In The Secret of Our Success, Joseph Henrich claims that human beings are unique—different from all other animals—because we engage in cumulative cultural evolution. It is the technological and social products of cumulative cultural evolution, not the intrinsic rationality or ‘smartness’ of individual humans, that enable us to live in a huge range of different habitats, and to dominate most of the creatures who share those habitats with us. We are sympathetic to this general view, the latest expression of the ‘California school’s’ view of cultural evolution, and impressed by the lively and interesting way that Henrich handles evidence from anthropology, economics, and many fields of biology. However, because we think it is time for cultural evolutionists to get down to details, this essay review raises questions about Henrich’s analysis of both the cognitive processes and the selection processes that contribute to cumulative cultural evolution. In the former case, we argue that cultural evolutionists need to make more extensive use of cognitive science, and to consider the evidence that mechanisms of cultural learning are products as well as processes of cultural evolution. In the latter case, we ask whether the California school is really serious about selection, or whether it is offering a merely ‘kinetic’ view of cultural evolution, and, assuming the former, outline four potential models of cultural selection that it would be helpful to distinguish more clearly.
Cultural evolution Cultural learning Multi-level selection Cognitive science
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Anisfeld M (1996) Only tongue protrusion modeling is matched by neonates. Dev Rev 16:149–161CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Boyd R, Richerson PJ (1988) Culture and the evolutionary process. University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Chomsky N (1975) Reflections on language. Pantheon Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
Dennett DC (1978) Three kinds of intentional psychology. Perspect Philos Lang Concise Anthol 163–186 Google Scholar
Laland KN, Odling-Smee J, Hoppitt W, Uller T (2013) More on how and why: cause and effect in biology revisited. Biol Philos 28(5):719–745CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lewens T (2015) Cultural evolution: conceptual challenges. Oxford University Press, OxfordCrossRefGoogle Scholar
McEwen F, Happe F, Bolton P, Rijsdijk F, Ronald A, Dworzynski K, Plomin R (2007) Origins of individual differences in imitation: links with language, pretend play, and socially insightful behavior in two-year-old twins. Child Dev 78:474–492CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Meltzoff AN, Moore MK (1977) Imitation of facial and manual gestures by human neonates. Science 198:75–78CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Oostenbroek J, Suddendorf T, Nielsen M, Redshaw J, Kennedy-Costantini S, Davis J, Clark C, Slaughter V (2016) Comprehensive longitudinal study challenges the existence of neonatal imitation in humans. Curr Biol 26:1334–1338CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ray E, Heyes CM (2011) Imitation in infancy: the wealth of the stimulus. Dev Sci 14:92–105CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Richerson PJ, Boyd R (2001) The evolution of subjective commitment to groups: a tribal instincts hypothesis. Evol Capacity Commit 3:186–220Google Scholar
Richerson PJ, Boyd R (2005) Not by genes alone: how culture transformed human evolution. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar