Cultural species and their ecosystems

Commentary on “Do Institutions for Collective Action Evolve?” by Elinor Ostrom

Abstract

The target article was written for a workshop that I organized with Lin Ostrom titled “Rules as Genotypes in Cultural Evolution”. In my commentary, I describe the background for the workshop and target article in addition to commenting on the article itself. A compelling case can be made for functionally organized human groups as like species that adapt to their local environments. A cultural inheritance mechanism is required for this to happen, which functions analogously to genetic inheritance, although the mechanistic details need not be analogous. Indeed, a diversity of cultural inheritance mechanisms are possible that need not be mechanistically analogous to each other. In addition, most modern human populations consist of a diversity of functionally organized groups, or cultural ecosystems. The distinction between “species” and “ecosystem” is important because the concept of an inheritance system applies primarily to the former. Finally, positive cultural evolution in modern large-scale society must be engineered and an explicitly evolutionary perspective will add value to the enterprise.

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Acknowledgments

I join the many others who knew Lin in mourning her passing and I cherish the opportunity that I had to work with her for several years prior to her death. I thank my colleagues at the Evolution Institute for their role in making my collaborations with Lin possible.

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Correspondence to David Sloan Wilson.

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Wilson, D.S. Cultural species and their ecosystems. J Bioecon 16, 31–38 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10818-013-9170-8

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Keywords

  • Cultural Evolution
  • Evolutionary Perspective
  • Human Group
  • Proximate Mechanism
  • Target Article