Making do without selection—review essay of “Cultural Evolution: Conceptual Challenges” by Tim Lewens
Cultural evolution is a growing, interdisciplinary, and disparate field of research. In ‘Cultural evolution: conceptual challenges”, Tim Lewens offers an ambitious analytical survey of this field that aims to clarify and defend its epistemic contributions, and highlight the limitations and risks associated with them. One overarching contention is that a form of population thinking dubbed the ‘kinetic approach’ should be seen as a unifying and justifying principle for cultural evolution, especially when considering the role of formal modelling. This book makes a number of extremely valuable contributions to the literature. However, I argue that not all is as it may seem regarding the kinetic approach and that, while it does little to diminish the book’s value, the use which Lewens makes for it is problematic.
KeywordsCultural evolution Evolutionary models Cultural selection Population thinking
Thanks to Kim Sterelny, Rachael Brown, Christopher Lean, and the evolutionary theory reading group at the Australian National University for helpful suggestions and discussions.
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