Advertisement

The Pleasures and Perils of Darwinizing Culture (with Phylogenies)

Abstract

Current debates about “Darwinizing culture” have typically focused on the validity of memetics. In this article we argue that meme-like inheritance is not a necessary requirement for descent with modification. We suggest that an alternative and more productive way of Darwinizing culture can be found in the application of phylogenetic methods. We review recent work on cultural phylogenetics and outline six fundamental questions that can be answered using the power and precision of quantitative phylogenetic methods. However, cultural evolution, like biological evolution, is often far from treelike. We discuss the problems reticulate evolution can cause for phylogenetic analyses and suggest ways in which these problems can be overcome. Our solutions involve a combination of new methods for the study of cultural evolution (network construction, reconciliation analysis, and Bayesian mixture models), and the triangulation of different lines of historical evidence. Throughout we emphasize that most debates about cultural phylogenies can only be settled by empirical research rather than armchair speculation.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Access options

Buy single article

Instant unlimited access to the full article PDF.

US$ 39.95

Price includes VAT for USA

Subscribe to journal

Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.

US$ 99

This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.

References

  1. Aberle DF (1961) Matrilineal descent in cross-cultural comparison. In: Matrilineal Kinship (Schneider D, Gough K, eds), 655–670. Berkeley: University of California Press.

  2. Atkinson QD, Gray RD (2006) How old is the Indo-European language family? Progress or more moths to the flame? In: Phylogenetic Methods and the Prehistory of Languages (Forster P, Renfrew C, eds), 91–109. Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.

  3. Atkinson QD, Meade A, Venditti C, Greenhill SJ, Pagel M (2008) Languages evolve in punctuational bursts. Science 319: 588.

  4. Atkinson QD, Nicholls G, Welch D, Gray RD (2005) From words to dates: Water into wine, mathemagic or phylogenetic inference? Transactions of the Philological Society 103: 193–219.

  5. Aunger R, ed (2000) Darwinizing Culture: The Status of Memetics as a Science. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  6. Bakker P (1997) A Language of Our Own: The Genesis of Michif, the Mixed Cree-French Language of the Canadian Metis. New York: Oxford University Press.

  7. Bateman R, Goddard I, O’Grady R, Funk VA, Mooi R, Kress WJ, Cannell P (1990) Speaking of forked tongues: The feasibility of reconciling human phylogeny and the history of language. Current Anthropology 31: 1–24.

  8. Bellwood P (2005) First Farmers: The Origins of Agricultural Societies. Malden: Blackwell.

  9. Bellwood P, Renfrew C, eds (2003) Examining the Farming/Language Dispersal Hypothesis. Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.

  10. Bloomfield L (1935) Language. London: Allen and Unwin.

  11. Blust RA (1999) Subgrouping, circularity and extinction: Some issues in Austronesian comparative linguistics. In: Selected Papers from the Eighth International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics (Zeitoun E, Jen-kuei Li P, eds), Vol. 1: 31–94. Tapei, Taiwan: Academia Sinica.

  12. Blust RA (2000) Why lexicostatistics doesn’t work: The ‘universal constant’ hypothesis and the Austronesian language. In: Time Depth in Historical Linguistics (Renfrew C, McMahon A, Trask T, eds), Vol. 2: 311–331. Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.

  13. Borgerhoff Mulder M (2001)Using phylogenetically based comparative methods in anthropology: More questions than answers. Evolutionary Anthropology 10: 99–111.

  14. Borgerhoff Mulder M, Nunn CL, Towner MC (2006) Cultural macroevolution and the transmission of traits. Evolutionary Anthropology 15: 52–64.

  15. Boucher Y, Douady CJ, Papke RT, Walsh DA, Boudreau MER, Nesbø CL, Case RJ, Doolittle WF (2003) Lateral gene transfer and the origins of prokaryotic groups. Annual Review of Genetics 37: 283–328.

  16. Boyd R, Borgerhoff Mulder M, Durham WH, Richerson PJ (1997) Are cultural phylogenies possible? In: Human by Nature, Between Biology and the Social Sciences (Weingart P, Richerson PJ, Mitchell SD, Maasen S, eds), 355–386. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

  17. Bragg M (2003) The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language. London: Hodder and Stoughton.

  18. Brown DDG, Bick M (1987) Religion, class, and context: Continuities and discontinuities in Brazilian Umbanda. American Ethnologist 14: 73–93.

  19. Bryant D, Filimon F, Gray RD (2005) Untangling our past: Languages, trees, splits and networks. In: The Evolution of Cultural Diversity: A Phylogenetic Approach (Mace R, Holden CJ, Shennan SJ, eds), 67–83. London: UCL Press.

  20. Bryant D, Moulton V (2002) Neighbor-Net, an agglomerative algorithm for the construction of phylogenetic networks. In: Algorithms in Bioinformatics: Second International Workshop, WABI 2002, Rome, Italy, September 17–21: Proceedings (Guigo R, Gusfield D, eds), 375–391. Berlin: Springer.

  21. Campbell L (2004) Historical Linguistics. 2nd ed. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

  22. Carniero RL (2003) Evolutionism in Cultural Anthropology. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

  23. Charleston MA (2003) Recent results in cophylogenetic mapping. Advances in Parasitology 54: 303–330.

  24. Clifford J, Marcus G, eds (1986) Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. Berkeley: University of California Press.

  25. Collard M, Shennan SJ, Tehrani JJ (2006) Branching versus blending in macroscale cultural evolution: A comparative study. In: Mapping Our Ancestors (Lipo CP, O’Brien MJ, Collard M, Shennan SJ, eds), 53–88. New Brunswick, NJ: Aldine Transaction.

  26. Collard M, Tehrani, J (2005) Phylogenesis versus ethnogenesis in Turkmen cultural evolution. In: The Evolution of Cultural Diversity: A Phylogenetic Approach (Mace R, Holden CJ, Shennan SJ, eds), 109–132. London: UCL Press.

  27. Crowley T (1994) Proto who drank kava? In: Austronesian Terminologies: Continuity and Change (Pawley AK, Ross MD, eds), 87–100. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.

  28. Dagan T, Martin W (2006) The tree of one percent. Genome Biology 7 (10): 118.111–118.117.

  29. Dagan T, Martin W (2007) Ancestral genome sizes specify the minimum rate of lateral gene transfer during prokaryote evolution. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104: 870–875.

  30. Darwent J, O’Brien MJ (2006) Using cladistics to construct lineages of projectile points from northeastern Missouri. In: Mapping Our Ancestors: Phylogenetic Approaches in Anthropology and Prehistory (Lipo C, O’Brien MJ, Collard M, Shennan SJ, eds), 185–208. New Brunswick, NJ: Aldine Transactions.

  31. Darwin C (1859) On the Origin of Species. London: Murray.

  32. Darwin C (1871) The Descent of Man. London: Murray.

  33. Day WHE (1986) Analysis of quartet dissimilarity measures between unidirected phylogenetic trees. Systematic Zoology 35: 325–333.

  34. Dennett DC (1995) Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life. New York: Touchstone.

  35. Diamond J, Bellwood P (2003) Farmers and their languages: The first expansions. Science 300: 597–603.

  36. Drummond AJ, Ho SYW, Phillips MJ, Rambaut A (2006) Relaxed phylogenetics and dating with confidence. PLoS Biology 4: e88.

  37. Dundes A, ed (1989) Little Red Riding Hood: A Casebook. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.

  38. Dunning Hotopp JC, Clark ME, Oliveira DCSG, Foster JM, Fischer P, Muñoz Torres MC, Giebel JD, Kumar N, Ishmael N, Wang S, Ingram J, Nene RV, Shepard J, Tomkins J, Richards S, Spiro DJ, Ghedin E, Slatko BE, Tettelin H, Werren JH (2007) Widespread lateral gene transfer from intracellular bacteria to multicellular eukaryotes. Science 317: 1753–1756.

  39. Durie M, Ross M (1996) The Comparative Method Reviewed: Regularity and Irregularity in Language Change. New York: Oxford University Press.

  40. Ehrman BD (2005) Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. New York: HarperCollins.

  41. Faith DP (1989) Homoplasy as pattern: Multivariate analysis of morphological convergence in Anseriformes. Cladistics 5: 235–258.

  42. Farris JS, Källersjö M, Kluge AG, Bult, C (1995) Constructing a significance test for incongruence. Systematic Biology 44: 570–572.

  43. Fitch WM (1970) Distinguishing homologous from analogous proteins. Systematic Zoology 19: 99–113.

  44. Forster P, Renfrew C, eds (2006) Phylogenetic Methods and the Prehistory of Languages. Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.

  45. Fortunato L, Holden CJ, Mace R (2006) From bridewealth to dowry? A Bayesian estimation of ancestral states of marriage transfers in Indo-European groups. Human Nature 17: 355–376.

  46. Fowler CS (1983) Some lexical clues to Uto-Aztecan prehistory. International Journal of American Linguistics 49: 224–257.

  47. Fracchia J, Lewontin RC (1999) Does culture evolve? History and Theory 38: 52–78.

  48. Godfrey-Smith P (in press) Darwinian populations and transitions in individuality. In: The Evolutionary Transitions Revisited (Sterelny K, Calcott B, eds). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

  49. Gottschall J, Wilson DS, eds (2004) The Literary Animal. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.

  50. Gould SJ (1987) An Urchin in the Storm. New York: Norton.

  51. Gould SJ (1991) Bully for Brontosaurus. New York: Norton.

  52. Gould SJ, Lewontin RC (1979) The spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A critique of the adaptationism programme. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 205: 581–598.

  53. Gray RD, Atkinson QD (2003) Language-tree divergence times support the Anatolian theory of Indo-European origin. Nature 426: 435–439.

  54. Gray RD, Jordan FM (2000) Language trees support the express-train sequence of Austronesian expansion. Nature 405: 1052–1055.

  55. Greenhill SJ, Blust R, Gray RD (2003–2007) The Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database. http://language.psy.auckland.ac.nz/

  56. Greenhill SJ, Currie TE, Gray RD (in preparation) The effect of horizontal transmission on cultural phylogenies.

  57. Greenhill SJ, Gray RD (2005) Testing population dispersal hypotheses: Pacific settlement, phylogenetic trees and Austronesian languages. In: The Evolution of Cultural Diversity: A Phylogenetic Approach (Mace R, Holden CJ, Shennan SJ, eds), 31–52. London: UCL Press.

  58. Harvey PH, Pagel M (1991) The Comparative Method in Evolutionary Biology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  59. Hill JH (2001) Proto-Uto-Aztecan: A community of cultivators in central Mexico? American Anthropologist 103: 913–934.

  60. Holden CJ (2002) Bantu language trees reflect the spread of farming across Sub-Saharan Africa: A maximum-parsimony analysis. Proceedings of the Royal Society London B 269: 793–799.

  61. Holden CJ, Mace R (2003) Spread of cattle led to the loss of matrilineal descent in Africa: A coevolutionary hypothesis. Proceedings of the Royal Society London B 270: 2425–2433.

  62. Holden CJ, Mace R (2005) The cow is the enemy of matriliny: Using phylogenetic methods to investigate cultural evolution in Africa. In: The Evolution of Cultural Diversity: A Phylogenetic Approach (Mace R, Holden CJ, Shennan SJ, eds), 217–234. London: UCL Press.

  63. Hull DL (1982) The naked meme. In: Learning, Development, and Culture (Plotkin HC, ed), 273–327. Chichester: Wiley.

  64. Huelsenbeck JP, Rannala B (1997) Phylogenetic methods come of age: Testing hypotheses in an evolutionary context. Science 276: 227–232.

  65. Huson DH, Bryant D (2006) Application of phylogenetic networks in evolutionary studies. Molecular Biology and Evolution 23: 254–267.

  66. Jackson GB, Romney AK (1973) Historical inference from cross-cultural data: The case of dowry. Ethos 1: 517–520.

  67. Jordan P, Shennan SJ (2005) Cultural transmission in indigenous California. In: The Evolution of Cultural Diversity: A Phylogenetic Approach (Mace R, Holden CJ, Shennan SJ, eds), 133–164. London: UCL Press.

  68. Jordan P, Shennan SJ (2003) Cultural transmission, language and basketry traditions amongst the California Indians. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 22: 42–74.

  69. Kirch P, Green R (2001) Hawaiki, Ancestral Polynesia: An Essay in Historical Anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  70. Labov W (1994) Principles of Linguistic Change: Internal Factors. Oxford: Blackwell.

  71. Labov W (2007) Transmission and diffusion. Language 83: 344–387.

  72. Lester L, Meade A, Pagel M (2005) The slow road to the eukaryotic genome. BioEssays 28: 57–64.

  73. Lewontin RC (1970) The units of selection. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 1: 1–18.

  74. Lipo CP, O’Brien MJ, Collard M, Shennan SJ, eds (2006) Mapping Our Ancestors. New Brunswick and London: Aldine Transactions.

  75. Lynch J (2002) Potent roots and the origin of kava. Oceanic Linguistics 41: 493–513.

  76. Mace R, Holden CJ (2005) A phylogenetic approach to cultural evolution. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 20: 116–121.

  77. Mace R, Holden CJ, Shennan SJ, eds (2005) The Evolution of Cultural Diversity: A Phylogenetic Approach. London: UCL Press.

  78. Mace R, Pagel M (1994) The comparative method in anthropology. Current Anthropology 35: 549–564.

  79. Maddison WP (1997) Gene trees in species trees. Systematic Biology 46: 523–536.

  80. Mallet J (2005) Hybridization as an invasion of the gene. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 20: 229–237.

  81. Mallory JP (1989) In Search of the Indo-Europeans: Languages, Archaeology and Myth. London: Thames and Hudson.

  82. Marck J (1996) The first-order anthropomorphic gods of Polynesia. Journal of the Polynesian Society 105: 217–258.

  83. McMahon A, McMahon R (2005) Language Classification By Numbers. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  84. McWhorter J (2001) The Power of Babel. New York: Henry Holt/Times.

  85. Mesoudi A, Whiten A, Laland KN (2004) Perspective: Is human cultural evolution Darwinian? Evidence reviewed from the perspective of The Origin of Species. Evolution 58: 1–11.

  86. Moore JH (1994) Putting anthropology back together again: The ethnogenetic critique of cladistic theory. American Anthropologist 96: 925–948.

  87. Murdock GP (1967) Standard Cross Cultural Sample. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.

  88. Nesse RM, Williams GC (1994) Why We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian Medicine. New York: Times Books.

  89. Nichols J (1992) Linguistic Diversity in Space and Time. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  90. Nunn CL, Borgerhoff Mulder M, Langley S (2006) Comparative methods for studying cultural trait evolution: A simulation study. Cross-Cultural Research 40: 1–33.

  91. Nylander JAA, Ronquist F, Huelsenbeck JP, Nieves-Aldrey JL (2004) Bayesian phylogenetic analysis of combined data. Systematic Biology 53: 47–67.

  92. O’Hara RJ (1988) Homage to Clio, or, toward an historical philosophy for evolutionary biology. Systematic Zoology 37: 142–155.

  93. Oppenheimer S, Richards M (2001) Slow boat to Melanesia? Nature 410: 166–167.

  94. Oxford English Dictionary, eds (2000) Oxford English Dictionary Online, 2nd ed 1989. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  95. Page RDM, Charleston MA (1998) Trees within trees: Phylogeny and historical associations. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 13: 356–359.

  96. Pagel M (1994) Detecting correlated evolution on phylogenies: A general method for the comparative analysis of discrete characters. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 255: 37–45.

  97. Pagel M (1999) Inferring the historical patterns of biological evolution. Nature 401: 877–884.

  98. Pagel M, Atkinson QD, Meade A (2007) Frequency of word-use predicts rates of lexical evolution throughout Indo-European history. Nature 449: 717–720.

  99. Pagel M, Meade A (2004) A phylogenetic mixture model for detecting pattern-heterogeneity in gene sequence or character-state data. Systematic Biology 53: 571–581.

  100. Pagel M, Meade A, Barker D (2004) Bayesian estimation of ancestral character states on phylogenies. Systematic Biology 53: 673–684.

  101. Poole AM, Penny D (2006) Evaluating hypotheses for the origin of eukaryotes. BioEssays 29: 74–84.

  102. Ross M (1996) Contact-induced change and the comparative method: Cases from Papua New Guinea. In: The Comparative Method Reviewed: Regularity and Irregularity in Language Change (Durie M, Ross M, eds), 180–217. New York: Oxford University Press.

  103. Ross M (1997) Social networks and kinds of speech-community event. In: Archaeology and Language: Theoretical and Methodological Orientations (Blench R, Spriggs M, eds), Vol 1: 209–261. London: Routledge.

  104. Sanderson MJ (2002) Estimating absolute rates of evolution and divergence times: A penalized likelihood approach. Molecular Biology and Evolution 19: 101–109.

  105. Spencer M, Davidson EA, Barbrook AC, Howe CJ (2004) Phylogenies of artificial manuscripts. Journal of Theoretical Biology 227: 503–511.

  106. Sterelny K (2001) Niche construction, developmental systems, and the extended replicator In: Cycles of Contingency: Developmental Systems and Evolution (Oyama S, Griffiths PE, Gray RD, eds), 333–349. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

  107. Sterelny K (2006a) The evolution and evolvability of culture. Mind and Language 21: 137–165.

  108. Sterelny K (2006b) Memes revisited. British Journal of Philosophy of Science 57: 145–165.

  109. Suchard MA, Kitchen CM, Sinsheimer JS, Weiss RE (2003) Hierarchical phylogenetic models for analyzing multipartite sequence data. Systematic Biology 51: 649–664.

  110. Swadesh M (1952) Lexico-statistic dating of prehistoric ethnic contacts. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 96: 453–463.

  111. Swadesh M (1955) Towards greater accuracy in lexicostatistic dating. International Journal of American Linguistics 21: 121–137.

  112. Tëmkin I, Eldredge N (2007) Phylogenetics and material cultural evolution. Current Anthropology48: 146–153.

  113. Terrell JE (1988) History as a family tree, history as an entangled bank: Constructing images and interpretations of prehistory in the South Pacific. Antiquity 62: 642–657.

  114. Terrell JE, Kelly KM, Rainbird R (2001) Foregone conclusions? In search of “Papuans” and “Austronesians”. Current Anthropology 42: 97–124.

  115. Thomason S, Kaufman T (1988) Language Contact, Creolization, and Genetic Linguistics. Berkeley: University of California Press.

  116. Zipes JD (2006) Why Fairytales Stick: The Evolution and Relevance of a Genre. New York: Routledge.

Download references

Author information

Correspondence to Russell D. Gray.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Gray, R.D., Greenhill, S.J. & Ross, R.M. The Pleasures and Perils of Darwinizing Culture (with Phylogenies). Biol Theory 2, 360–375 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1162/biot.2007.2.4.360

Download citation

Keywords

  • Bayesian models
  • borrowing
  • cultural evolution
  • gene tree
  • phylogenetics
  • reconciliation analysis
  • reticulation
  • word tree