Cultural Evolution

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  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2010-05-31
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
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In this book, Kate Distin proposes a theory of cultural evolution and shows how it can help us to understand the origin and development of human culture. Distin introduces the concept that humans share information not only in natural languages, which are spoken or signed, but also in artefactual languages like writing and musical notation, which use media that are made by humans. Languages enable humans to receive and transmit variations in cultural information and resources. In this way, they provide the mechanism for cultural evolution. The human capacity for metarepresentation - thinking about how we think - accelerates cultural evolution, because it frees cultural information from the conceptual limitations of each individual language. Distin shows how the concept of cultural evolution outlined in this book can help us to understand the complexity and diversity of human culture, relating her theory to a range of subjects including economics, linguistics, and developmental biology.

Author Biography

Kate Distin was educated at Cambridge University and the University of Sheffield. She is the author of The Selfish Meme: A Critical Reassessment (Cambridge, 2005) and the editor of the award-winning Gifted Children: A Guide for Parents and Professionals (2006).

Table of Contents

Introduction: "Small Consequences of One General Law"p. 1
The Inheritance of Cultural Information
What Is Information?p. 11
How Is Information Inherited?p. 25
The Inheritance of Cultural Information: Natural Language
Natural Language and Culture: The Biological Building Blocksp. 49
How Did Natural Language Evolve?p. 62
Language, Thought and Culturep. 78
The Inheritance of Cultural Information: Artefactual Language
How Did Artefactual Language Evolve?p. 89
Artefactual Language, Representation and Culturep. 107
Money: An Artefactual Languagep. 126
Money: The Explanatory Power of Artefactual Languagesp. 146
The Receivers of Cultural Information
How Does Human Diversity Affect Cultural Evolution?p. 169
The Expression of Cultural Information
Aspects of the Cultural Ecologyp. 185
Patterns of Cultural Taxonomyp. 200
Conclusion: A Representational Understanding of Cultural Evolutionp. 220
Appendix: What about Memetics?p. 231
Acknowledgementsp. 235
Bibliographyp. 239
Indexp. 263
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