How do we find ourselves in the early twenty-first C century in the particular state we are in? And why do we have the social predispositions that we do?

Humans have the capacity to acquire variant traditions by imitation and teaching, and can accurately, quickly, and selectively acquire the most common variant. The result is the cumulative cultural evolution of complex, socially learned adaptations, adaptations that are far beyond the creative ability of any.

However by 2004 there are very few well designed studies that critically address competing hypotheses about the source of human behavioral variation. It seems however that culture is adaptive because it can do things that genes cannot do for themselves. And all adaptations involve compromises and tradeoffs.

Flight allows birds easy escape from many kinds of predators, and it makes long-distance migration practical. However, birds operate under many design constraints necessary to make flight possible in the low-density, low-viscosity medium of air. For example, their bones must be light but rigid-constraints are met by the fact that their bones are hollow tubes that, while light and rigid, are very delicate, failing catastrophically when bent, like aluminum lawn furniture.

But when culture gives us the ability to imitate things essential to human life, doesn’t it also makes us take up bits that cripple and kill-not unlike like the air we breathe?

It is argued that most of the information necessary to construct what we call culture is latent in genes shaped by Pleistocene environments.  John Tooby and Leda Cosmides seem to believe that little post-Pleistocene behavior can be reliably predicted by adaptive considerations. Human behavioral ecologists, by contrast, cite evidence that traditional Holocene societies often seem to behave quite adaptively compared to modern societies. In either case, explanation rests on a direct interaction between individual minds and the "environment," not on the evolutionary dynamics of culture.

Modern societies might have a higher frequency of maladaptive cultural variation given that the ratio of nonparental to parental cultural influence has increased so dramatically. The use of mass media for advertising fitness-

During 2004 most available Mathematical models in fact are shorn of all the rich detail that makes people themselves so interesting. Foolish indeed are the mathematical modelers who confuse their abstractions with reality. But when used properly, mathematics schools our intuition in ways that no other technique can.

And maybe bit by bit, models can be used to dissect the logic of complex systems. The sharp contrast between the difficulty of making good models and their manifest simplicity compared to the phenomena they seek to understand is a humbling.

Alan Rogers's simple model in which social learning evolved without being adaptive led to some insights into exactly what properties are needed for culture to be adaptive.

Foolish, of course, is the empiricist who thinks that even the most beautiful set of data captures any complex phenomenon completely, especially one who thinks that the data from his own case applies without exception to a diverse system such as human culture. However, data are the ultimate arbiter. More than just testing hypotheses, data often start us thinking in the first place.

But the importance of cultural variation in the human species is hardly more dubious than role of gravity in the motions of the planets.

But the world is so complex that without sound empirical data the theorists are blind. Those who claim to study unquantifiable complexity are being unreasonable, for quantifying is precisely what we do when things get complicated.  


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