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Cultural EvolutionSociety, Technology, Language, and Religion$
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Peter J. Richerson and Morton H. Christiansen

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780262019750

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: May 2015

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262019750.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM MIT PRESS SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.mitpress.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright The MIT Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in MITSO for personal use.date: 24 June 2022

The Cultural Evolution of Technology and Science

The Cultural Evolution of Technology and Science

(p.193) 11 The Cultural Evolution of Technology and Science
Cultural Evolution

Alex Mesoudi

Kevin N. Laland

Robert Boyd

Briggs Buchanan

Emma Flynn

Robert N. McCauley

Jürgen Renn

Victoria Reyes-García

Stephen Shennan

Dietrich Stout

Claudio Tennie

The MIT Press

This chapter explores how the principles and methods of cultural evolution can inform our understanding of technology and science. Both technology and science are prime examples of cumulative cultural evolution, with each generation preserving and building upon the achievements of prior generations. A key benefit of an evolutionary approach to technological or scientific change is “population thinking,” where broad trends and patterns are explained in terms of individual-level mechanisms of variation, selection, and transmission. This chapter outlines some of these mechanisms and their implications for technological change, including sources of innovation, types of social learning, facilitatory developmental factors, and cultural transmission mechanisms. The role of external representations and human-constructed environments in technological evolution are explored, and factors are examined which determine the varying rates of technological change over time: from intrinsic characteristics of single technological traits, such as efficacy or manufacturing cost, to larger social and population-level factors, such as population size or social institutions. Science can be viewed as both a product of cultural evolution as well as a form of cultural evolution in its own right. Science and technology constitute separate yet interacting evolutionary processes. Outstanding issues and promising avenues for future investigation are highlighted and potential applications of this work are noted. Published in the Strungmann Forum Reports Series.

Keywords:   sources of innovation, social learning, facilitatory developmental factors, cultural transmission mechanisms, cumulative cultural evolution, external representations, population size, population thinking

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