New paper/Nouvelle publication

My paper ‘Understanding cultural fidelity’ has been accepted by The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science. (pdf)

Mon article ‘Understanding cultural fidelity’ a été accepté par The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science. (pdf)

Official publication page here.

Abstract

A leading idea of cultural evolutionary theory is that for human cultures to undergo evolutionary change, cultural transmission must generally serve as a high-fidelity copying process. In analogy to genetic inheritance, the high-fidelity of human cultural transmission would act as a safeguard against the transformation and loss of cultural information, thus ensuring both the stability and longevity of cultural traditions. Cultural fidelity would also serve as the key difference-maker between human cumulative cultures and non-human non-cumulative traditions, explaining why only us humans, with our uniquely high-fidelity transmission capabilities, are capable of evolving and sustaining complex traditions. But what does it mean for cultural transmission to be more or less faithful? This paper has two objectives. The first is to clarify the meaning and uses of the concept of cultural fidelity and to evaluate their explanatory import. I argue that cultural evolutionists use several fidelity concepts (episodic, propensity, and generalized fidelity), concepts that I will define and clarify. The second objective is to challenge the explanatory significance of a general notion of fidelity (generalized fidelity) as being both explanatorily meaningful and operationalizable. I conclude that if fidelity is to serve as an explanation of the key differences between human cumulative cultures and non-human non-cumulative traditions, then the concept will have to be redesigned and rely on different assumptions.

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New paper/Nouvelle publication

My paper (co-written with Helena Miton) ‘Cumulative culture in the laboratory: methodological and theoretical challenges’ has been published by Proceedings of the Royal Society B. (pdf)

Mon article (co-écrit avec Helena Miton) ‘Cumulative culture in the laboratory: methodological and theoretical challenges’ a été publié dans Proceedings of the Royal Society B. (pdf)

Abstract
In the last decade, cultural transmission experiments (transmission chains, replacement, closed groups and seeded groups) have become important experimental tools in investigating cultural evolution. However, these methods face important challenges, especially regarding the operationalization of theoretical claims. In this review, we focus on the study of cumulative cultural evolution, the process by which traditions are gradually modified and, for technological traditions in particular, improved upon over time. We identify several mismatches between theoretical definitions of cumulative culture and their implementation in cultural transmission experiments. We argue that observed performance increase can be the result of participants learning faster in a group context rather than effectively leading to a cumulative effect. We also show that in laboratory experiments, participants are asked to complete quite simple tasks, which can undermine the evidential value of the diagnostic criterion traditionally used for cumulative culture (i.e. that cumulative culture is a process that produces solutions that no single individual could have invented on their own). We show that the use of unidimensional metrics of cumulativeness drastically curtails the variation that may be observed, which raises specific issues in the interpretation of the experimental evidence. We suggest several solutions to these mismatches (learning times, task complexity and variation) and develop the use of design spaces in experimentally investigating old and new questions about cumulative culture.

 

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New paper/Nouvelle publication

My paper ‘Technical Constraints on the Convergent Evolution of
Technologies’ has been published as a chapter in Convergent Evolution in Stone-Tool Technology (MIT Press), edited by Michael J. O’Brien, Briggs Buchanan and Metin I. Eren. (pdf)

Mon article ‘Technical Constraints on the Convergent Evolution of
Technologies’ a été publié comme chapitre dans Convergent Evolution in Stone-Tool Technology (MIT Press), édité par Michael J. O’Brien, Briggs Buchanan and Metin I. Eren.  (pdf)

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New paper/Nouvelle publication

My paper ‘Evo-Devo and Culture’ has been published as a chapter in Evolutionary developmental biology – A reference guide, edited by Laura Nuño de la Rosa, Gerd Müller, and Sergio Balari Ravera (pdf).

Mon article ‘Evo-Devo and Culture’’ a été publié comme chapitre dans Evolutionary developmental biology – A reference guide, édité par Laura Nuño de la Rosa, Gerd Müller, et Sergio Balari Ravera (pdf).

Abstract
What does Evo-devo offer for a better understanding of cultural evolution? Cultural evolutionists with a biological bend typically focus on the relation between genetic evolution and cultural change, a research program referred to as gene-culture coevolution. Development of the human organism is usually left unattended by cultural evolutionists, and so are the processes involved in the production of cultural phenotypes. Moreover, Evo-devo research has yet to have any marked impact on the social sciences. Examining how Evo-devo can contribute to the study of cultural evolution means understanding how cultural evolution and development shape one another. However, it is necessary to first clarify just what sorts of developmental processes we are interested in. There are two albeit not mutually exclusive candidate answers to this question. First, we can be interested in the interactions between cultural evolution and biological development – how does the development of human individuals and the cultural evolutionary process shape one another? Alternatively, we can be interested in the interactions between cultural evolution and the generative mechanisms involved in the production of cultural phenotypes. The objective of the present discussion is to address both understandings of the relations between Evo-devo and cultural evolution.

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Award / Prix

I’ve been awarded the 2014 Philosophy of Science Association Recent Ph.D. Essay Award, for my paper “Populations Without Reproduction”. The Recent Ph.D. Essay Award is awarded annually to the best single-authored essay published in Philosophy of Science during the award year by someone who received a Ph.D. within the past five years.

J’ai reçu le 2014 Philosophy of Science Association Recent Ph.D. Essay Award pour mon article “Populations Without Reproduction”. Le prix est décerné annuellement au meilleur article publié dans le journal Philosophy of Science écrit par un seul auteur ayant reçu son grade d0ctoral dans les cinq années précédent la publication de l’article.

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New paper/Nouvelle publication

My paper ‘Modularity and Recombination in Technological Evolution’ has been published in Philosophy & Technology. (pdf)

Mon article ‘Modularity and Recombination in Technological Evolution’ a été publié dans Philosophy & Technology. (pdf)

Abstract
Cultural evolutionists typically emphasize the informational aspect of social transmission, that of the learning, stabilizing, and transformation of mental representations along cultural lineages. Social transmission also depends on the production of public displays such as utterances, behaviors, and artifacts, as these displays are what social learners learn from. However, the generative processes involved in the production of public displays are usually abstracted away in both theoretical assessments and formal models. The aim of this paper is to complement the informational view with a generative dimension, emphasizing how the production of public displays both enable and constrain the production of modular cultural recipes through the process of innovation by recombination. In order to avoid a circular understanding of cultural recombination and cultural modularity, we need to take seriously the nature and structure of the generative processes involved in the maintenance of cultural traditions. A preliminary analysis of what recombination and modularity consist of is offered. It is shown how the study of recombination and modularity depends on a finer understanding of the generative processes involved in the production phase of social transmission. Finally, it is argued that the recombination process depends on the inventive production of an interface between modules and the complex recipes in which they figure, and that such interfaces are the direct result of the generative processes involved in the production of these recipes. The analysis is supported by the case study of the transition from the Oldowan to the Early Acheulean flake detachment techniques.

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Webinar contribution

I contributed to an online book club event at the International Cognition and Culture Institute on David Wengrow’s recent book “The Origins of Monsters: Image and Cognition in the First Age of Mechanical Reproduction“. See my contribution here.

J’ai contribué à un club de lecture en ligne au International Cognition and Culture Institute au sujet du récent livre de David Wengrow intitulé “The Origins of Monsters: Image and Cognition in the First Age of Mechanical Reproduction“. Vous pouvez lire ma contribution ici.

 

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