

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  • Discussing human history in the Americas without mentioning the NBD factor or IQ is like talking about hurricane Katrina without mentioning the bad black behaviour that followed.

    A little more honesty in these scientific blogs, please.

    - crimesofthetimes.com

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  • Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    In my opinion Diamonds theory is not dead. To this end I carried out a point biserial correlation between continental orientation of the respective societies (0 = vertical axis, 1 = horizontal axis) and an index of cultural development (Carneiro`s Index of Cultural Accumulation) for 64 cultural groups, which resulted in a considerable 0.7.
    Compared to that the correlation between this index and IQ (after Richard Lynn) reached 0.5. Bearing in mind that IQ is not completely determined by genes and that Lynn`s very low figures for Africa are disputed, one can say that geography beats genes. I beg your pardon for my trashy English, but I am no native Speaker.

    Best regards!

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  • @theslittyeye: Google Cahokia and Adena and Hopewell tribes of Ohio.

    The Mississippi and Ohio River valleys around 1000 AD were beginning to form advanced neolithic cultures. The Iroquois Federation was an incipient state that unfortunately (for them not us) was found by the Europeans before it could coalesce.

    @anonymous: The Solutreans, if real, were 14,000 years earlier and did not (if real) contribute to Meso-American and Northern American Indian culture.

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  • Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    As this document points out, obtaining reliable evidence for the independent development of metallurgy and iron production in sub-Saharan Africa is fraught with difficulty because of the wishful thinking and poor technique among other things of various researchers:

    Iron in sub-Saharan Africa.

    Wikipedia is an ideological cesspool in those areas that are not strictly fact based (like the instruction set of the Intel 8080).

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  • Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Europeans quickly found this out and also had much trouble dealing with this, hence why the "Conquest of Africa" happened mostly in the 18th century, despite hundreds of years of coastal contact. Europeans simply lacked the knowledge to deal with such tropical disease. Yet the British, Portuguese, and Dutch had long been in South Asia and Southeast Asia.

    I don't think that's quite historically accurate – check http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scramble_for_Africa. I think the main differential driver is that there simply wasn't anything worth anything inland, and pretty much nothing on the coasts other than slaves and waystations.

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  • there were making iron in West Africa in 1,000 BCE, had long ago made cooper.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nok_culture

    Why did this not spread? In fact the people and their technology seemed to have disappeared, although some argue there was cultural continuation, the evidence is sketchy.

    Once again comparing Meso AMerica and the Andes, which are probably less than 10% of the America's land mass to all of Africa is like me only speaking about Ethiopia and Sudan and excluding the rest of Africa.

    Most Americans lived nothing like people in Meso-America or the Andes and their technology, writing systems, and religions did not spread even 1,000 km from where they lived, typically.

    One can argue due to barriers of desert and jungle.

    I would argue a couple of things to consider about Africa:

    1) It is not about the width of the continent but if the environments are similar. Is Coastal Nigeria similar to Ethiopia, which are on the same line of latitude? I would argue not at all. What are the barriers in the way? Dense Jungle and platues.

    The technologies and cultures that would develop in Coastal or even inland central Nigeria are not anything like what yo would have in Congo, Central African Republic, Sudan, or Ethiopia. There is more variation.

    There is definitely more variation than between the Ukrainian steppe and Northern China/Mongolia.

    2) Africa is somewhat unique in the fact it has some very very contagious diseases, which tend to spread harshly in densely populated areas by insect or water.

    This is talked about, I believe, here:

    http://www.amazon.com/Sex-War-Biology-Explains-Terrorism/dp/1933771577

    Good read in general.

    Euros tried to live as they did in Europe and died off quite quick, forgot where, I think in the Congo.

    Europeans quickly found this out and also had much trouble dealing with this, hence why the "Conquest of Africa" happened mostly in the 18th century, despite hundreds of years of coastal contact. Europeans simply lacked the knowledge to deal with such tropical disease. Yet the British, Portuguese, and Dutch had long been in South Asia and Southeast Asia.

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  • Amerindian men and women had to plan over a predictable yearly cycle

    This doesn't seem like it explains why the pace was faster than in the Middle East or Europe though, particularly in Mesoamerica…

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  • Peter, what do you think about the Solutrean hypothesis?

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  • Those = Though*

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  • Very good theory in general. Those I was wondering if you could provide a link for this assertion:
    "Take the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture. Around 100 BC, agriculture was still confined to the American southwest. The rest of the present-day United States was home to nomadic hunter-gatherers. By 800 AD, agriculture had spread throughout most of the central and eastern U.S. and into southern Ontario. By 1000, the Mississippi valley had urban centers that were each built around a central plaza with earthen temple mounds. These developments were accompanied by a suite of cultural innovations: skilled metalworking; food storage in pits and cribs; timber palisades and bastions; and formation of intertribal confederacies"
    I might be a bit ignorant in Amerindian culture, for I have not never heard of any of this except the "formation of inter-tribal confederacies, which I assume you were referring to the Iroquois in 16th century?
    Pardon me if I sound too stupid, but I would really appreciate if you could provide me some additional information on that point. Thanks.

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  • John Winthrop, ~1600. Mitt Romney, 2008 - image credit, Jessica Rinaldi Recently Megan Mcardle had a post up where she expressed curiosity as to why "futurists" circa 1900 had a tendency not to imagine revolutions in clothing style which might have been anticipated to occur over the next few decades. You also see see this...
  • Also mass production and disconnection with job people aren’t dressing specifically for their gig as much and would have to rely solely on their own creativity, and may not want to stand out.

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  • Clark, I think you are overlooking that most of the variation in clothing was with men until the 20th century. Before that women were fairly limited to varieties of dresses: different patterns, colors, material, but typically full length garb of some sort. Maybe this is outside of what you are focusing on though?

    I think what really killed it was men just got really fucking stiff. I think the two world wars and then the cold war- stiffer and stiffer. America vs. Communism- whole lotta stiffs – power moved away from Europe- less stiff fashion wise. There is this Bush song Everything Zen I love to quote in certain matters like this where the line goes “there’s no sex in your violence”. These forces seem to be seperating or compartmentalizing off idealogies to fragment peoples lives into profession life, private life, family life, sex life, public life, religious life, web life. A lot of these don’t overlap as much today as I think they might have once had. Web life is a new addition to hide/escape in and that starting to have more and more of an eye on you.
    This is a crude way of breaking down some weird progression of militarism that follows the Elightenment.

    And then a big battle is today in acknowledging homosexuality people are always eager to create clear lines of what is straight style / this is “questionably un-masculine”.

    I think the tatoo/piercing thing is a misguided/over-done aspect in a trend to loosen up. Without getting too into it I feel there’s a connection between militarism and tribalism, I think a lot of people aren’t as idividual as they think.

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  • Mercy, I think there is experimentation among even males in youths. But I think if you look at the typical American High School you’ll find that a surprisingly few number actually do this. The vast majority honestly don’t dress that different than they did in the 60′s. There will be stylistic variations primarily due to what stores actually sell. But if anything I think there’s probably much less innovation among the youth than in that odd period of 1964 – 75. I think that was just an exception due to a lot of innovation culturally. What’s so interesting is that rather than reaching a new equilibrium we tended to revert to what was going on prior to the 60′s. Only with fewer hats. (Much to the disappointment of bald men everywhere although after a couple of decades shaved heads became pretty mainstream so the loss wasn’t that big of a deal)

    This is a bit surprising when you look at the evolution of fashion in prior centuries. Typically each century was radically different from what went on before. Now even when the youth innovate typically it’s just for a period from 16 – 24. After which they adjust to societal norms. The norms vary regionally. For instance in San Francisco there’s a big influence of Indian dress for some reason. Go to Utah and you’ll find a stereotypical “suburban look.” You have an “inner city look” (where arguably there is a lot more innovation in male fashion although that’s tended to stabilize more the last 6 years or so)

    It’s kind of interesting honestly. Were I to make a prediction it would be that women’s fashions will stabilize more and we’ll have a small range of casual appearance and an even smaller range of professional appearance. Much as happened with men.

    The biggest innovations right now, as you mentioned, are tattoos and piercings. I’m not sure how those will end up. (Personally I find a lot of piercings pretty ugly – especially on the face – but obviously a lot of people disagree with me) My guess will be that it’ll become more conservative with time and that we’re in the experimentation phase since the early 90′s. I’d bet it’s already peaked and we’ll end up with more piercings as mainstream than in the 80′s but with far fewer than what you might see on the streets of San Francisco. We’ll see however.

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  • I may be missing the point, but it seems worth pointing out that the Roundhead picture in wikipedia is from the 19th century and thus, perhaps, not reliable. The Cavalier pictures are a mix of contemporary and 19C.

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  • @Clark, in addition to women’s business fashion being relatively conservative (but not nearly as conservative as men’s) men’s casual fashion is relatively experimental, about as much as women’s for the lower classes/teenagers- compare a mods to punks, shellsuits to tracksuit bottoms, the long hair of the nineties to the currently supreme high and tight. But from what I can tell upper class men have stuck to the same loafers and casual suit sort of things for a while.

    Which makes me think you’re prediction about women’s fashion becoming more conservative is right- probably the main factor is the knock on effect of having to wear formal suits to work, which limits what you can do with hair/body mods/etc – it’s easier to have a fairly conservative style so your wardrobes can overlap a little and you don’t need to learn two vocabularies. Upper class people go to a lot of events and places where they are expected to dress formally and that bleeds through into their casual wardrobe. Male students only dress formally to crash bullingdon club parties, so they are free to experiment as much as women.

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  • “In hot, humid climates certainly when air conditioning came around clothing styles changed to match,”

    While the traditional Anglo-Italian suit of Europe and the Northeast is a dark died wool, the traditional suit of the American South and some Latin American jurisdictions to its South is a light gray or white lightweight linen (Dukes’ of Hazard fans can recall “Boss Hog”, Perry Mason also favored them).

    The British who were not bound by the mystique of their own fashion rules, as a former boss of mine famously liked to recall when justifying his own coiture, conquered the world in shorts. But, many colonial subjects, erring on the side of caution in emulating the British model wore suits.

    The American West, which was settled more by Yankees than Southerners, originally favored the Northeastern style three piece dark wool suit even as temperature rose in its arid summers in Southern latitudes. Conceptually, the dress shirt worn beneath the suit which not surprisingly got pretty nasty in the hot weather, was conceived of as a form of underclothing at that time.

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  • Hmm…apparently “shirtjack” is West Indian usage. See here, if the Google Books link works for you.

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  • Ian says:

    In hot, humid climates certainly when air conditioning came around clothing styles changed to match,

    Not if my father is correct. He grew up wearing worsted wool suits in the humid tropics (at least for work and parties) at a time when air conditioning was exceedingly rare. If you look at older pictures, people wore suits regularly until the 1970s, when lighter weight “shirtjack suits” became popular. By the late 1980s only businessmen wore suits any more. I would argue that, at least in Trinidad, the dominant signal was the 1960s (including the Black Power movement) and the decline of the suit (in Trinidad) probably owes more to Nehru and Nkrumah than air conditioning.

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  • One way to think about culture is as a hierarchical structure. Some branches are at the very root of the tree from which the overall culture is constructed, some are mid-level, and some are at the very top.

    Top level branches in the tree (e.g. narrow neckties v. wide neckties) change frequently. Indeed, one of the important way that art historians date portraits is from the micro-fashion details in vogue at different points in the target time period.

    Mid-level branches in the tree (e.g. neckties v. no neckties for men), change less frequently, but upset not only the mid-level branch, but every subordinate top level branch detail that flows from them.

    Base branches in the tree (e.g. may women wear pants), change infrequently, but have profound implications for a large share of all of the branches in the tree.

    The 1965-1970 time period, probably most notable historically because it threw out the very basal cultural assumptions that discrimination on the basis of race and gender was appropriate. This upset myriad other cultural assumptions that were subordinate to these understandings.

    Fundamentals of selective pressures from a changing environment (e.g. air conditioning, clothing prices) would act on each cultural choice point until it flipped, and where those selective pressures act mostly on the base choices without much relevance to the subordinate branches of that choice (e.g. slavery v. not slavery without much importance to the details of slave codes), you would expect immense strain in the system followed by dramatic, revolutionary change (e.g. abolition in a Civil War).

    If I were to start out to make a mathematical model of this kind of situation and didn’t want to get too carried away in drawing cultural component hierarchy trees, I’d assign each cultural choice a number N that would reflect the extent that the choice was foundational or superficial, with N chosen such that N=log(frequency of change in that cultural component). Thus, I’d expect the same kind of stochastic pattern that you see in earthquake magnitude and flood severity.

    Also, like earthquakes, you would expect to routinely see rather severe aftershocks whose number, duration and severity is proportionate to the magnitude of the original peak shock.

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  • BTW – I vaguely recall reading an article on the timing and social networks of women’s fashion comparing it to the flight characteristics of flocks of birds. i.e. a similar mathematics at work. This was obviously for western fashion. I tried to find it but can’t seem to locate it anywhere. (And I’ve no idea about the validity of the model)

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  • I think the gender differences of dress are particularly fascinating. Male fashion frankly is much more stable. And when there are changes it tends to be towards normalizing fashion. (i.e. bow ties even in tuxes falling out of favor for the already dominate long tie) What constitutes radical male fashion is a slight change in color or a slight raising or shortening of the ankle cuff of pants.

    Contrast this with female fashion where it changes much more rapidly with far more radical changes. When I watch movies about adults from say the 30′s through 60′s or 80′s men look noticeably different but not *that* noticeably different. Women on the other hand in film or TV look very dated. (The 70′s were a slight divergence due to the initial play of polyester leisure suits – but you could argue that was due to the combination of new technology and limits on using that technology)

    I think that what is going on is partially a reflection of the different sort of power relations. I’d expect that within realms where women’s power becomes more like men you’ll start to see a lot more conservative tendencies. (I think you already see that in business dress with the slight move in hair style) With regards to other cultures not already western I think you see men wanting to “protect” the women from the western culture but embracing it themselves. As women get more autotomy they’ll embrace it. (I think you see that among the different groups even in Iran)

    What I don’t know is whether that range of variability within women’s fashion applies within other cultures – just within the already established limits of that culture. I know I’ve seen that in some African cultures but I don’t know if it is a general trend. (i.e. you may have a social taboo perhaps primarily enforced by males to be non-western but a wide range of options they can work within outside of the western fashion) I just don’t know enough about Islam to know if or how that would work with the way females are covered. I’d expect (but may be completely wrong) that in private or with other women we’d still find fashion as a signal of place, power and so forth.

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  • hey razib, could you point me to source on why evolution is scale independent?

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  • #1, good point btw. thinking on it.

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  • While it may not be accurate, given that this observation is made via the filter of the media, I’ve always thought it interesting that men worldwide seem to have more western dress, such as suits (particularly for men in power), and women worldwide seem to have more local dress.

    this is true. i recently saw a muslim family enjoying the sun. all the males were in t-shirts and jeans or shorts. the women were covered up in a culturally expected manner.

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  • Gil says:

    While it may not be accurate, given that this observation is made via the filter of the media, I’ve always thought it interesting that men worldwide seem to have more western dress, such as suits (particularly for men in power), and women worldwide seem to have more local dress.

    Similarly, I was surprised to see in footage of the ‘Arab spring’ in Egypt and Libya how the young men there were dressed: much like young men here in t shirts and jeans adorned with adidas logos.

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  • Culturally, say in your fashion example, there are technological changes that could very well cause discontinuities. In colder wetter climates when central steam heat came around I think you would see quite a large difference in clothing, and I think you do. In hot, humid climates certainly when air conditioning came around clothing styles changed to match, as well as population and population activities. Not too many siestas in the American Southwest, and evening meals are way earlier than they used to be. I think these kinds of cultural (technology changes are cultural changes right?) discontinuities from technology should somehow be reflected in any model.

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  • The fruits of human cooperation The Pith: Human societies can solve the free rider problem, and generate social structure and complexity at a higher level than that of the band. That implies that much of human prehistory may have been characterized by supra-brand structures. Why cooperation? Why social complexity? Why the 'problem' of altruism? These...
  • Would be happy to supply a review copy for you of Pat Churchland’s new book, Razib. Can you email me your mailing address? [email protected].

    Best,
    Jessica
    Publicist @ Princeton University Press

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  • Gav says:

    Interesting contrast with the Celtic cattle raiders you mentioned in passing. Here you had a strongly hierarchic society with raids (lluydd on this side of the Irish sea, usually translated as hostings) undertaken mainly by war bands (teulu) of high status males (uchelwyr). The contemporary literature, which may not be reliable, suggests that main reward for taking part was renown -”hwy clod na golud” and all that. Although the prospect of cows and other plunder could no doubt be a bonus this probably evened out in the longer term. Free-riders appear to have been punished by shame. (Diogenes mentions guilt. I’m not sure there’s any evidence of that in the literature.)

    Organised cattle raiding (as opposed to simple theft, which still goes on) persisted in parts of Britain probably until the early seventeenth century.

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  • Despite Dawkins’ atheism and anti-Christianity I have wondered on occasion if he didn’t have some similarities to a particular sort of reactionary Roman Catholic who took St. Augustine’s theories of original sin too much to heart.

    I would have bet a substantial sum that Dawkins was a lapsed Catholic, but apparently he was raised as an Anglican, who tend to be pretty Augustine-lite.

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  • Adam and Eve, Saint Augustine, and original sin? Do a search: First Scandal.

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  • Beliefs, Symbols may be more immediate mechanisms.
    Even freeloaders reconstruct their cheating as some form retribution. Otherwise they “can’t live with themselves”. Guilt is the other side of “Faith”. Appropriate punishment is often received with relief by the cheater. How irrational is that?
    There’s also the self-destructive behaviour (“Apoptosis”-like) of the self-accusing-unpunished guilt-laden or the belief-deprived; and some individuals propensity for idiosyncratic beliefs, becoming misadapted.

    Think we may have evolved already, as a species, well beyond purely rational cooperating independent agents.
    That’s maybe why we can’t expect reasonable behaviour from ourselves despite how much we try.
    Just aren’t making too many calls at that level anymore.
    Despite people’s beliefs about themselves.

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  • “i don’t review books i haven’t read”

    How White of you!

    (I just wanted to use that interesting phrase, no deeper meaning is intended). Nice post.

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  • Could you provide a similar analysis of her book and how it relates to the game theoretic analyses

    i don’t review books i haven’t read :-)

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  • I’m not sure the way to read any of these studies is to be looking for one set of observations to repudiate looking at dynamics from one particular level of granularity or another. Depending on the process at hand, I think there will invariably be some levels of dynamics which are more useful than others.

    Even if, for instance, social status is converted directly into biological currency, this might validate individualistic dynamics, but it certainly doesn’t mean that a different higher-unit of selection couldn’t be a useful encapsulation of the individualistic machinery.

    Your observation that one dynamic to explain all is hopefully just common sense in etho-evolution: I can’t imagine that it’s actually contentious, is it?

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