One major goal in cultural evolution is to explain why human culture is cumulative and open-ended. However, much of the focus tends to be on processes of cultural adaptation, with less attention paid to another prominent process: cultural exaptation (2/10).— James Winters (@replicatedtypo) December 2, 2019
Fell abstract of the article:
ABSTRACT: Explaining the origins of cumulative culture, and how it is maintained over long timescales, constitutes a challenge for theories of cultural evolution. Previous theoretical work has emphasized two fundamental causal processes: cultural adaptation (where technologies are reﬁned towards a functional objective) and cultural exaptation (the repurposing of existing technologies towards a new functional goal). Yet, despite the prominence of cultural exaptation in theoretical explanations, this process is often absent from models and experiments of cumulative culture. Using an agent-based model, where agents attempt to solve problems in a high-dimensional problem space, the current paper investigates the relationship between cultural adaptation and cultural exaptation and produces three major ﬁndings. First, cultural dynamics often end up in optimization traps: here, the process of optimization causes the dynamics of change to cease, with populations entering a state of equilibrium. Second, escaping these optimization traps requires cultural dynamics to explore the problem space rapidly enough to create a moving target for optimization. This results in a positive feedback loop of open-ended growth in both the diversity and complexity of cultural solutions. Finally, the results helped delineate the roles played by social and asocial mechanisms: asocial mechanisms of innovation drive the emergence of cumulative culture and social mechanisms of within-group transmission help maintain these dynamics over long timescales.