analyzing the uptake of chances to patterns using cultural phylogenesis

December 5, 2013

Emanuele Bardone shared with me an interesting paper.

Since Emanuele and i have discussed much how the individual chance-seeking events can at some moments become integrated to the cultural patterns, it seems the phylogenetic analysis may enable also to reversely find out when, from where and at what conditions the chances may become part of cultural patterns.

It made me think of analytical technologies. I can easily imagine to describe separate cultural memes and their characteristics (dimensions) and belonging to different (sub)cultures in the excel matrix to run the hierarchical cluster analysis. But how to detect what conditions caused (influenced) the cultural uptake and when the first chance event was, and why it started to cumulate as a cultural meme?


Are Cultural Phylogenies Possible? 
 Robert Boyd
Monique Bogerhoff-Mulder
William H. Durham
Peter J. Richerson
 April 23, 1996. Intended as contribution to ZiF project “Biological Foundations of Culture”
We do not know what is the smallest unit of cultural inheritance. 
Particular words, particular innovations, elements of folk stories, and components of ritual practice are linked together in medium scale culturally transmitted entities: systems of morphology, myth, technology, and religion that are collected together into “sub-cultures” and “cultures” that characterize human groups of different scales: kin group, village, ethnic group, nation, and so forth. Cultural subunits sometimes crosscut one another in complex ways.
 Biological systematics can be used to reconstruct the history of cultures.
4 hypotheses:
1: Cultures as species. Cultures are isolated from one another and/or are tightly integrated.
Species and higher taxa seem to be separated by distinctive gaps that do not occur within species or among many other natural objects.
2. Cultures with hierarchically integrated systems. Isolation and integration protect the core from the effects of diffusion, though peripheral elements are much more heavily subject to cross-cultural borrowing.
A hybrid zone can exist between what seem to be good species, and often a few genes have clearly leaked across the boundary from one species to another.
Culture is an ideational system–that is, that it consists of widely shared ideas, values, and beliefs that shape behavior in local human populations (the named Cultures of anthropologists). In this model, cultures are viewed as hierarchically integrated systems, each with its own internal gradient of coherence. At one extreme in the gradient are the “core” components of a culture—those ideational phenomena that constitute its basic conceptual and interpretive framework, and influence many aspects of social life. At the other are peripheral elements that change rapidly and (or) are widely shared by diffusion.
The core “sticks together” as a cohesive bundle, the core components exhibit a remarkable resilience in the course of cultural history.
Many “peripheral” components exist that are only loosely tied to the core framework and diffuse freely and readily.
3:Cultures as assemblages of many coherent units. The small units may have limited mixing and slow  evolution. Any given culture is an assemblage of many such units acquired from diverse sources. The components are collections of memes that are transmitted as units with little recombination and slow change, and therefore, their phylogenies can be reliably reconstructed to some depth. It could be each of the cultural things we observe is affected by many memes, that these memes readily diffuse from one socially or linguistically defined group to another, and that memes that affect different cultural components readily recombine.
4: Cultures as collections of ephemeral entities. There are no observable units of culture which are sufficiently coherent for phylogeny reconstruction to be useful. If we observe phenotype, not the mental representations that are stored and transmitted, then we cannot directly measure memes. The fact that many memes affect any given observable cultural attribute will make it very difficult to trace the path of recombining meme, and, reconstructing phylogenies is likely to be impossible.
It seems to us that, as regards most meme complexes, specific cultures are more like local populations within a species than like species. 
Human cultures are more like subspecies or local populations linked by gene flow than like reproductively isolated species. 
It may be useful to make separate phylogenies for each subunit of culture that is substantially protected from diffusion,
Descent relationships are often represented using branching diagrams
(Sytematists use similar branching diagrams called cladograms to represent patterns of similarity without reference to time, or ancestor-descendant relationships, statistical clustering algorithms tree-like dendograms without any pretense to representing ancestor-descendent relationships. Tree diagrams are used here to represent phylogeny).

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