To most cultural anthropologists nothing is more apparent than the independence of the cultural and biological in human history. To attempt to explain culture and culture change by means of biological factors is to commit the logical and mathematical folly of accounting for something cumulative and forever changing by a relatively constant and inert element. The truth is that Homo sapiens of the modern type has changed physically hardly at all in the 30,000 years or more of his existence. It is not merely that organic change is always slow, that, as Kroeber has pointed out, in organic evolution one organ or structure must be laboriously replaced by another if bodily form is to be altered. In man there is this further complication; his very inventions may cushion him against natural pressures which would serve to initiate organic change.--"Cultural and Organic Conceptions in Contemporary World History" / Morris Edward Opler. In American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 46, No. 4 (Oct. - Dec., 1944), pp. 448-460.
"An important thing to remember is that there's always an incentive to hide your information. As an individual inventor or company, you're best off if everybody else shares their ideas but you don't share your ideas because then you get to keep your good ideas, and nobody else gets exposed to them, and you get to use their good ideas, so you get to do more recombination. Embedded in this whole information-sharing thing is a constant cooperative dilemma in which individuals have to be willing to share for the good of the group. They don't have to explicitly know it's for the good of the group, but the idea that a norm of information sharing is a really good norm to have because it helps everybody do better because we share more ideas, get more recombination of ideas."
The findings, published today by a team of U.S. anthropologists in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, overturn the theory that modern life’s relative ease has slowed or even stopped human adaptation. Selective pressures are still at work; they just happen to be different than those faced by our distant ancestors.
"We’re more different from people 5,000 years ago than they were from Neanderthals," said study co-author and University of Utah anthropologist Henry Harpending.
In the most massive study of genetic variation yet, researchers estimated the age of more than one million variants, or changes to our DNA code, found across human populations. The vast majority proved to be quite young. The chronologies tell a story of evolutionary dynamics in recent human history, a period characterized by both narrow reproductive bottlenecks and sudden, enormous population growth.
The first part of this review examines recent studies that have had some success in dissecting out the role of natural selection, especially in humans and Drosophila. Among many examples, these studies include those that have followed the rapid evolution of traits that may permit adaptation to high altitude in Tibetan and Andean populations. In some cases, directional selection has been so strong that it may have swept alleles close to fixation in the span of a few thousand years, a rapidity of change that is also sometimes encountered in other organisms. The second part of the review summarizes data showing that remarkably few alleles have been carried completely to fixation during our recent evolution. Some of the alleles that have not reached fixation may be approaching new internal equilibria, which would indicate polymorphisms that are maintained by balancing selection.
Our simple demographic model explains much of the recent pattern, but some aspects remain. Although the small number of high-frequency variants (between 78% and 100%) is much more consistent with the demographic model than a constant rate of change, it is still relatively low, even considering the rapid acceleration predicted by demography. Demographic change may be the major driver of new adaptive evolution, but the detailed pattern must involve gene functions and gene–environment interactions.
Cultural and ecological changes in human populations may explain many details of the pattern.
Broad claims about human psychology and behavior based on narrow samples from Western societies are regularly published in leading journals. Are such species‐generalizing claims justified? This review suggests not only that substantial variability in experimental results emerges across populations in basic domains, but that standard subjects are in fact rather unusual compared with the rest of the species—frequent outliers. The domains reviewed include visual perception, fairness, categorization, spatial cognition, memory, moral reasoning and self‐concepts. This review (1) indicates caution in addressing questions of human nature based on this thin slice of humanity, and (2) suggests that understanding human psychology will require tapping broader subject pools. We close by proposing ways to address these challenges.
Part of my program of research is to convince people that they should stop distinguishing cultural and biological evolution as separate in that way. We want to think of it all as biological evolution....It's going to be a little bit more of a complex story. Culture is part of our biology. We now have the neuroscience to say that culture's in our brain, so if you compare people from different societies, they have different brains. Culture is deep in our biology.
No Robots: No, let's look critically at the cultural values that we actually hold dear and imbue with a nimbus of scientific authority: aggression, dominance, hatred, manipulation.
This analysis supports the hypothesis that high adult lactose digestion capacity is an adaptation to dairying but does not support the hypotheses that lactose digestion capacity is additionally selected for either at high latitudes or in highly arid environments. Furthermore, methods using maximum likelihood are used to show that the evolution of milking preceded the evolution of high lactose digestion.
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