Thursday, June 13, 2013

Gene/culture co-evolution

Over at Language Log Mark Liberman has a good post on gene/culture co-evolution. The point of departure is an opinion piece that Simon Fisher and Matt Ridley published in Science (ungated HERE). Here's the crucial assertion:
The discovery of any genetic mutation that coincided with the “human revolution” (6) must take care to distinguish cause from effect. Supposedly momentous changes in our genome may sometimes be a consequence of cultural innovation. They may be products of culture-driven gene evolution (7)
Liberman's point is that "this is an entirely traditional and common-sensical view," one for which he provides citations, including Steven Pinker and Paul Bloom, Eric Lenneberg (Biological Foundations of Language, 1967) and Charles Darwin:
But the old and impeccable pedigree of this classical account of gene-culture co-evolution, in the origins of language and elsewhere, has not prevented the spread of "gene for X" bizarreness, or other forms of anti-evolutionary mysticism. So it's nice to see a couple of eminent scientists expressing these ideas, clearly and forcefully, in the pages of a widely-read journal.
There are some useful remarks in the discussion.

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