Dominique Guillo, Centre Jacques Berque (USR 3136, CNRS-MAEE), 35, avenue Tarik Ibn Ziad, 10000 Rabat, Maroc Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The meaning of the concept of natural selection undergoes important changes when it circulates, through the use of analogies, between the realms of biological and cultural phenomena. These changes are not easily detected, but they are unavoidable. They have to do with differences between the properties of cultural phenomena and those of biological phenomena: in particular, the absence of the equivalent of a Hardy–Weinberg law for culture. These differences make it necessary to translate the concepts of classic population genetics into the language of transmission. This translation enables the theorists discussed here to build a unitary general theory of evolution (GTE) based on analogies between biological and cultural evolution, and at the same time to single out their differences. But the unity and the rigor of this theoretical approach are merely apparent. The concept of selection as it is defined here loses, in its three spheres of application – GTE, culture but also biology – the meaning and explanatory power it has in classic population genetics. This means that the mechanism of Darwinian selection cannot be considered as a universal algorithm that is valid for both biological and cultural phenomena alike.
Media Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
We study the relationship between genetic evolution, learning, and culture. We start with the sim ulation environment of Hinton and Nowlan in which individual learning was shown to guide genetic evolution towards a difficult adaptive goal. We then consider, in lieu of individual learn ing, culture in the form of social learning by imitation. Our results demonstrate that when genes and culture cooperate, or enhance one another, culture too is able to guide genetic evolution towards an adaptive goal. Further, we show that social learning is superior to individual learning insofar as it with genetic evolution converges more quickly to the goal. However, the social learn ing algorithm results in slower genetic assimilation of adaptive alleles than with individual learn ing. It is as if, we argue, the adaptive values are stored in the culture rather than in the genes. Finally, we consider what happens when culture and genes pursue diametrically opposed goals. Here we show that culture, in the form of social learning, is no real match when opposed to genet ic evolution with individual learning. In fact, only the most herculean of social learning algorithms is able to keep a neutralizing toe-hold against the slow plodding force of genetic evolution. Finally, our results suggest that in both cases, opposition and enhancement, transmission forces such as the ratio of teacher to learner are central to the success of social learning.
Already there are some themes emerging from my attendance at the Sociological Imagination sessions, my listening to others around the table and to some readings I’ve done at the Library. There’s nothing substantial about this, perhaps I could describe them as “whispering” formations: