Feb 18, 2008

heritable culture

maybe. physorg's article about a stanford study showing that human culture may be subject to natural selection is exciting. from the physorg summary, it doesn't look like the stanford paper argues that culture is genetically transmitted, only that cultural evolution is affected by processes analogous to those seen when natural selection acts on organismic genomes.

i have enough heated discussions about the topic of heritable culture (i'm using the term loosely -- i mean considering culture as a phenotypic characteristic) that i leap upon any kind of juried research even slightly connected to that area with alacrity. there's lots of existential fear around this, because systems of justice and ethics built on the idea that individuals are equal (and people who believe passionately in them) begin to founder once we begin to admit the possibility that culture traits of individuals and groups may be affected through the same kinds of systems that govern phenotype and on a much shorter timescale than usually is seen in the action of natural selection on genomes and phenotypes. this seems like a classic example of the kind of situation in which things have to get worse before they can get better.

(thanks to joel f for pointing this out)

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