Natural Selection, Scale, And Cultural Evolution

985 words - 4 pages

Evolution can be seen throughout all aspects of life, but for each aspect evolution does not occur in the same process. In his article entitled “Natural Selection, Scale, and Cultural Evolution,” Dunnell emphasizes and explains why evolution has made such a small impact on archaeology. Cultural evolution and biological evolution are not the same. Biological evolution uses theoretical propositions that explain the mechanisms of biological adaptation and evolution. The laws of cultural evolution “are not theoretical propositions but rather empirical generalizations” (Dunnell, 1996: 25). Cultural evolution does not explain the differences among the occurrences cultural phenomena. Dunnell’s main goal is to effectively formulate ways to integrate evolutionary characteristics and anthropological theory (Dunnell, 1996).
Dunnell believed that evolutionary biology is a better method to explain evolution in cultural anthropology and archaeology rather than cultural evolution. The main problem with biological evolution is the dilemma of altruistic behavior in humans, which is the exact opposite of natural selection. Dunnell states that altruistic behavior is “the ultimate of the selfish principles” (Dunnell 1996: 26). The original solution to the issue of altruistic behavior was thought to be to change the scale of which natural selection works from that of the individual to the group. However, Dunnell gives three reasons why this change usually would not work. First, the individual, not the group, is the mean by which the reproductivity occurs. Second, the individual is the mean by which observable characteristics show themselves. Finally, changes in higher levels of ranking in society, such as that of the group, are too slow for natural selection to have and effect on the overall situation (Dunnell, 1996,).
The difficulty, Dunnel states, is that evolution was developed “without the human case in mind” (Dunnell 1996: 26). Evolutionary thought is harder to apply to anthropology because humans are verbal beings which is exactly what socialcultural anthropologists study (Dunnell, 1996).
Even though the potential of evolutionary concepts in anthropology may appear to be straightforward, Dunnel says that applying them is another matter that needs some explanation. First, evolution requires three mechanisms: variation, heritability, and selection. Dunnel states, “Variation in form arises in the biological world through mutation and through sexual reproduction in higher plants and animals. This variation is transmitted in biological systems genetically. Selection then acts, through differential reproductive success, to alter the frequency of forms in subsequent generations” (Dunnel 1996: 27). In other words, variations are seen because mutations take place and are passed on to the next generation genetically. Selection then changes the frequency at which that trait is seen. To encompass human culture into this method, the process requires a second...

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