Category Archives: Papers

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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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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New paper/Nouvelle publication

My paper ‘All innovations are equal, but some more than others: (Re)integrating modification processes to the origins of cumulative culture’ has been published in Biological Theory. (pdf)

Mon article ‘All innovations are equal, but some more than others: (Re)integrating modification processes to the origins of cumulative culture’ a été publié dans Biological Theory. (pdf)

Abstract
The cumulative open-endedness of human cultures represents a major break with the social traditions of nonhuman species. As traditions are altered and the modifications retained along the cultural lineage, human populations are capable of producing complex traits that no individual could have figured out on its own. For cultures to produce increasingly complex traditions, improvements and modifications must be kept for the next generations to build upon them. High-fidelity transmission would thus act as a ratchet, retaining modifications and allowing the historical build-up of complex traditions. Mechanisms acting against slippage are important, of course, but cultures also need to move forward for the ratchet to retain anything valuable. In this paper, I argue that studies of modification-generating processes and the many ways they shape cumulative culture have been overlooked. Key to a better understanding of cultural modification processes is taking seriously that cultural traditions consist of complex, hierarchically-structured recipes. Taking such structures seriously and assessing the different ways they can vary in cultural design space, a novel picture for the onset of cumulative cultural evolution emerges. I argue that a possible impediment for cumulative culture in non-human animals may in fact reside not so much on the fidelity of their social transmission but rather on the constraints, internal and external, of their capacity to modify complex, hierarchically-structured cultural recipes.

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New paper/Nouvelle publication

My paper ‘Mapping complex social transmission: Technical constraints on the evolution of cultures’ has been published in Biology & Philosophy. (pdf)

Mon article ‘Mapping complex social transmission: Technical constraints on the evolution of cultures’ a été publié dans Biology & Philosophy. (pdf)

Abstract
Social transmission is at the core of cultural evolutionary theory. It occurs when a demonstrator uses mental representations to produce some public displays (utterances, behaviors, artifacts, etc.) which in turn allow a learner to acquire similar mental representations. Although cultural evolutionists do not dispute this view of social transmission, they typically abstract away from the multistep nature of the process when they speak of cultural variants at large, thereby referring both to variation and evolutionary change in mental representations as well as in their corresponding public displays. This conflation suggests that differentiating each step of the transmission process is redundant. In this paper, I examine different forms of interplay between the multistep nature of social transmission and the metric spaces used by cultural evolutionists to measure cultural variation and to model cultural change. I offer a conceptual analysis of what assumptions seem to be at work when cultural evolutionists conflate the complex causal sequence of social transmission as a single space of variation in which populations evolve. To this aim, I use the framework of variation spaces, a formal framework commonly used in evolutionary biology, and I develop two theoretical concepts, ‘technique’ and ‘technical space’, for addressing cases where the complexity of social transmission defies the handy assumption of a single variation space for cultural change.

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