Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution


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Boyd and his co-author, an environmental scientist, explained why culture was "essential to human adaptation, as much a part of human biology as bipedal locomotion.


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  • Not By Genes Alone How Culture Transformed Human Evolution.
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  • Not by genes alone : how culture transformed human evolution in SearchWorks catalog;
  • Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution, by Peter J. Richerson and Robert Boyd.

Your book is called "Not by Genes Alone. We wanted to call it "The Nature of Culture," but our publishers, wouldn't have it. They didn't want us stuck on the social science shelves at the bookstore, where books generally don't do well. The book is a synthesis of current thinking on the role culture plays in human evolution. My co-author, Peter Richerson, and I believe that when discussing the traits that have helped humans become such a successful species, we should avoid that old nature-versus-nurture debate.

[PDF] Not by genes alone: How culture transformed human evolution. - Semantic Scholar

That's the view that behavior is either learned or genetic. Instead, we need to be talking about genes and culture, and how they interact with each other. Most people think that culture is free from the shackles of biology because it is learned. That's wrong. Learned behavior is shaped by psychological mechanisms that have evolved, just like any other trait. Culture is special in that it is transmitted from individual to individual and evolves through the generations.

Among social scientists, the conventional wisdom has it that you've filled in an important piece of the evolutionary puzzle. What makes your theory new? Unlike the conventional nature-nurture view, we explain why culture is adaptive, and why it causes people to behave so differently from other animals. We say that while in the long run all organisms adapt by genes, only humans can accumulate knowledge over long periods of time and transfer it so that the next generation can improve on it.

It's this trick that has allowed people to be as successful as we are. We have the widest range of any mammal. We occupy every inch of the globe basically except Antarctica.

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We were able to do it because different human populations can acquire from the previous generation the special tools and ways you need to live in such a wide variety of places. There's no way that genes can teach an Inuit how to make a kayak, but others in the community can. Humans are animals who evolved in the tropics, but who now hunt for seals in the Arctic.


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  • Not By Genes Alone How Culture Transformed Human Evolution.

We've been able to do that because we have culture. Not in the sense that they have traditions that change as they are transmitted. In another, they use longer ones. Yes, this seems to be socially transmitted. But what doesn't happen is an accumulation of knowledge. What they don't get is something that gets better and better through time.

Pete Richerson: Cultural Evolution and Business

In human cultures, things change with each generation. Populations create things that are useful in their survival and these things evolve and get better so that people can flourish. No single individual could have created something as complex and functional as the kayak. There are biologists who think that a lot of our behavior is hard-wired into our genes. Do you? I don't think anything is hard-wired.

Even the number of fingers on your hands isn't hard-wired. Even the genes that get expressed as your limbs develop depending on environmental circumstances. The thalidomide babies of the 's know that rather directly.

Not by Genes Alone

There was a time when anthropologists went off to New Guinea and observed how the local people lived. You work in Los Angeles, where you produce theories and mathematical models. Should Margaret Mead be rolling in her grave? I've done field work. But what Margaret Mead did was cultural anthropology. I'm a biological anthropologist. This is indeed the case of a book that should not be judged by its opening remarks! In the pages of this interesting book, the authors address two critical claims in a bold but fact-based manner:. With respect to the first claim, Richerson and Boyd present a wealth of empirical illustrations that point to the role of culture in accounting for human behavior and that discount or minimize the role of other external factors e.

One of the best illustrations of this rich assemblage of data regarding the role of culture in shaping behavior is presented at the beginning of the book. There, the authors make the case that differences in people's beliefs and attitudes regarding personal honor can account for differences in aggressive behavior between Southerners and Northerners.

They rely on an impressive variety of evidence collected by Nisbett and Cohen , ranging from laboratory data to ethnographic facts, to support their assertion. The authors claim that this curious contextual difference in homicide rates is supported by a difference in the beliefs that Southerners and Northerners hold about violence and the circumstances that can justify it.

The second claim embodies Richerson and Boyd's most daring proposal. These authors put forward the thesis that cultural in addition to natural environments have shaped the survival of individuals in groups, thereby affecting which genes are transmitted to the next generations. Interestingly, the authors do not deny that the way human beings process environmental and personal information is shaped by natural selection.

They simply acknowledge that natural selection is influenced not only by natural environments but also by cultural ones. Thus, culturally acquired variations in the way Southerners and Northerners engage in violent acts can be assumed to have been preserved across generations not only via direct learning of beliefs from one generation to the next but also via natural selection. Both claims rely on the concept of "population thinking" through which Richerson and Boyd explain how some beliefs and attitudes survive across time in some social groups and other beliefs and attitudes simply disappear.

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This concept allows the authors to generate an account of cultural evolution in which culture can rapidly bring into being useful behavioral changes adaptations to altered environments. Thus, culture becomes, in the view of the authors, a compensatory mechanism for the adaptations that biology would need considerably more time to implement. One of the most captivating aspects of the book is its reliance on diverse domains of knowledge such as Anthropology, Psychology, Political Science, Sociology, and Economics.

The authors navigate each domain skillfully and purposefully on a mission to select evidence that can be used to test their claim that culture is a critical factor in human evolution. As skillful scientists, they examine all the different kinds of evidence objectively, whereas as clever writers they arrange their findings into a sturdy edifice that can weather not only many assaults from opposing parties but also the mere passage of time.

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The book is unquestionably an engaging read for scholars and students of human evolution. Notwithstanding the large number of attention-grabbing examples that the authors rely on for their theoretical arguments, the book can become a challenging enterprise for readers who are not familiar with this area of knowledge. Not surprisingly, the bibliography at the end of the book can provide useful material for in-depth analyses of the claims that the authors put forward and the facts that they select to support such claims.

However, a solid background in the Social Sciences is required to fully appreciate the authors' theoretical arguments and their selection of supporting evidence.

Thus, this is not a book for novices in the field of human evolution. Rather it is a step forward in a long-standing debate that is continuing to be controversial and whose appreciation requires a great deal of prior knowledge. Maura Pilotti, Ph.

Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution
Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution
Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution
Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution
Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution
Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution
Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution
Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution

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