Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Science of Cultural Evolution Begins

Anthropologists traditionally approached Cultural Evolution from a top-down perspective. They gathered data about observable behavior, and then they constructed descriptive models that are employed to interpret human behavior.

These models are virtually always referred to as “theory”, but a model can’t serve as a theory within a scientific context because models can’t explain how human cultural behavior functions.

Constructing a theory that explains Cultural Evolution requires an understanding of the distinction between change and evolution. Change is reversible. You can drive your car down the road, then turn around and drive back to the starting point. You’ve experienced change but not evolution. Evolution is not reversible. Once you learn a bit of knowledge you are irrevocably changed. Knowledge cannot be unlearned.

Complexity Theory (also referred to as Chaos Theory) provides a general explanation of evolving systems (see Nicolis and Prigogine, 1989). Biological and cultural systems are both complex evolving information systems.

Biological information is transmitted in discrete bundles, which is coded in our DNA. Cultural information is transmitted continuously in all directions, like a radio wave. These differences in information transmission separate these two disciplines into distinct sciences.

The science of Cultural Evolution begins now.

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