A Different Kind of Animal – How Culture

Review From User :

This book consists in Boyd's Tanner lectures on Human Values (Princeton, april 2016) with comments by biologist Allen Orr, anthropologist Ruth Mace, philosopher Kim Sterelny, and economist Paul Seabright, and a reply. The main themes that Boyd developed over thirty years are summed up with concision and, usually, with great clarity, themes ranging on the whole speciation of the genus Homo from australopotiths (2.5 million years ago) up to the present day hunther-gatherer and pastoralist societies. Why did humans were that successful at invading so diverse ecological milieu (from deserts to the snowy peaks) How does cooperating and producing public good may have come about between complete strangers with no interest in furthering their mutual fitness

Proposals are made about :
the greater contribution to cultural evolution that quasi-blind social learning has over a high individual brain fire-power;
the defining of social learning as a tendency to copy fellow group-members (especially expert ones) even when their intent and the raison d'être of their way of doing is unknown, and when it is hard to track environmental cues in order to ascertain which behaviors is the best;
the likeness of the natural selection of such social learning (if environment cues are un-trackable, copy, if their are trackable, learn by yourself), demonstrated through mathematical formalization ;
how group's size and interrelation between group contribute to technological innovations ;
the learning biases of social learning arising from the cognitive machinery that supports it (the nature of biases is a topic on which Boyd is much less detailed than Cecilia Heyes in Cognitive Gadgets: The Cultural Evolution of Thinking);
the respective strength and limits of reciprocity and of third-party norm enforcement to foster cooperation in small and large groups ;
what cultural group selection amounts to and why it is distinct from the selection of altruistic traits.

The critical comments and reply show how stimulating and innovative the program laid by Boyd and Richerson was, and still is, for it not only raises good research questions, but also shows the way to resolve these (pace Sterelny); that is, through a formalized treatment drawn from the method of populational approach to biology.
*Take note : the formal parts of the book, with bayerian equations is not the most lay-reader friendly.


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