Edited by Guido Buenstorf
Chapter 3: Emergent Cultural Phenomena and their Cognitive Foundations
Christian Cordes INTRODUCTION 1 The social sciences have long been occupied with the ‘micro–macro problem’ (for example, Jackson, 2002; Dopfer and Potts, 2004).1 If, when formulating a theoretical concept, we start from individual behavior, as most economists do, how can we ever get to a proper account of society-scale – emergent – phenomena? On the other hand, if we start with collective institutions, as many sociologists do, how do we account for individual behavior? We show in this chapter that a theory of cultural evolution addresses and integrates a micro and a macro level (see Henrich and Boyd, 1998): (i) at a cultural level it is shown how cultural variants spread and persist within a population via processes of cultural learning; and (ii) at the genetic evolutionary level the conditions are analyzed under which natural selection favors the psychological mechanisms underlying the cultural evolution of groups. To understand the evolution of the psychological mechanisms that shape culture, it is necessary to analyze how individual psychology shapes the cultural environment and how that environment conditions the behavior that people acquire. Moreover, we show how the theory of gene–culture coevolution clarifies the recursive connection between humans’ innate psychological predispositions and the macro-level institutions in which humans are always embedded. To provide some additional insights into the dynamic aspects of multilevel cultural evolution, the chapter presents a model of the transmission of cultural contents via processes of social learning, and expounds how these influence the diffusion of novelty in a population. As...
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