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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Reblog: Culture doesn't develop the same way as genes

I saw this post by Brandon Keim at Wired Science discussing a paper by evolutionary game theorist Arne Traulsen and his gang at the Max Planck Institute, titled "Exploration dynamics in evolutionary games," and just HAD to re-post it, mostly because it just seemed like it would push some buttons:

"In a paper published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Traulsen and colleagues modeled the effects of mutational variance in a standard game-theory model where individuals can be part of a community, steal from that community, or punish the thieves.

Most models of behavioral evolution, said Traulsen, assume that individuals will imitate their successful neighbors, with a minor allowance made for random variation — the cultural equivalent of heredity with minor mutations.

But in reality, people are unpredictable, prone to whimsical explorations and rash, seemingly irrational decisions. And when Traulsen reduced imitation and increased randomness, his simulations produced different end-states, with cooperation finally triumphing over thievery."

Read Keim's full post.

Keim seems to think this is a big, grand statement to be making, but to me this is fairly obvious stuff; that humans are greedy, ingenious people who will adapt to different situations in different ways. That's why we have so many different cultures around the world.

Although I suppose if people like Alan Greenspan thought better of the human race, than other people would be surprised by these findings too.

Citation: "Exploration dynamics in evolutionary games." By Arne Traulsen, Christoph Hauert, Hannelore Brandt, Martin A. Nowak, and Karl Sigmund. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Jan. 5, 2009.

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