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Using the concept of biological evolution to think (some more) about how cultures evolve...

Towards Day 10 of Evolving Systems course

(a cornet, evolving...!)

I. coursekeeping

President McAuliffe's demanding schedule

by Monday evening,
post your reactions to today's conversation:
why is there a diversity of cultures?  how do cultures change?
how can we make sense of such changes? 

by Wednesday evening, write a paper in which you explore the possible causes underlying the particular cultural evolution you described in this week's paper

II. to get us thinking (some more!):
reading two of your papers on cultural

Lemon Koala on the form: Each essay has its value in some perspective .... Right now, I am always trying to find a main line to connect the thoughts .... I think it's OK to be incomplete .... There are always more perspectives to be explored.... I think the citations are really important encourage us to explore more about the topics....

Sarah on the content:
Cultural diversity is one thing I looked forward to about Bryn Mawr as a whole, so I'm excited to begin our conversation.

what is the motivating question in each paper?
how do we know the writer knows what she knows? 
how might she begin to explore causes/explanations
for the pattern she traces? what information does she need?

III. we have some new readings to discuss,
but first, a little more about/from/in response to
Jared Diamond: what about China?

with Paige's caveat
: why talk about winners and losers?
why valorize history's "winners"?

Different culture has different value, even of the concept of "win" and "developed" .... China and Europe just chose the different way to go. From inside, the culture is determined by the genes. Different people have different likely character in the first place.

Summer: I have some things to say about the cultural differences and the personality differences ... the big idea of the Chinese culture is "harmony" .... it is the foundation of the personality of Chinese people .... The culture teaches us to be lenient with others ....

Lemon Koala: in fact, China has been the most powerful country, like USA today, for all the time before the Industrial Revolution.

IV. turning now to new readings about
using the concept of biological evolution
to think about cultural evolution....

I think cultural change has patterns and explanations very similar to the explanations humans have for cosmological, geological, and biological change, partially because ... humans are the ones explaining ... and are inclined to take what they know and apply it to other things .... [meditating on the old exhibits @ the Museum of Natural History in NYC] now that we have reached a period in human existence where everything changes so quickly, how do we update our history ... and keep it relevant? How can the past stay up to date?

Paul added two late-breaking (Oct. 2010)
Science American
articles that you may want to read:

How we are evolving: about thow the rapid evolution of a major gene variant, now common in Tibetans (that helps to explain how they adapted to harsh conditions@ high altitude w/ low oxygen levels--remember this??), is not typical; rather, it now looks as though most adaptations stem from genetic variants having mild effects on hundreds or thousands of relevant genes from across the genome

The elusive theory of everything (by Stephen Hawking): Every scientific theory...comes with its own model of reality, and it may not make sense to talk of what reality actually is.

We had also asked you to read 3 other essays:
New York Times,
March 2004:
"Niles Eldredge: Bursts of Cornets and Evolution" 

"a meta-theoretical, structural framework for a general theory of material cultural evolution".... thinking about evolution "as the transmission of patterns of information"... to explore the way new ideas and designs spread through an instrument population.

"the family tree of cornets has many more branches...and tend to look more like bushes."

... to improve the understanding of the interaction between genealogical and economic hierarchies.... in material culture..."the marketplace is the ecosystem." In culture, as in nature...the economic environment inevitably serves as an unpredictable force, driving some species to extinction. Yet death is also the engine of innovation. As one group dies, it is replaced by new forms."

"material culture is also characterized by periods of relative inactivity punctuated by intense bursts of change"

Evolution of Language (Science Magazine, Feb. 2004)

what are the current patterns of language change in the world?
[given these trends: how should the language
programs @ BMC be evolving??]

why does language change? (given that it does,)
how would you communicate w/ people 10,000 years from now
(to warn, say, of radioactive waste....?)

"The Origin of Speech":

"the schism over whether the earlier language--taht is, symbolic sounds or gestures connected by some sor tof rules of syntax--used the voice of the hands."

"The deepest questions--such as how humans became symbolic thinkers and developed 'theory of mind,' or awareness of others' thought processes--remain far from resolved.

"The First Language?":
"the exodus of humans out of Africa...might have been spurred by the development of language itself"

"Genetic and language evolution don't necessarily go hand in hand."

"Speaking in Tongues":
"languages could be arranged in evolutionary trees"
"a systematic way to establish kinship among languages--the so-called comparative method"
"ultimate goal: a true mother tongue"
"the ghosts of superfamilies haunt modern vocabularies"
"the data simply can't support peering so far back in time"
"genes and words don't follow the same timetable...a native langauge can be quickly replaced [but] you cannot switch your genes"

From Heofonum to Heavens:
"Linguists view language change as something of a paradox. Because children learn the language of their parents...there seems no reason for language to change @ all. But change is common..."

"the key to understanding large-scale linguistic transformation lies in the link between the diffusion of novel forms through one generation and large grammatical shifts occurring across generations...this language acquisition...children may themselves serve as agents of change by reinterpreting a grammatical rule because of exposure to a variant during their learning experience"

"computer models out the relationship between learning by the individual and language change in the population....the 'main plot in the story of language change'"

"The Future of Language":
"Global demography is one cause of the language crisis."

the proportion of English speakers is declining
(from 9% of the global population toward nearer 5%).

Chinese is well established as the world's largest language in terms of native speakers) and its position will remain unchallenged. The next four major languages [Hindi/Urdu, Arabic, English, Spanish] are gradually converging, with Arabic rising as English declines.

there is devastation at the base...roughly 6000 languages exist in the world today. Yet 90% of these may be doomed to extinction... "like burning a unique reference book of the natural world"

new urban hybrid forms may help maintain global diversity ...
diasporic communities are ...breeding grounds for new hybrid language s

the continued decline of traditional geographically based dialects ...the 'old' national languages are losing functionality .... now positioned more as a local language of solidarity than one for science, university education, or European communication.

a wide global trend toward bilingualism....In the new world order, most people will speak more than one language....The expectation that someone should always aspire to native speaker competence when learning a foreign language is under challenge, as is the notion of 'native speaker' itself.

[given these trends: how should the language programs @ BMC be evolving??]

....advise on a method of communicating the whereabouts of dangerous repositories of radioactive waste to generations 10,000 years hence...?

there was no secure meas of transmitting such knowledge over 300 generations. Instead... put in place a relay system which ensured that "as the information begins to decay, it should be updated"...any message written in English should be designed for only three generations ahead--that is, 100 years."

"Software and the Future of Programing Languages":
design principles: simplicity, robustness, portability, internet compatibility, concurrency, redundancy, error-detecting and -correcting codes

Perspectives on Language in Science:
dominated by two contradictory trends: 
globalization and the growth of field-specific jargon

As an imported tongue, English is modified when it becomes nativized.
Scientific Englishes would lose all purpose were they to diverge too far.
Specialization = diversification
patterns of divergence and convergence both
porosities are lacking: inaccessibility, tolerating variance, translating