Broadcast - Cutting Edge Lectures in Science: A diversity - tolerance model of cultural evolution


The Cutting Edge lectures are organized to foster communication between scientists in different disciplines as well as between scientists and the public.

By Andre Costopoulos (Dept of Anthropology, McGill)

Building on recent computer simulation results from my lab, I will argue that while we humans perceive ourselves as forward looking decision makers, and often see our sophisticated brain as a rational choice engine, we are in fact probably selected to have a limited ability to make good decisions. I will argue that our brain is in fact a diversity production machine and that cultural evolution depends on the ability of our cultural systems to build and maintain diversity, and on our ability to access and replicate other people's traits when circumstances demand it. Under this 'diversity-tolerance' model of cultural evolution humans are smart enough to come up with a range of potential solutions to the problems we face, but not very good at determining which solution is the best. While we are often wrong, we must be convinced that we are right, and to maintain diversity, we must disagree with each other about what to do in response to an environmental challenge. We must also have a limited ability to discriminate between good and bad choices so we can recognize when we are in serious trouble and can adopt someone else's solution in a crisis. Andre Costopoulos studies social change and the environment in Nordic Prehistory. You can read about his work in Finland and northern Canada at SCENOP and the work of his graduate student faunal archeology lab or watch the french television interview with Andre Costopoulos on Le Code Chastenay.