As a part of my “Cultural Evolution in the Digital Age” exploration (see some previous posts, and here a preprint), I’ve recently read some non-academic books about the topic. This is not intended as a review and clearly not as an exhaustive list, but I decided to make a quick blog post as it may be of some interest. Also, I’d be certainly happy to receive other reading suggestions in the comments.
A few books very relevant for cultural evolution have been published in the last months.
A researcher in the field of cultural evolution – whom I never met in person and would be probably very surprised of this wildly out-of-context mention – twitted, few weeks ago, that “Implementation is the hard part, not the idea. […] I have five ideas in the shower every morning. That’s the easy part.” My showers are, alas, far from being that exciting, but, for some reason, the musing resonated with me when I first saw it, and it continued to resonate through the reading of “The Origins of Monsters”.
In general, I tend to read books that are quite closely related to my research (Joe Henrich’s The Secret of Our Success is on my desk, nothing surprising there) or ones – generally fiction – that have nothing to do with it (Station Eleven and Americanah are both half-read on my kindle, waiting for better times). More rarely I try to delve into academic essays on subjects I am only half familiar with, but I might plan to do it more in the future. In fact I just had a very nice surprise with Addiction by Design. Machine Gambling in Las Vegas written by MIT anthropologist Natasha Dow Schüll.
One of the most repeated criticism of the analogy between cultural and biological evolution is that inheritance in the former, but not in the latter, is Lamarckian. Things may be, to a certain extent, complicated (“Lamarckian” evolution might mean different things; the concept of soft inheritance, which might include “Lamarckian” forms, is no more a taboo in biology), but the nuts and bolts – which are, I think, what really matters for the analogy cultural/biological evolution – are not.