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Abstract

In this paper I will attempt to combine multiple evolutionary

theories concerning the nature of science and culture to create an

evolutionary model for explaining social change, focusing on conflict,

revolution and resolution. This theory of “cultural change” will use

terms borrowed from Peter Richerson and Robert Boyd’s dual-

inheritance theory, in which they apply an evolutionary model to the

phenomena of human culture, and Thomas Kuhn’s theory of scientific

revolutions. To bridge the conceptual gap between the two I will bring

into play David Hull’s philosophic theory that presents an evolutionary

account of the interrelationships between social and conceptual

development in science (Hull, 1988). I will argue that we can describe

sociocultural evolution as possessing analogous aspects to Thomas

Kuhn’s theory of scientific progress. In this theory he explains how

“normal” science is conducted, through empirical observation and

experimentation, and transformed through a series of stages of

revolutionary science culminating in a “paradigm shift” which functions

to resolve the accumulation of scientific “anomalies”; scientific data

which cannot be explained by the current scientific paradigm or theory.

I will argue that culture, a product of the interaction between groups of

human agents, consists of cultural variants. This is the term developed

by Boyd and Richerson to denote cultural information: transmitted

beliefs, ideas, practices, strategies, behaviors and preferences.


Furthermore societies can be theorized, analogously to Kuhn’s theory,

to consist of “cultural paradigms”. A cultural paradigm describes a

group’s accumulation of cultural variants ordered for the sake of

cognitive and social coherence. A scientific paradigm describes a

scientific group’s accumulation of scientific data and theories ordered

for the sake of theoretical coherence, allowing it to continue its

function of empirical “truth” finding. The evolutionary purpose of

cultural paradigms is to give human agents a set of information that

gives psychological coherence to the individual and groups of

individuals. I will explain what coherence means, how it works and why

it is important. When competing cultural variants enter into a group,

or are innovated within a group, they can be similarly called “cultural

anomalies”: a cultural variant or groups of cultural variants that pose

to be in immediate competition with the status-quo or “norms” of a

given social group(s). As in the Kuhnian model, normal science

necessarily entails the accumulation of scientific data that doesn’t fit

within the current paradigm. Analogously we can theorize that normal

social development entails the accumulation of similar phenomena

[anomalies] that challenge a given group’s cultural paradigm. This can

operate within the entire hierarchy of societal group-size; i.e. most of

the world’s cultures and social groups reject the shade of Islamic

fundamentalism that led to the events on 9/11, an anomaly that has

now challenged the near-universal cultural variants that reject this type
of aggression. And also within the small towns and villages in which

these terrorists operate there is a struggle between these cultural

variants for fitness resulting in competition often leading to the harm

or death of members of both groups. I will argue that there are varying

levels of cultural anomalies with a variety of effects on social group

dynamics. To begin this paper I shall briefly run through past attempts

at theorizing about cultural change and evolution. From there I will

explicate the main theories devised in the 20th century that were

designed to explain the phenomena of culture, focusing on their

necessity and ingenuity in helping further our understanding of culture

and their inevitable conceptual defects. I will then begin my dissection

of each theory of science and culture I have listed above to show how

their theoretical frameworks provide a stable ground for the model I

am attempting to flesh out. Along the way I will also use a variety of

sociological and philosophic research to substantiate my claims.

Early Theories on Culture & Progress

Sociocultural evolution is the termed used to denote theories

concerned with describing the nature of social and cultural evolution.

Prior to Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection theorists

hypothesized how societies develop, change, and sustain themselves

and sought a logical pattern behind these movements. The Scottish

Enlightenment gave us thinkers such as Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson

and John Millar who postulated that societies move through a series of
four stages; hunting and gathering, pastoralism and nomadism,

agricultural, and finally a stage of commerce (wiki). August Comte

formed an early version of what is now called sociology and Thomas

Hobbes proclaimed that life before civilization was “nasty, brutish and

short”. (With these conceptions came a new way for European

dominance and imperialism to be seen as justified. The idea of social

progress provided a logical teleology and sense of superiority in the

eyes of more technologically developed nations, hence the Eurocentric

belief systems concerning the undeveloped nature of Africans and

indigenous peoples) Comte saw society as functioning like an organism

subject to growth towards greater complexity and order, the Western

culture and society being the pinnacle of this progress. This line of

thinking, called progressivism came to be the accepted model of

sociocultural evolution in the post-enlightenment era.

In the latter half of the 19th century Karl Marx proposed his theory of

historical materialism in which he theorized the best way to

understand human nature and the progress of social life was to analyze

the modes of material production necessary for survival. As Marx

proclaimed, “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their

existence, but their social existence that determines their

consciousness”. Culture, for Marx, is merely an expression in human

behavior in response to the mode of material production in a given

society. Ideology was the term he used to describe this expression that
can be seen manifest in the arts, political and social institutions. The

social hierarchy consists of a ruling class and working class. Power

relations (primarily a means for exploitation of production of material

resources) between the two keep society at equilibrium, while social

conflict and revolution arise due to discord between the material

productive forces of society and the existing relations of production or

property relations (Marx, 1859)

“In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter

into definite relations, which are independent of their will,

namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in

the development of their material forces of production. The

totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic

structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal

and political superstructure and to which correspond definite

forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of

material life conditions the general process of social, political and

intellectual life.”

Marx’s model for social progress, more importantly, describes societies

as following an evolutionary path (albeit a very loose conceptual

analogy in contrast with Darwin’s evolutionary theory). After having

read Darwin’s Origin of Species, Marx wrote to a friend in 1861 saying,

“Darwin’s work is most important and suits my purpose in that it

provides a basis in natural science for the historical class struggle…”


Marx’s theory, however, was not heavily influenced (a common

misconception) by Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection,

mainly due to the fact that the Origin of Species came out eleven years

after Marx wrote The Communist Manifesto. Marx was most influenced

by the philosophy of Georg Hegel, who saw the progress of human

history as a dialectic process and movement from the “fragmentary” to

the “real”; a progression towards rationality, power and “civilization”.

Marx essentially reinterpreted Hegel’s sociocultural theory into

materialist terms. These great thinkers had opened up the inquiry

about social progress to be seen as naturalistic in a socio-historical

framework. The immense importance of this was that it allowed

philosophers to view social change as following a causal pattern that

included the interaction of a complexity of cultural and biological

components.

Modern Theories of Culture and Progress

At the beginning of the 20th century an increased skepticism in the

unilineal theories (theories of group descent usually denoted to follow

a teleological path) of social evolution of the previous century led

cultural anthropologists to employ more sophisticated ethnography

and empirical methods to disprove theories that postulated discrete

“stages” of development in societies (wiki). By the 1930’s there had

emerged a new field of study called neoevolutionism that incorporated

data from archeology, paleontology and historiography that aimed at


eliminating any system of values that might “color” a scientists

interpretation of the empirical data.

“Neoevolutionism discards the determinism argument and

introduces probability, arguing that accidents and free will

greatly affect the process of social evolution.” (Wiki)

The next major leap in evolutionary thinking about culture emerged in

1975 with E. O. Wilson’s now infamous book “Sociobiology: The New

Synthesis”. In his book Wilson states, “Sociobiology is defined as the

systematic study of the biological basis of all social behavior”. For

Wilson, environmental cues evoke genetically programmed behavioral

responses that we see as cultural artifacts. Cultural forms are

essentially epiphenomenal “by-products” of underlying material causes

(Atran, 2002). This has created one of the most heated debates in

science of the 20th century. On one side of the debate you have

theorists who argue for the importance of culture (as following a

distinct, but analogous, process from biological evolution) in shaping

the course of human evolution, and on the other sociobiologists whose

genetic determinism makes culture peripheral to genetic information

and variation. Theorists, seeing the difficulty in sociobiology’s

theoretical power to explain the origins of the complexity of cultural

behavior, began looking for a substance of culture that can be seen

transmitted amongst humans. The most famous exponent of this view

is the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. In his famous book The


Selfish Gene Dawkin’s theorized that culture evolved from parasitic

bunches of transmittable units of gene-like information that invaded

human brains in our early evolutionary stages of development. The

discovery of genetic material has given us fundamental units of

information to explain biological variation; memes fill the conceptual

gap between genetic evolution and cultural evolution, allowing for

culture to be seen as following an evolutionary path through the

processes of reproduction, mutation and selection. Memes reproduce

by self-replicating in human minds. A meme’s goal is towards self-

preservation through replication fidelity and fecundity, which

sometimes contradicts the biological dictates of survival of its host

organism. Recently a lack of supportive evidence has thrown serious

doubt on this theory. To begin, if memes replicate and do so with a

need for informational accuracy across memetic lineages then why do

phenotypic cultural ideas, beliefs and behaviors seem to be so varied,

especially when merely passing from one person to another. Cultural

ideas are rarely imitated with high fidelity and if anything mutation of

cultural ideas is the norm, not the exception. Picking up a stack of

different newspapers and reading articles on the same topic

demonstrates this point. Darwinian evolution cannot occur if mutation

effects the information at a higher rate than high-fidelity replication

(Atran, 2002). If memes are reducible units of self-replicating

information, analogous to genes, then we should be able to see an


observable self-replicating structure jumping amongst human brains.

We do not and therefore meme theory has a lot of explaining to do

before it can be regarded, with any serious recognition, as a defensible

scientific theory. On the other hand, the challenges meme theory faces

does not shake a theory that rests on the assumption of information

transferring amongst human brains. Information, although not

structurally understood makes more sense for a theory showing the

variety of human cultural behavior. Variants in cultural information

need not be selfish-meme entities seeking to reproduce. As we sill see,

the term cultural variant portrays a more accurate picture of the

processes involved in cultural evolution.

Dual-Inheritance Theory

With the publication of The Origin of Species Charles Darwin had

created a new paradigm for naturalistic observation and philosophic

discussion. One the most important contribution’s in Origins has been

his concept of population thinking, which Ernst Mayr called his key

contribution to biology (Boyd, Richerson 2004). This concept allowed

biologists to see populations of organisms as carrying a reservoir of

inherited genetic information, and depending on which members had

more beneficial variants of this information, there would be selection

for fitness. This way of thinking allows scientists to explain the

properties organisms exhibit such as eating habits, appendage

functions and social behaviors. What is also does is provide a


foundation for a modern theory on cultural evolution, the most

accepted of which is the model of cultural evolution created by Robert

Boyd and Peter Richerson in 1985. Their dual-inheritance theory posits

that culture is crucial for understanding human behavior; “People

acquire beliefs and values from the people around them, and you can’t

explain human behavior without taking this reality into account”,

states Boyd and Richerson in their book Not By Genes Alone. Culture is

a part of biology also, and the evidence suggests that we evolved

psychological mechanisms capable of complex social learning to better

adapt to a rapidly changing environment during the Pleistocene (a

period lasting from 1.8 million to 10,000 B.C.). The cost/benefit ratio of

imitation, through a variety of psychological mechanisms, outweighed

individual learning in our human ancestors during this period.

Up to this point the paper the word culture has yet to be defined. I will

use the definition Boyd and Richerson give, stating simply that “culture

is information capable of affecting individuals’ behavior that they

acquire from other members of their species through teaching,

imitation, and other forms of social transmission” (Boyd, Richerson

2004). At its evolutionary onset culture must have increased the

reproductive success of our ancestors, although this does not

exclusively explain the variety of behaviors humans exhibit today.

With the help of Darwin’s population thinking concept we see human

populations as composed of individuals whom transmit and store a


reservoir of cultural information (instead of solely genetic information).

Evolved psychological social learning mechanisms allow this

information transfer and retention to take place. Genes and Culture

also co-evolve, an example of which can be seen in the cultural

adoptions of agriculture and dairying that caused genetic selection for

the traits to digest starch and lactose, respectively (wiki). Boyd and

Richerson are also very skeptical of Dawkin’s meme theory and state,

“a Darwinian account of culture does not imply that culture must be

divisible into tiny, independent genelike bits that are faithfully

replicated”. David Hull defends this position by showing why critics of

cultural evolution theories, who insist there must be gene-like particles

that increase and decrease in frequency relative to other replicators,

are sorely mistaken (Hull, 1988). Critics are foremost mistaken about

biological evolution and the role genes play. “Genes do not function in

isolation but as parts of integrated gene complexes…” Hull states.

Early evolutionary theory conceived of genes as carrying a single

characteristic in a given organism. This one gene/one character was

soon shown to be overly simple (Carlson, 1966). A theory of cultural

evolution that incorporates the concept of information need not have

the burden of proof (one meme, one belief/idea/value) to demonstrate

evolution of this information occurs, just as biological evolution need

not show that each gene is responsible for a particular physical

characteristic. Instead multiple genes, interacting with one another,


form complex biological structures, and multiple cultural variants,

interacting with one another, form complex cultural structures (e.g.

human language). Cultural information should only be loosely

understood as analogous to the gene model; the payoff is that it

provides a firm conceptual foundation for explanatory power. Our lack

of understanding of the physical structure of cultural variants need not

be an impediment to our theorizing, just as early theorizing about

gravity did not need a complete conceptual understanding of its

nature.

Cultural variants, a basic term describing cultural information, follow a

Darwinian path amongst human populations and Boyd and Richerson

have demonstrated with a variety of examples how we can see the

effects of such a process. One of their most often cited examples is

that of a study conducted by psychologists Richard Nisbett and Dov

Cohen, whom argue that the South (in America) is more violent

statistically than the North because southern people have culturally

acquired beliefs about personal honor that are different from their

northern counterparts. The researched revealed that from 1865 to

1915 the homicide rate in the south was ten times the current rate for

the whole United States (Boyd, Richerson 2004). Arguments and

confrontations amongst southerners will more often lead to violence

than they would in northern cities and towns. Their findings suggest

that violence is not indiscriminate but rather directly related to a sense


of honor, so a southerner might be more likely to kill another person in

a bar fight, but not any more likely to kill the individual behind the

counter when robbing a liquor store from a similar robbery in the north.

This explains the differences amongst southerners and northerners in

terms of their cultural and economic histories. The people who

immigrated to the south were mainly of Scott-Irish decent and were

livestock herders. During the movement westward in the formation

the United States law was difficult to enforce in areas of sparsely

settles regions and livestock were easy to steal. Nesbit and Cohen

postulated that a “culture of honor” developed in response to this

environmental pressure so men could cultivate reputations as a

deterrent to theft (Boyd, Richerson 2004). The question remains how

exactly this process of cultural evolution occurs.

Boy and Richerson give us a variety of mechanisms by which cultural

variants are either accepted or rejected by individuals. They identify

the two main processes that cause culture to change as consisting of

an inertial part (the processes that tends to keep a population the

same over a period of time) and a variety of forces (the processes that

cause changes in the numbers of different type of cultural variants in a

population). Forces include “random” forces and “decision-making”

forces. The two random forces they name are cultural mutation and

cultural drift. Cultural mutation occurs due to individual-level

processes, such as misremembering an item of culture. Cultural drift


also occurs in a variety of ways. For instance, in a society where boat

making is only understood by a few elders, and they happen to die, the

cultural variants allowing individuals to build boats die out. Drift, like

its biological evolutionary counterpart, can also occur when a group of

individuals relocate and bring new cultural variants to another group of

individuals. Decision-making forces include “guided variation” and

“biased transmission”. Guided variation is defined as “nonrandom

changes in cultural variants by individuals…from transformations

during social learning” (Boyd, Richerson 2004). These can be

purposive changes to stories you heard as a child, or changes in a

recipe for pasta sauce. Biased transmission occurs in three unique

ways. “Content-based bias” describes when individuals are more likely

to learn or remember cultural variants based on their content, whether

that is how well it associates with other cultural variants they’ve

learned or because the structure of cognition makes some variants

easier to acquire. A group of theorists have proposed that a child’s

belief in ghosts or demons, which always entails them having human

features and limitations, is acquired without cultural transmission but

instead through innate neurological pathways that form a content-bias

when thinking about such an entity. Parents need not teach their

children that ghosts and demons can hear, see and interact with

physical objects. These parameters are already hardwired into the

child’s brain as possibilities of human action, which become translated


into the actions of metaphysical beings. Individuals then more easily

assimilate this belief about ghosts and demons, and “content-based

bias” is the term that describes the ease of this kind of cultural variant

acquisition. “Frequency-based bias” is simply the mechanism that

allows individuals to adopt cultural variants based on their

commonness in their social group. The most advantageous variant is

often likely to be the most common. And “model-based bias” is the

force that makes individuals choose a trait based on the observable

attributes of individuals who exhibit the trait. This includes imitating

successful or prestigious individuals, or the disposition to imitate

individuals similar to oneself. (Boyd, Richerson 2004) The immediate

problem we see in this type of theory, being juxtaposed to biological

evolution, is nicely summated in the book “Genes, Culture and Human

Evolution”…

“What is important to bear in mind is that natural selection, by

definition, favors fitness enhancing properties of organisms;

cultural selection, by contrast, may be driven by a host of

complicated motives and this brings us, once again, to the limits

of our knowledge” (Stone, Lirquin 2007).

I will return to this problem and Boyd and Richerson’s theory to support

claims I will make later in this paper. For now I turn to Thomas Kun’s

theory of scientific revolutions, and coupled with the work of the

philosopher David Hull, I will show why we can view the scientific
enterprise as composed of cultural and conceptual variants, subject to

the same evolutionary pressures as biological and cultural evolution.

From there I will propose why it is useful to view social groups

consisting of cultural paradigms, much like science is composed of

scientific paradigms, and how this can help our understanding of the

origin of social conflict and see in a new light a variety of other

observational data from sociology and psychology.

Kuhn’s theory of scientific revolutions was a bombshell in conceptual

theorizing about the nature of science. He postulated a series of

stages that the scientific enterprise must necessarily go through in

order to resolve and further its function of empirical “truth” finding.

Truth is in quotations because Kuhn’s theory carries metaphysical

weight concerning the nature of truth and the nature of the scientific

pursuit of truth. If science merely functions as a means to resolve the

shifting interpretation of empirical data, then truth becomes an

obsolete metaphysical concept. Truth, in Kuhnian terms, is a function

of the explanatory power of a scientific paradigm in which science is

currently operating. The teleological underpinnings of science has

been forever stripped away and an evolutionary model of scientific

progress has replaced the hope of ever reaching a “true”, static model

of the universe.

Kuhn stressed the importance of historicizing science, viewing

scientists in different ages as embodying historically dependent ideas


and strategies, thus avoiding attributing modern modes of thought to

historical agents. The evolution of science occurs, not as an

accumulation of facts, but rather through a set of changing intellectual

circumstances and possibilities (wiki). Normal science is conducted by

making hypotheses concerning the natural world, doing experiments to

collect empirical data and see how it fits into the current paradigm that

science is operating within. This is what Kuhn calls puzzle solving, and

most scientists spend their entire career doing it. Anomalies begin to

appear, stretching the current paradigm to its conceptual limits. Some

anomalies can be rejected as errors in observation while others are

harder to dismiss and persist as genuine problems to be solved. There

comes a point when enough anomalies accumulate that the current

paradigm is thrown into doubt, and a handful of brave scientists must

periodically embark on what Kuhn calls “revolutionary science”. These

scientists create new solutions to solve the problem these anomalies

pose. When enough scientists have accepted that this new model is

needed and coherent enough for further use, a “paradigm shift” and

the new scientific paradigm becomes the norm. Normal science

continues and the process begins anew. The awareness of paradigm

shifts show that new theories are not just incompatible with old

theories, but incommensurable, lacking any comparability, hence the

need for a revolution in scientific thinking. Kuhn essentially saw this as

an evolutionary process and at the end of his book The Structure of


Scientific Revolutions, he says…

“Successive stages in that development process (science) are

marked by an increase in articulation and specialization. And the

entire process may have occurred, as we now suppose biological

evolution did, without benefit of a set goal…of which each stage

in the development of scientific knowledge is a better exemplar”.

(Kuhn, 1962).

David Hull has picked up where Kuhn has left off in the sense of

explaining how this process actually follows an evolutionary path, as

Boyd and Richerson’s describe in their dual-inheritance theory. Hull’s

main concern in his book “Science as a Process” is how to explain how

scientists choose between alternative views of the world. He does this

by positing that individuals, whom make up the scientific community,

are subject to socially inherited drives like credit acquisition.

“Scientists want other scientists to recognize their contributions, and

the most fundamental form of recognition is use, preferably with a

formal acknowledgement” (Hull, 1988). Science, being composed of

concepts (replicating, but not particulate entities), evolves and does so

through human brains (scientists) by the same mechanisms in which

cultural culture evolves. The nature of scientific evolution is most

definitely unique in its manifestation of the evolutionary process but

the process is nonetheless the underlying explanation for its


movement.

David Hull writes…

“I am concerned with change in our scientific conceptions about

the world, conceptions that have changed too quickly for

alterations in gene frequencies to have played any role.”

Scientists act like individuals in social groups act. They treat their

close “kin” with greater altruism and create alliances with like-minded

scientists, while they compete with other scientists and their theories,

forming research groups to further their claims and agendas. Instead

of cultural variants, Hull gives us the term concepts, which he calls

“historical entities”. I see the only difference the two as being a

matter of complexity and replication. Scientific ideas tend to replicate

much more accurately than do cultural ideas. This is for the benefit of

the scientific community. But that’s not to say cultural variants don’t

replicate with a fair amount of high fidelity, its just noting that the

variety of cultural variants far exceeds that of the scientific community

and because it does, cannot be easily understood with a textbook or a

lecture, as professors might give on a scientific topic. Therefore,

concepts can still be seen as cultural variants, but the necessity for

calling them “concepts” stems from the nature of the organizational

hierarchy that science exhibits. The crux of this idea is that science is

a sociocultural process. “Science would not be very cumulative if

succeeding generations of scientists did not build upon or at least play


off the work of earlier scientists” Hull writes. But understanding why

and how scientists cooperate is a question all by itself, stemming from

an evolutionary understanding of why humans cooperate as a species.

(Natalie and Joseph Henrich show in their book “Why Humans

Cooperate” that the answer lies in synthesizing dual-inheritance theory

with evolutionary theories concerned with explaining altruistic behavior

in humans and primates.)

Cultural Paradigms

Hull sees science as the process of conceptual evolution, with the

forces of biased, un-biased, drift, mutation and selection acting upon

the process. Scientific paradigms can now be seen as a grouping of

these “conceptual” variants into organized structures, much like

languages are. But languages and scientific paradigms are only a

couple of the more organized groupings of variants that we encounter

every day of our lives. Religions are complex groupings of cultural

variants that replicate with high fidelity (As Scott Atran brilliantly

explicates in his book “In Gods We Trust”). Methods on how to mix

cement, build skyscrapers, and fly commercial airline jets are also a

mix of complex, high fidelity replicating variants, that have a defined

structure and system. But where can we take this analogy when

talking about societies the world over? I propose that there be a

systematic study of the combination of cultural paradigms; a set of

cultural variants, arranged in a complex, coherent structure that gives


individuals interacting in groups a defined list of world-view limitations

on behavior. As Boyd and Richerson acknowledged in their study of

cultural differences, Americans in the South have cultural variants that

make them more likely to kill when their honor is threatened or

challenged. These variants should not be seen as merely isolated

variants floating amongst other isolated variants, each contributing

their function. Variants, like genes, act in concert with one another, a

fact shown by Hull, and like genes give rise to complex structures.

These structures themselves can be seen as wholes, with a defined set

of functions in the real world. Cultural paradigms describes exactly

that set of functions a related set of cultural variants exhibit. A town in

Alaska might contain a cultural paradigm in which preservation of the

wilderness defines the limitations on actions of individuals and

provides a sense of security, stemming from what’s called a conformity

bias: In which cultural variants are more likely to be accepted and

passed on due to the frequency of individuals containing that variant in

a given group. The more prevalent the variant, the higher the probably

it will be accepted by another member. This, coupled with views about

the family, societal structure, religion and economic philosophies (a list

of ought’s and do not’s) create what I am calling a cultural paradigm.

What is the use of describing groups of individuals as possessing

cultural paradigms? In the same way that scientific paradigms is a

useful concept when talking about the groupings of conceptual


variants that form a coherence picture of the natural world. In fact,

one the main criteria that Kuhn said were necessary for scientific

progress was that scientists see coherence in the data being collected.

Individuals, I argue, also aim for the same coherence in their own lives.

Lancelot Law Whyte, who worked with Einstein on his theory of special

relativity, proposed to redefine how we view the two aspect of the

mind called the conscious and the unconscious. He saw the goal of

human mental activity as striving towards coherence and an “ordering

tendency” that serves individual, social, and biological ends

(Schumaker, 33). Michael Gazzaniga, author of “The Social Brain”

repeats this message by arguing that the human brain evolved to be

capable of ignoring one of its fundamental dictates of accurate reality

testing by creating order where there is none, thus giving rise to order

and coherence in the mental activities needed for survival. He

postulates that the state all humans are in before order is achieved is

that of tension; tension arises out of the highly stimulating flow of

sensory information bombarding the human nervous system

demanding the brain do something to create order by selectively

integrating and disposing of bits of information. So how can we explain

the seemingly indefinite array of social conflicts that arise everywhere

in the world? I’m arguing that our evolved psychological mechanisms

that accept or reject cultural variants based on modes of exclusion or

inclusion dictate that cultural paradigms must deal with these


“anomalies” that threaten their coherent picture. The brain is trying to

achieve equilibrium or coherence again. Cultural paradigms can also

be seen as operating on multiple levels, exhibiting a hierarchy of

complexes, competing and cooperating with one another. There is the

paradigm that views capitalism as necessarily a good, or better, way of

material transaction than earlier forms of commodity trading. This

paradigm entails the belief in a version of a free market, and a

multitude of beliefs trickling down from there.

What sociology and psychology are missing is a unifying theory of how

groups of individuals are formed through the evolution of cultural

information, and how this accounts for change and conflict, both

individually and socially. Max Gluckman, the famed anthropologist,

theorized in the early 20th century that conflict and rebellion are

inherent in society. As each group of individuals struggle to achieve

their private interest conflict arises, but not towards revolution, as in

Marxist theory, but towards resolution. Gluckman mainly saw the

tensions in society tamed by the power of tradition. It can now be

seen that tradition, in Gluckman’s sense, is really cultural paradigms

consisting of cultural variants, evolving under the laws of cultural

evolution! Gluckman saw the tendency of indigenous societies to re-

establish coherence and order, giving more credence to a theory that

entails the understanding of both cultural evolution and the biological

dictates of the brain’s ordering/coherence system.


The nature of cultural anomalies must now briefly be discussed.

Scientific anomalies consist of data that doesn’t fit with the current

explanatory paradigm. The scientific community immediately ignores

these at large, and only until enough have accumulated will scientists

engage in revolutionary science to bring the coherence back to

equilibrium. And equilibrium is exactly what game-theorists propose

society operates within. A defined set of games in which the outcome

is constantly weighed against positive and negative results.

Coherence is what society aims for, just as in science. Anomalies are

those cultural variants or cultural paradigms that threaten or compete

with another cultural variants/paradigm. Clan members exercising

violent physical force against blacks in the south stems from, and

creates, a cultural anomaly that needs resolution. Martin Luther King

and other black leaders, who challenged to re-envision racial conflict,

could be seen as revolutionary scientists, brave enough to change the

paradigm that is no longer coherent. The diffusion of their message

has become widespread through individual adoption by the

mechanisms of cultural evolution. But anomalies also occur at

microscopic scales in cultural life. Differences of opinion on how a

town government should allocate funds for social projects exemplify

these types of anomalies. In fact just living in a community you are

likely to encounter on a daily basis differences in opinion and world-

view, some being wholly opposite to your own. I argue that


stereotypes are variants that reinforce a group’s paradigm by

generalizing in a mockingly simple way the variants of another group.

But these are obviously of much a different character than their

scientific counterparts. For one they don’t necessarily entail revolution

of any sort to be resolved. They usually work themselves out, or

remain in perpetual conflict. But in science anomalies don’t

necessarily entail revolution either, as seen in overlapping scientific

paradigms, such as the paradigm of homeopathic medicine and the

rest of mainstream scientific medical practices. These are

incommensurable, but neither side seems to be looking for a

resolution. Examples like this can been seen throughout the history of

science. Anomalies of the macroscopic kind become more complex to

elucidate. These entail multiple levels of cultural paradigms

interacting with one another, with large groups of individuals adhering

to variations of a phenotypic paradigm. Conflict that arises between

counties like North Korea and the United States demonstrates this. For

North Korea, proliferation of nuclear weapons is a necessary

achievement to remain powerful and relevant in a globalizing world,

while the United States views globalization as already decided in favor

of their influence and mode of control.

The question arises, when does conflict between paradigms result in

violence, revolution, and other widely noticeable cultural changes?

This is why I’m proposing a science of cultural paradigms to study the


structure and movement of these masses of cultural variants. Much

still needs to be fleshed out, but an overarching theory such as this

consolidates the social sciences into a coherent framework. I propose

that we adopt the term Cultural Fluency to denote the level of

paradigm conflict (anomalies) amongst groups that lead to various

outcomes. Biological survival is not necessarily the only prerequisite

for adopting a cultural variant, as mentioned earlier, so fleshing out

why groups of individuals adopt cultural variants at the expense of

their reproductive fitness is required to explain how groups become

cultural fluent and how this fluency changes over time.

Conclusion

It is easier to conceive of scientific paradigms because the structure of

each paradigm is explained, fleshed out, and doesn’t change as rapidly

and in complexity as cultural paradigms do. The fact that scientific

paradigm shifts can be clearly seen is a product of how clear scientific

theories are presented and kept organized. The same cannot be said

of cultural paradigms, in which cultural variants swirl in a frenzy for

fitness, changing so rapidly that one-day Jews and Germans are living

relatively peacefully together and the next day Jews are being

systematically exterminated by Germans. Cultural change can almost

be counted in seconds!

What we have seen is a theory of cultural evolution, scientific evolution

and how this applies to a theory of social change and conflict based on
Thomas Kuhn’s model of scientific revolutions. “One of the most

distinctive features of the emergence of a scientific culture in modern

Europe is the gradual assimilation of all cognitive values to scientific

ones” (Stephen Gaukroger, 2006). This is another illustration of how

cultural variants formed into the particularities of “conceptual” variants

of science. Gaukroger mentions the changing views of superiority the

West had of itself as affecting the scientific enterprise. This illustrates

the point that the scientific enterprise is merely a particular instance

and unique manifestation of the cultural evolutionary drives inherent in

all humans. As such it seems that Kuhn merely extracted the

evolutionary process out of science because science is easier to grasp

as a whole than cultural variants and the changes it exhibits. He

glimpsed at a functioning of cultural change, taking place in the

scientific enterprise, that no one else had before him. With this

conceptual gap closed between culture and science, I hope I have

showed with sufficient argumentation that a coherent theory is needed

to explain the causes of cultural conflict and resolution that includes a

more unified view of brain mechanics in relation to evolutionary

pressures on cultural information.