Term Paper: Human Evolution

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Human Evolution

Cultural variation and changes as determined by the evolutionary process: Analysis of "Culture and the Evolutionary Process" by Robert Boyd and Peter Richerson (1988)

In the study of human evolution, natural science is generally treated as having more significant and dominant role than social science, specifically anthropology or the study of culture. In the seminal work "Culture and the Evolutionary Process" (1988), authors Robert Boyd and Peter Richerson investigates and analyzes the role that the evolutionary process has in influencing cultural changes in the population. More specifically, the authors looked into the interplay between culture and science in helping develop human society holistically, that is, biologically and culturally.

Boyd and Richerson provide two general assumptions that lead to their hypothesis, which posits that science and culture significantly influence each other in understanding the human evolutionary process. In the words of the authors, "process-oriented "scientific" analyses help us understand how history works, and "historical" data are essential to test scientific hypotheses about how populations and societies change" (Boyd & Richerson, 1992:201).

The general assumptions that support the book's thesis include the following: (1) history is a determined pattern of cultural events that, when collated over a period of time, can help understand the human culture over a period or even in a specific or particular period of time, and (2) these determined patterns of cultural changes and variations influenced human evolution, simultaneously as biological changes are occurring in the living environment.

In order to establish the relationship of science and culture in promoting human evolution, Boyd and Richerson explicated on the concept of culture change as a precursor to history and historical changes, and ultimately, biological change in living organisms, particularly humans. The exploration into the possible link between culture and science (specifically evolutionary process) that the authors analyzed was not exactly a conceptual exploration but a methodological one. Boyd and Richerson sought to prove that determining cultural changes over time through evolutionary process theories and techniques is feasible and effective in tracing the origins of human evolution, both on a biological and cultural level.

With this methodology at hand, the analysis involved a "Darwinian approach" to culture, establishing the role that culture plays in determining history and influencing human behavior (that is, looking into one facet of human behavior as influenced by culture) (181):

The idea that unifies the Darwinian approach is that culture constitutes a system of inheritance. People acquire skills, beliefs, attitudes, and values from others by imitation and enculturation (social learning), and these "cultural variants" together with their genotypes and environments, determine their behavior. Since determinants of behavior are communicated from one person to another, individuals sample from and contribute to a collective pool of ideas that changes over time.

This passage brings into fore and launches the discussion on the interdependence of both genetic and cultural determinants to human evolution. In their discussion, Boyd and Richerson illustrated how cultural change is induced in human society in the same manner as biological changes changed the way humans evolved throughout history. Like the process of elimination that governed natural selection in the Darwinian evolution, cultural changes and variation emerged out of people's selection of specific traditions, beliefs, and language that will dominate within a society and a specific period of time. The survival of a particular type of culture is based on different factors, foremost of which the dominance level it has on the society, that is, how frequent these traditions, values, and beliefs are practiced and subsisted to, respectively. Thus, 'inheritance' in the case of culture is defined as the traditions, belief systems, and values that continued to prevail and develop, and is currently practiced by some societies today.

This 'cultural version' of natural selection demonstrated that cultural change is no different from biological change in serving as catalyst of human evolution. "Strings of cultural events," which bring about history, are defined as "just scientific explanations applied to systems that change through time" (184). This assertion is supported by the fact that… [END OF PREVIEW]

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https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/human-evolution/6023505.