Culture not genes drives humans forward

February 27, 2012
Culture not genes drives humans forward

Evolutionary biologist at the University of Reading Professor Mark Pagel argues that our cultural influences are more important to our success as a species than our genes in his new book published this week.

In Wired for Culture: The Natural History of Human Co-operation, Professor Pagel says our true difference with other animals is our ability to adapt at the cultural level to different environments as we travel around the world, rather than having to wait for the slower pace of .

This created a species with a suite of adaptations for making use of the prosperous of , among them are our ultra-social nature, our language, morality and even some individual differences in talents and skills.

"These traits wouldn't exist without our propensity for culture - our ability to co-operate in small tribal societies, enabling us to pass on knowledge, beliefs and practices so that we prospered while others declined," said Professor Pagel.

He says other animals are limited to living in the environment their genes adapt them to, for example wildebeest can't climb trees for fruit, but yet the first humans to walk out of Africa and into the deserts of worked out how to make shelters, dig for water and domesticate camels.

"We didn't need to wait for our genes to change to confer adaptive advantage to living in the desert. We embrace our cultures and allow them a degree of mind control over us in return for the prosperity and protection they give in return."

Wired for Culture: The Natural History of Human Co-operation is published on 1 March by Allen Lane.

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1 / 5 (1) Feb 27, 2012
We didn't need to wait for our genes to change to confer adaptive advantage to living in the desert

They had already changed to allow us to adapt. Culture didn't cause our genes to change.
not rated yet Feb 27, 2012
If individual and group survival influence which genes survive in a species, and culture influences how well individuals and groups survive, I'd be rather surprised to find that one thousand generations of culture successes and failures had no impact at all on our current set of genes. In fact, if Kurzweil is correct, the rate of change in our genes has been accelerating throughout all those generations, and will continue to do so for at least several more.
1 / 5 (1) Feb 28, 2012
Epigenetic influences of nutrition and socialization on intracellular signalling pathways link epigenetic cause directly to gene activation and stochastic gene expression. These influences are required for genetically predisposed phenotypic changes in the body and behavior of organisms from microbes to man. That biological fact makes it clear that we must first deny or ignore what is currently known about molecular biology to approach evolutionary biology from perspectives on cultural influences. All species adapt to their social environment, as was recently demonstrated by mixing different species of honeybees. The honeybee already serves as a model organism for studying human immunity, disease resistance, allergic reaction, circadian rhythms, antibiotic resistance, the development of the brain and behavior, mental health, longevity, diseases of the X chromosome,learning and and memory, as well as conditioned responses to sensory stimuli. Is colony collapse a problem of culture?

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