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The study of culture is usually the preserve of social anthropologists, sociologists and cultural theorists who have developed sophisticated theories to describe and explain cultural phenomena. Recently, there has been much interest in an evolutionary approach to culture. In contrast to many earlier theories these evolutionary theories attempt to provide ultimate rather than proximate explanations of culture. One of the biggest ultimate questions about culture is why do we have culture at all? From this perspective, the phenomenon of culture is not something that ‘just happened’; there is good evidence that human culture needs a particular sort of brain in order to sustain it.
the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptation (EEA) • proximate and ultimate levels of explanation • heritable variability • differential reproductive success • particulate inheritance • eugenics • the Great Chain of Being (scala naturae) • sociobiology • gene–culture co-evolution/dual-inheritance theory • naturalistic fallacy • moralistic fallacy
sexual strategies theory • mate guarding • male provisioning hypothesis • last common ancestor • male parental investment • cryptic oestrus • sexual dimorphism • polygyny • polyandry • reproductive value • sperm competition • sexy sons • Coolidge effect
computational theory of mind • substrate neutrality • levels of explanation • episodic and semantic memory • cognitive economy • typicality effect • indicative and deontic reasoning • the gambler’s fallacy • the hot hand fallacy • foraging theory • marginal value theorem
Without language, social interaction would be impoverished beyond recognition. It enables us to reveal our innermost thoughts to others, or, if the mood takes us, to disguise them with misinformation and lies. With language, action can be coordinated so that a group of people can act as one – even if chimpanzees could conceive of a pyramid they still couldn’t build one because they lack the ability to coordinate action through language. Language also, as we shall see in Chapter 14, enables hard-won knowledge to be passed on to others – including our children – enabling culture to proliferate in ways that would not have been possible in our languageless ancestors (in fact, as we shall see, one theory proposes that language evolve to facilitate cultural transmission). When language evolved it was evolutionary dynamite. Not only did it vastly extend the range of things that ancestral humans were capable of, enabling them, perhaps, to outcompete other hominins around at the time, but it is also likely to have had an impact on the evolution of the brain itself. It is unlikely that our languageless ancestors had brains identical to ours but lacking the appropriate language circuitry; it is more likely that the gradual evolution of communicative sophistication led to huge leaps in the way that we interact with others. So great are the advantages of language to our species that surely it must have been the product of natural (or sexual) selection.