Exactly four years ago, writing on this very blog, I was starting to mumble about the possibility of a journal dedicated to the field of Cultural Evolution. The post prompted a number of supportive reactions and some actual actions – for example, a meeting at the EHBEA Conference 2014 in Bristol – but without any concrete results (my summary of the situation at the end of 2015 is here).
I found, thanks to twitter-induced serendipity (others call it procrastination), the lyrics of the songs included in the annual Billboard Top-100 from 1965 to 2015 (i.e., considering a few missing, ~5,000 songs). You can find in GitHub, together with the raw data, some clarifications on how the data were collected, their limitations, etc. plus a pointer to a nice analysis already done.
The complexity of some cultural domains, such as technology, seems to be linked to population size. This makes intuitive sense: after all, we have iPhones and rockets, whereas hunter-gatherer societies do not. How does this work, however, for other, non-technological, cultural domains? Western stories are not more complex than Aboriginal Australians ones (I guess). What about religions, or kinship systems?
The next EHBEA conference in Paris will include a “satellite meeting” on cultural attraction theory: Cultural Evolution by Cultural Attraction: Empirical Issues
I will give a talk titled Three predictions for cultural attraction theory. Below the (tentative) slides. If you cannot wait, the three predictions are:
- lo-fi copying is more significant than hi-fi copying in cultural transmission
- domain-general social influence (context-biases) is not very important
- culture is a matter of global, often neutral, traditions, more than local, generally adaptive, differences
An interesting article from Thom Scott-Phillips has been recently published in the Journal of Cognition and Culture: A (Simple) Experimental Demonstration that Cultural Evolution is not Replicative but Reconstructive – and an Explanations of Why this Difference Matters.
The article describes an experiment that nicely illustrates (“make flesh” in the words of Scott-Phillips) a thought experiment proposed by Dan Sperber. Shortly, imagine a Chinese whispers game, in which chains of individuals have to reproduce two drawings. One is a familiar configuration (in the specific case, the first three letters of the latin alphabet), while the other one is a meaningless scribble (see the image below, from Scott-Phillips’ paper).