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Biotech Science

Natural Selection Can Act on Human Culture 239

Posted by Zonk
from the people-are-people-so-why-should-it-be dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Scientists at Stanford University have shown for the first time that the process of natural selection can act on human cultures as well as on genes. The team studied reports of canoe designs from 11 Oceanic island cultures, evaluating 96 functional features that could contribute to the seaworthiness of the vessels. Statistical test results showed clearly that the functional canoe design elements changed more slowly over time, indicating that natural selection could be weeding out inferior new designs. Authors of the study said their results speak directly to urgent social and environmental problems. 'People have learned how to avoid natural selection in the short term through unsustainable approaches such as inequity and excess consumption. But this is not going to work in the long term,' said Deborah S. Rogers, a research fellow at Stanford."
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Natural Selection Can Act on Human Culture

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  • Memetics? (Score:5, Informative)

    by nickovs (115935) on Sunday February 17, 2008 @08:01AM (#22452396)
    Isn't this just memetics [wikipedia.org] in action?
    • Re:Memetics? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by kripkenstein (913150) on Sunday February 17, 2008 @08:46AM (#22452554) Homepage

      Isn't this just memetics [wikipedia.org] in action?
      Memetics is a fun term. As a qualitative notion, it makes some intuitive sense. But what the article mentions is work that was quantitative (it compared functional vs. decorative features and their rate of change), and hence actually scientific. If you must talk using terms like 'memetics', then you might say that this research is important in that it finally brings some quantitative investigation into memetics instead of the usual 'just-so' stories.

      That said, whether the researchers' results can support their wild speculation at the end of TFA (connecting their research to global warming, religious fundamentalism, and what have you) is another thing. Such speculation is silly.
      • by Niten (201835)

        Memetics is a fun term. As a qualitative notion, it makes some intuitive sense. But what the article mentions is work that was quantitative (it compared functional vs. decorative features and their rate of change), and hence actually scientific.

        With all respect, what in the hell are you talking about? To paraphrase the Wikipedia entry, Memetics is an approach to creating models for cultural information transfer. You know, just like natural selection is an approach to creating models for evolution. Of course it's not "quantitative"; it's a model for understanding the quantitative data.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by kripkenstein (913150)

          Memetics is a fun term. As a qualitative notion, it makes some intuitive sense. But what the article mentions is work that was quantitative (it compared functional vs. decorative features and their rate of change), and hence actually scientific.

          With all respect, what in the hell are you talking about? To paraphrase the Wikipedia entry, Memetics is an approach to creating models for cultural information transfer. You know, just like natural selection is an approach to creating models for evolution. Of course it's not "quantitative"; it's a model for understanding the quantitative data.

          The point is that memetics is not amenable to quantitative analysis. In other words, you can't derive hypotheses that you can test, unlike genetic evolution, which has been proven many times over. By studying cultural/mental content, memetics has a far more elusive target.

          But it's not impossible. The research we are told about in TFA in fact does that, it (finally) does a serious quantitative study of cultural evolution, a field that until now has been almost entirely about qualitative claims, e.g., "re

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by It'sYerMam (762418)
            You do you realise you can make qualitative predictions, don't you? If I burn calcium, I can predict it will burn red, even if I don't know what wavelength it will be. More relevant, Tiktaalik was a qualitative prediction, as was the appearance of human chromosome 2 - two qualitative predictions very important in the field of evolution.
            • You do you realise you can make qualitative predictions, don't you? If I burn calcium, I can predict it will burn red, even if I don't know what wavelength it will be. More relevant, Tiktaalik was a qualitative prediction, as was the appearance of human chromosome 2 - two qualitative predictions very important in the field of evolution.

              Of course. I was focusing on qualitative vs. quantitative because it seemed most relevant. But if you want to be more accurate, then the issue is that memetics is hard to subject to empirical testing, unlike genetics. And that TFA does manage to empirically test a hypothesis about cultural evolution.

              Fair enough?

          • by Niten (201835)

            Here's the problem: You were lambasting memetics as fundamentally unscientific because it can't be used to make "quantitiative" predictions about reality, but here we have what is essentially a study in memetics doing just that... which you yourself admit is the case. Your objection seems to fall along the lines of (1) memetics has little empirical research behind it so far, but (2) this research is scientific, therefore (3) this research must not be memetics. It's an absolute non sequitur.

            The point is that memetics is not amenable to quantitative analysis. [...] But it's not impossible. The research we are told about in TFA in fact does that

            Well, which

            • Perhaps I wasn't clear.

              What I was saying is this. The simple fact is that cultural evolution has not been empirically tested, so far. This is, among other reasons, because it is hard to quantify. Now, very nicely, TFA shows how this can in fact be done and we can get nice results.

              I hope that is better.
      • what the article mentions is work that was quantitative (it compared functional vs. decorative features and their rate of change), and hence actually scientific

        It's scientific from that point of view, yes, but it still falls short of other criteria for defining what's scientific or not.

        In the first paragraph they make the somewhat tautologic affirmation that "Scientists at Stanford University have shown for the first time that cultural traits affecting survival and reproduction evolve at a different rate th

        • Please define 'scientific proof', from what I understand 'proof' is a term that only makes sense in axionomic systems.

          You also don't have to look far to see people are cautious about change when lives are at stake, just ask any bridge builder.

          Your political argument is OT and even if were relevant it falls flat when you compare modern China with Mao's cultural revolution.

          Finally I don't think tautologic [princeton.edu] means what you think it does.

          BTW: Your criticisim that 'it's just an example' is valid but it
          • by mangu (126918)

            from what I understand 'proof' is a term that only makes sense in axionomic systems

            In a sense yes, but in common speech it is often used in a more extensive manner. We aren't writing a doctoral thesis here in /.

            Your political argument is OT and even if were relevant it falls flat when you compare modern China with Mao's cultural revolution.

            What do you mean OT? The discussion is about how cultural ideas are selected, right? What is politics but a set of cultural ideas? And your argument is corroborating what

            • by sumdumass (711423)
              Well, to sort of back up your argument on the value of political connection, we must remember stupid top down decisions that could directly effect the topic at hand. A recent example would be when some government body in Indiana attempted to change the value of pi by legislature.

              It is quite possible that better designs where known and could have been implemented but weren't because if civil ruling like that. And with smaller population sizes and more localized governance, this could have effected the entire
      • by HanzoSpam (713251)
        That said, whether the researchers' results can support their wild speculation at the end of TFA (connecting their research to global warming, religious fundamentalism, and what have you) is another thing. Such speculation is silly.

        Oh, maybe not entirely silly - but so far the data seem to show that cultural evolution isn't favoring the population the researchers think it should... [acuf.org]
    • is religion not a collection of survival lessons, wrapped in mnemonic stories to preserve the knowledge across generations? doesn't the bible have helpful hints like "get your drinking water _upstream_ from the latrine"? in a pre-industrial pre-scientific world the only reliable way to avoid STDs is monogamy.

      and what better way to ensure compliance than to tap into the natural human spirituality circuits, invoking the authority of the deit[y|ies] spinning tales of eternal damnation for transgressors...hey,
    • by ultranova (717540)

      Japan has a law forbidding showing of genitals in art; consequently, the local porn is usually censored. However, Japan also has a thriwing industry for drawn (cartoon) porn; this combined with a pre-existing disposal towards octopuses and the tentacled horror from beyond -concept of Lovecraft and formed the modern-day Japanse tentacle porn scene.

      Anyone care to make a doctorate thesis about memetics using this as an example ?-)

    • by mapkinase (958129)
      I would call this disease grantophilia.
  • Hmmm (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dreamchaser (49529) on Sunday February 17, 2008 @08:07AM (#22452416) Homepage Journal
    This almost reads more like a political agenda than a scientific study. "We must return to nature or we are doomed," to grossly paraphrase.
    • by vertinox (846076)
      "We must return to nature or we are doomed," to grossly paraphrase.

      I'll disagree about the returning to nature part, but systems which have some type of natural selection are usually the ones that end up being more efficient in the real world than on paper. Take planned economy versus a free economy. There are just too many variables to economics to simply plan it out and force it to work. But when you have it setup in a way that businesses sink or swim simply but "natural" process then only the strongest o
    • So designes which are more optimal change slower than those which are less optimal. Sounds like trial and error to me.

      My second thought was:

      We know that conservative approaches to design (small incrimental changes) tend to do a better job of creating functional items than innovative approaches because designs tend to be based on what works and subject to successive approximation rather than new ideas. That is true of software engineering, canoe building, swordsmithing etc.

      In short, it dosn't sound well th
      • Shorthand: not only do we not know what works about what we do, we don't even always know what we're doing, even when it works. The engineer's bias toward explicit knowledge over implicit adaptation (something often in evidence here in /.) is starting to filter its way back into the social sciences, unfortunately.
  • by spammeister (586331) <fantasmoofrcc.hotmail@com> on Sunday February 17, 2008 @08:08AM (#22452420)
    Does that mean because Windows Vista is an inferior design to XP does that mean natural selection could play a role in "weeding out" this particular direction the Windows world is taking? Definitely an "unsustainable approach" as far as I'm concerned.

    Or we just put separate M$ design teams on a deserted islands on the Pacific and whoever can build a canoe to get them back to society wins?
    • by Z00L00K (682162)
      Natural selection has a great deal of randomness involved. Some features that occurs may be completely irrelevant, which means that they neither improve nor decrease the ability to survive. In other cases a change may be balanced out by another so the survival rate is still the same as before.

      This means that it's only over a long time that survivability and evolutionary changes can play a role. OK, in the software world a long time is measured in the scale of minutes to a few years - but in the matter of

  • Long-term (Score:4, Insightful)

    by michaelmalak (91262) <michael@michaelmalak.com> on Sunday February 17, 2008 @08:19AM (#22452462) Homepage

    Unfortunately, people have learned how to avoid natural selection in the short term through unsustainable approaches such as inequity and excess consumption. But this is not going to work in the long term.
    Oh, it'll work out very well in the long term, that is, assuming the entire race isn't annihilated. The most sustainable cultures on Earth will survive. I think the quoted researcher meant to say medium term.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by AikonMGB (1013995)

      I think you misunderstood the quoted researcher.

      Unfortunately, people have learned how to avoid natural selection in the short term through unsustainable approaches such as inequity and excess consumption. But this is not going to work in the long term.

      (Emphasis mine). The researcher is saying that European/North-American/etc. culture is currently operating in an unsustainable way, and that this works in the short-term (i.e. we are "developing" and "improving" our lives), but that in the long-haul, any c

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Unfortunately, people have learned how to avoid natural selection in the short term through unsustainable approaches such as inequity and excess consumption. But this is not going to work in the long term.

        (Emphasis mine). The researcher is saying that European/North-American/etc. culture is currently operating in an unsustainable way, and that this works in the short-term (i.e. we are "developing" and "improving" our lives), but that in the long-haul, any culture that hopes to survive must operate in a sustainable way. If they don't, they will consume all available resources until their way-of-life disintegrates around them.

        Aikon-

        That very quote calls into question the researcher in question as a scientist. There is no evidence that Western Civilization is unsustainable. Intuitively, it seems like it must be. However, Julian Simon made a bet with Paul Ehrlich that resources were becoming less expensive. Paul Ehrlich and several colleagues selected five metals in 1980 that they felt would rise in price over the next decoade. Julian Simon bet them that they would fall or stay the same. Julian SImon won the bet, all five metals fell i

        • Re:Long-term (Score:5, Interesting)

          by AikonMGB (1013995) on Sunday February 17, 2008 @11:58AM (#22453628) Homepage

          Have you taken a look at Western Civilization's fossil-fuel consumption? These are resources that by their very definition are not replenishable. And, quite frankly, all the metals in the world won't do you squat if you don't have the energy to drive them around or build anything with them. Beyond fossil fuels, there are other important resources, such a food. Notice how the deserts (in North America, sure, but in China in particular) are growing? They are losing arable soil at an alarming rate, and yet their population is increasing all the same. Food doesn't grow on trees, you know ;) In all seriousness, what happens when you go to the market to buy food for your family and find that vegetables have gone up in price 10-fold because China has started importing en masse?

          These are just two particular examples, but there are many more.. do some research on the renewable water table levels in Asia; you might be surprised how dry some of their mega-aquifers are. There's no point in trying to defend the "sustainability" of a fossil-fuel based society/economy. Even if the space program takes off and we fly to Titan to rape her resources [slashdot.org], we're just prolonging the same situation: a dependence on a resource that is fundamentally limited in quantity.

          ----- Note that the above is the end of my point, and what follows is just additional ranting; do not make reference to it when defending the discussion at hand, as I am well aware that I am now talking about time-scales on the thousands or tens-of-thousands of years. -----

          When you get down to it, nuclear power; there is a finite amount of suitable radioactive material in this world that, assuming our use of nuclear power continues to rise, will one day run out (of course this is much longer-span than fossil-fuels, but the time it takes is the only difference).

          North-America (which I can speak to directly since I live there) lives in a wasteful, consumerist society. We are wasteful of our environment, we are wasteful of our resources, of our energy, of our food... In the "long term", unless we leave this planet, our energy consumption must be limited to a "solar quota", i.e. the amount of sunlight the Earth receives, as that is the only "input" energy this world has. Everything else is simply consuming solar energy that was stored a long time ago.

          ----- And now for some wild hyperbole, simply because its fun. -----

          Actually, if you really get down to it, there's no point in anything since anything we do contributes to the eventual heat death of the Universe, and there is only a finite amount of energy (assuming a finite Universe) that we can consume even if we had ideal means of obtaining it.

          • You are arrogant. The facts and available resources we know today are all we will ever know. No one will ever come up with solutions we could not imagine today.
            Coal is a non replenishable, yet me have centuries more of coal supply today than we had in 1950, even though we haven't found a significant increase in the amount of known coal reserves. Why? because we don't use as much coal today as we did then. How do you know that the same won't happen with oil?
          • These are just two particular examples, but there are many more.. do some research on the renewable water table levels in Asia; you might be surprised how dry some of their mega-aquifers are. There's no point in trying to defend the "sustainability" of a fossil-fuel based society/economy. Even if the space program takes off and we fly to Titan to rape her resources, we're just prolonging the same situation: a dependence on a resource that is fundamentally limited in quantity.

            Actually, this is my definition of intelligent life: "Exploit limited resources to gain an advantage"

            So, yeah. It's not just western civilization. As you write yourself, everything we are and everything we could be, the meaning of life itself. It all hinges on exploiting limited resources, until the heat death of the universe.

            Now that we got that part out of the way, let's discuss at what RATE we should be consuming those resources. This, my friends, is the path to enlightenment.

      • Uh, yeah, that was my joke. The researcher used the word "work" in reference to the narrow definition of Western culture, whereas I broadened it up to include the whole human race.
      • by TheLink (130905)
        So what will happen is the Stupid will vote, but a few of the Smart will still control everything...

        Maybe the species might split eventually, but I don't think the Smart are that smart are they?
    • by rrohbeck (944847)
      >Oh, it'll work out very well in the long term, that is, assuming the entire race isn't annihilated.

      Reminds me of a quote from BBC's "Planet Earth" series (I'm paraphrasing): "Why are all species part of natural cycles? The ones that fouled their nest didn't make it for long."

      People are used to thinking in decades or centuries. Obviously our path is not sustainable over millennia. So the question is, are we going to invent our way out of that natural resource crunch or not, and what will the collateral d
    • The most sustainable cultures on Earth will survive.

      I agree with this statement. What I'm less certain of is whether those cultures will be microbial or human.

      If the measure of intelligence is the ability to flexibly overcome life's obstacles, then in the climatic intelligence test that's coming up, pitting us against other organisms, we may be in for a rude awakening ... er, ... a rude being-put-to-sleep.

    • by tjstork (137384)
      Oh, it'll work out very well in the long term, that is, assuming the entire race isn't annihilated. The most sustainable cultures on Earth will survive. I think the quoted researcher meant to say medium term.

      No, they won't. The cultures with the strongest militaries and the willingness to use them will kill off those that don't, and take their stuff.
      • The cultures with the strongest militaries and the willingness to use them will kill off those that don't, and take their stuff.
        Define "strongest" with respect to ancient Rome and the barbarians.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by oliderid (710055)
        It was the strategy of the Huns...They occupied almost the whole Eurasian continent? Do you remember anything from them?
        Rome was totally different. Rome used to assimilate other people.

        Rome used to be stronger : culturally, economically and even military for hundreds of years. Empires raise and die that's a natural process in human history. Rome was different from most Empires. Their main tool was diplomacy, especially during the gauls conquest or in Greece. They used their alliances with local kings or cit
  • by syousef (465911)
    Natural selection, vs Intelligent boat design: The new debate

    But seriously, this approach on first glance says to me that these scientists don't understand the word natural in the term Natural Selection, and probably don't understand scientific method very well either. I mean for fuck sake, human beings have time and time again built bigger and better designs over time in many areas. Anything that can be engineered. Boats, Bridges, Buildings. You name it. That's nothing new. Misapplying statistical analysis
    • by talljosh (1240964) on Sunday February 17, 2008 @08:40AM (#22452530)

      But seriously, this approach on first glance says to me that these scientists don't understand the word natural in the term Natural Selection, and probably don't understand scientific method very well either.

      Based on my understanding of the biological process of natural selection, natural selection would roughly translate in this instance to the boats which are most well-suited for thir environment surviving long enough to reproduce while those less well-suited dying off before they can breed.
      I agree: the observations would seem to be better explained by good design practices than by some form of natural selection.
      • natural selection would roughly translate in this instance to the plans for boats which are well-suited for their environment surviving long enough to be taught to younger planners while those less well-suited are forgotten before they are taught to anyone.

        Fixed that for you.

        I happen to agree with the corrected version. Especially in this instance, since an aspiring apprentice boat builder would seek training from the guy whose boats survived the really bad storms, and shun the builder whose boats sink if they go outside the lagoon.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by 26199 (577806) *

      The "natural selection" they are talking about is exactly the same for cultural traits as for genetic traits. Good traits => higher chance of host surviving and passing on said traits. Bad traits => lower chance of host surviving and passing on said traits. This clearly applies to canoe design, regardless of whether other factors are involved because of actual engineering work. It's inescapable that if you do something that kills you then you won't be around to teach others to do it.

      The important pa

      • by einhverfr (238914)
        Or maybe:

        Joe here makes better canoes than Jim so I will buy them from Joe.

        Next year:

        Jim has copied Joe's designs and charges less so now I will buy then from Jim.

        Next year:

        My friends tell me that Joe's new canoes are just a little better than Jim's because he has made some tiny improvements. I guess I will go back to buying them from Joe.

        The fact of the matter is that it is generally harder to improve on a good design than a bad one. Yet people want something that is functional and often people learn fro
  • People have learned how to avoid natural selection in the short term through unsustainable approaches such as inequity and excess consumption. But this is not going to work in the long term

    So they start off looking at canoes and then make the seemingly unconnected statement that "unsustainable approaches ... won't work in the long term" and are therefore (wait for it, this is good) unsustainable!

    I don't know anything about canoe design, nor about sociology - if that's what this is, but from the quality

    • by thogard (43403)
      It doesn't matter what you don't know about either sociology nor canoe building. It turns out that when the 1st Europeans ran into the Polynesians they insisted in teaching them the new way to navigate which worked very well for local navigation but wasn't very good for long voyages but the older ways quickly seemed to have been forgotten and now the navigation of the ancient Polynesians trade routes is completely mystery to nearly everyone.

      Maybe I need to research this. I need a good sail boat, a bit of
    • Basically it seems they've discovered that islanders who make boats with holes in the bottom don't show up at surrounding islands to tell everyone how great their boats are.

      This has implications for today's modern global culture too. Aliens on other planets won't be greeted by humans arriving in spaceships to tell them about their own dandy ideas.
  • by Hope Thelps (322083) on Sunday February 17, 2008 @08:59AM (#22452584)

    People have learned how to avoid natural selection in the short term through unsustainable approaches such as inequity and excess consumption.

    Nonsense. People haven't "learned to avoid natural selection", they've been subject to it. In the short term natural selection has favoured these "unsustainable approaches" which have helped in providing decent life expectancy and thus breeding opportunities for billions of people, in the long term natural selection may not favour this approach (by definition, it won't if they are in fact unsustainable). That's natural selection at work. There is no avoiding it.
    • by dargaud (518470)
      When I hear people claim that natural selection doesn't work on people and that evolution doesn't apply anymore to the human species, I bring forth some examples like the drunk teenagers crashing their cars (main cause of teenage mortality). Those won't breed. Repeat for enough generations and drunk driving will be mostly solved through evolution: those remaining won't be as stupid.
      • by crashfrog (126007)
        When I hear people claim that natural selection doesn't work on people and that evolution doesn't apply anymore to the human species, I bring forth some examples like the drunk teenagers crashing their cars (main cause of teenage mortality).

        There's a much, much better example of natural selection operating on human beings - people tend to have sex with people they're attracted to, not at random. And they certainly don't have children with random people; there's always a selection involved, whether that's se
        • There's a much, much better example of natural selection operating on human beings - people tend to have sex with people they're attracted to, not at random. And they certainly don't have children with random people; there's always a selection involved, whether that's selection for resources, good genetics/immunotype (assessed instinctively by appearance, smell, or cognitively by genetic examination), or some other criteria.

          While this is reasonably true for women, it's much less so for men. Men, in genera

    • As basic organisms evolved, for obvious reasons they developed sensory apparatus, to detect heat and cold and each other. It was a matter of time before such an apparatus detected itself, and consciousness was born. But consciousness is not isolated to each individual. We are programmed to communicate with each other, and that communication is fundamentally about how to deal with life, and pass on our collective genetics. A long time ago, that would have been along the lines of understanding useful plants,
  • Since culture is heritable and mutable, and affects survival and reproductive prospects at the levels of individuals as well as populations, it would be surprising if it weren't a target of natural selection.
  • by edwardpickman (965122) on Sunday February 17, 2008 @09:19AM (#22452654)
    Technology has been a boon to nature selection. The less survival worthy seem to find testing the limits of technology irresistable. Their valiant attempts to test those limits is helping to insure the security of the gene pool. If we really want to improve the gene pool we need to go wide with a TV show, "American Darwin". The contestants compete to come up with the most extreme way to commit suicide on national TV. No takers? Obviously you haven't seen Jackass.
  • by europa universalis (1081469) on Sunday February 17, 2008 @09:27AM (#22452698)

    So if I get this right... the outcome of their research is that over time, pacific islanders tried to make better and better boats?
    By not changing features that worked well and changing features that failed?
    Doesn't natural selection have to be done by nature for it to be natural?
    Isn't this just selection?

    For what it's worth, I suspect that the original paper had to do with the applicability of the mathematical models for predicting the rate of change, or something. To imply that divergence was shaped by a winnowing process during migration from island to island, they would have demonstrate that the alterations under consideration actually had improved seaworthiness. Otherwise, the divergence is just random drift, and it's just a demonstration that the pacific islanders knew what the critical elements of outrigger design were, and didn't mess with them too much. Saying that "natural selection could be weeding out inferior new designs" is just saying "shucks, we didn't disprove our hypothesis."

    [previously on the 'firehose' thingy by accident, whatever that is]
    • by crashfrog (126007)
      Doesn't natural selection have to be done by nature for it to be natural?

      What do you think "nature" is, precisely?
  • It's amazing how smart people can be so daft. Of course the same forces apply in many fields. In biology it's called "natural selection", in economics it's called "the market", in engineering it's the trend towards a design monoculture (whether it's the internal combustion engine or Windows). Hell, even Rush Limbaugh knows about economic Darwinism.

    The study itself is an interesting confirmation that market forces would lead to the same results over a long enough time period even when the available communication channels are biologically slow. But the conclusion that this is some kind of new revelation indicates to me that the communication channels between Stanford and the real world may also be biologically slow.
  • humbug (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ph0rk (118461) on Sunday February 17, 2008 @09:31AM (#22452720)
    I am beginning to grow less and less fond of the application of terms from evolutionary biology to the study of culture.

    In 99% of instances, cultural schemas do not need to be 'fit' in a darwinian sense to spread through diffusion or other processes - they can be spread due to power imbalance or just because whatever new widgets one makes once they follow the ways of whatever look cool.

    I suppose that "cultural evolution" is somewhat shorter than "culture change over time", but that does not mean that when using the former term we should try and treat it like biological evolution - it just doesn't follow. Assuming that getting to the island they can't see over the horizon but know are there is an urgent crisis, then yes, they will probably have a somewhat linear progression of canoe design, keeping the innovations that worked around longer. To assume otherwise is to assume the early Polynesians were idiots. Why this becomes a problem is it is difficult if not impossible to determine what the urgent issues are for past cultures, and you'll need a few more examples to make a stronger case.

    Even then, you may have an interesting theory about efficiency of design when under long-term pressure, but how the heck do you apply it to more ephemeral cultural components like religion or etiquette?
    • In 99% of instances, cultural schemas do not need to be 'fit' in a darwinian sense to spread through diffusion or other processes - they can be spread due to power imbalance or just because whatever new widgets one makes once they follow the ways of whatever look cool.

      That's all "fit" in the Darwinian sense means: the idea that Darwinian "fitness" means anything but "this is what propogates". A peacock's tail is all about looking cool. Looking cool happened to be evolutionarily selected for in peacocks.

      Turn
    • Even then, you may have an interesting theory about efficiency of design when under long-term pressure, but how the heck do you apply it to more ephemeral cultural components like religion or etiquette?

      I won't touch the "religion" stuff since it would quickly get into 6 million dead in the Holocaust or 4 million to 9 million dead during the Burning Times, and this is without even going outside European history of civilized behavior. Netiquette: Godwin rules— this area is out of bounds.

      With regard to "etiquette", in Western America there is a very strong correlation between the decrease in courtesy shown to strangers and the decrease in carrying pistols. On the East Coast of America, the decreas

  • Yeah, partially because it's kind of a reach - refining design with a goal in mind isn't the same as the random outcome of selective pressures on organisms causing genetic traits to be selected for or against in a population over time. There's no notion of progress in the idea of evolution through natural selection. On the other hand, humans refining canoe design actually IS intelligent design. It's not random. And people are lazy, in a good way. Why change something that works, especially something you nee
  • natural selections, market forces, memetics is that world doesn't tolerate failure.
    A success of a scheme increases it popularity. The marginal but superior technology or meme will dominate long-term while less-adapted or relevant things will fade into obscurity.
  • Except (Score:3, Informative)

    by DynaSoar (714234) on Sunday February 17, 2008 @01:16PM (#22454172) Journal
    > "Scientists at Stanford University have shown for the first time...

    But only if you ignore the fields of evolutionary anthropology, sociocultural evolution and human sociobiology.
  • Since when did we have culture around here?

    The only human culture will be when nanites turn us into GreyGoo Yoplait.
  • There isn't an article yet. It's due out on Feb 19 - "in the online Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" - from TFA.

    The "article" is really a summary itself - in fact, it's more like a press release of the paper to come. Jared Diamond's in the "article" - a pretty heroic character for those that think - saying a good thing about the paper, so there's a clue.

    In fact - a little googling revealed that TFA in question is nothing more than a sophomoric rewording of a Stanford "news release" - http: [stanford.edu]
  • We really need some tighter definitional usage of "evolution" than, in effect, "anything getting better by any standard by means over any amount of time".

    Less popular canoe -> customer feedback -> design -> more popular canoe, simply isn't "natural selection" in any way related to the term's Darwinian usage other than the vaguely metaphorical. What's wrong with simply "things tend to be improved"? That usage at least acknowledges the element of teleology, which, strictly speaking is absent from "
    • by Empiric (675968)
      My sentence spontaneously evolved.

      We really need some tighter definitional usage of "evolution" than, in effect, "anything getting better by any standard by any means over any amount of time".
  • What the fuck has this got to do with evolution? Evolution reveals to us that humans and monkeys and alligators and gadflies and mushrooms are all related, and that they speciated as a result of accidental mutations selected by reproduction and millions of years. This paper reveals to us that... people can construct canoes by trial and error. Just like they build and refine any other tool ever produced.

You know that feeling when you're leaning back on a stool and it starts to tip over? Well, that's how I feel all the time. -- Steven Wright

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