Saturday, 23 November 2013

A brief history of cultural kin selection

Kin selection applies to cultural variation. This is called cultural kin selection. It is an important topic.

Here's a brief history of the concept:

The observation that social and genetic kinskip were different in humans dates back to Lewis Henry Morgan in 1871.

Boyd and Richerson published one of the first articles on the topic in 1980 - connecting cultural kin selection and cultural group selection.0 An early modern article on the topic was written by Kristen Hawkes in 1983 and titled: "Kin Selection and Culture".

David Schneider's 1984 book "Critique of the Study of Kinship" argued that kinship was a different concept in different cultures, that people treating non-relatives as though they were kin was common - and that this reduced the significance of kin theories from biology when considering humans.

The idea of cultural kin selection appears in David Hull's (1988) book. David wrote:

Increasing one's conceptual inclusive fitness in science means increasing the number of replicates of one's contribution in the work of successive generations of other scientists.
science is a function of conceptual inclusive fitness.
Next, Francis Heylighen's (1992) paper: "Selfish Memes and the Evolution of Cooperation" stated:

The mechanism of kin selection can be extended to memes by redefining inclusive fitness as the fitness of a meme taking into account all its carriers. All individuals carrying the same meme can be viewed as relatives or kin insofar as this meme is concerned. Hence, the tendency to be altruistic towards offspring or close kin that follows from genetic evolution can be generalized to altruistic tendencies towards members of the same memetic or cultural group. The explanation for ultrasociality in the social insects on the basis of genetic inclusive fitness can be readily transposed to the emergence of ultrasociality in humans on the basis of memetic inclusive fitness.
He went on to explain how memes exploited kin-altruism towards relatives to redirect benefits towards cultural relatives:

many ethical systems explicitly refer to the ideal of "fraternity", and sometimes members of the same cultural group (e.g. monks or Freemasons) are supposed to call each other "brother". Though these are not brothers in the biological sense, the meme attempts to harness the innate tendency to behave altruistically towards kin and to use it for purposes different from the increase of genetic inclusive fitness.
Around the same time, Paul Allison published a series of papers on the topic - most notably "The Cultural Evolution of Beneficent Norms".

Heylighen revisited the idea of cultural kin in 1997, writing:

The genetic argument for altruism towards individuals carrying the same genes (kin selection) generalizes to altruism towards carriers of the same memes.
In 1997, David Hales wrote in "Memetic Evolution & Suboptimisation":
I now want to propose that two previously described extensions to basic natural selection can be applied subtlety within a meme framework: kin altruism and group selection.
There's a paper by John Evers (1998) called "A justification of societal altruism according to the memetic application of Hamilton's Rule", which attempts to directly adapt Hamilton's Rule to memetics - based on the idea of the "fraction of shared memes". John doesn't really go into the difficulties associated with this idea, though.

Also in 1998, "Cultural Software" by J. M. Balkin came out. Balkin clearly understood cultural kin selection, writing:

We often see people energetically promulgating their memes in the forms of beliefs, behaviors, artifacts, and customs while struggling with others who resist or disagree. Just as competition between biological kin groups can lead to strife, so can competition between cultural kin groups.

Just as individuals have varying degrees of genetic kinship, they also have varying degrees of memetic kinship. The two forms of kinship are cross-cutting: people can have many of the same memes even if they are completely unrelated. If the analogy to evolutionary arguments about kin-based altruism holds, then we would predict considerable altruistic behavior between people with lots of similar cultural software-for example, people of the same religion or culture, teachers and students, members of the same fraternity or club.
In 2000, David Hull showed that he understood the idea that kin selection extended into the cultural realm, writing: "One final example of similar processes operating in biological and memetic change is kin selection". He went on to give an example:

In science, scientists also distinguish between kin and non-kin, but the relevant genealogy is conceptual. The issue is not who holds similar ideas but who is conceptually connected to whom. The best way to increase the likelihood that you will be a successful scientist is to work under a successful scientist (Hull 1988).
Momme Von Sydow in a 2000 thesis wrote:

Corresponding to kin selection on the biological level, memes might ‘egoistically’ support their relatives in the same brain or in different brains, if they were identical (or similar enough). One might formulate a mathematical inequality analogous to Hamilton’s, where memes would replace genes.
In 2001, an important paper on tag-based cooperation came out - by Riolo, Cohen and Axelrod. It was followed by a large number of other papers on the topic. Riolo had come up with the idea much earlier - and had performed computer simulations of tag-based cooperation in 1992.

In 2001, Karl Sigmund and Martin Nowak, pointed out that cultural tag-based cooperation was a form of cultural kin selection.

Gordon Rakita (2003) rechristened cultural kin selection "kith selection". The term "kith selection" is kind-of cute - but it seems as though it is unnecessary jargon - and it doesn't fit in very well with "cultural group selection".

The idea of "cultural kin selection" appears again in Francis Heylighen's (2008) article: "Cultural Evolution and Memetics" - where he says:

Horizontal transmission of cooperation norms solves this problem, since the members of a cultural group are all memetically related to each other, sharing their memes rather than their genes. Therefore, cultural kin selection will extend to all members of the group (Evers, 1998). This entails a selective pressure for memes to support the fitness of the whole group of their carriers, e.g. by promoting cooperation.
In 2009, Gordon Rakita spelled out some of the implications of the idea of "kith selection" in detail. He started out by introducing a class of behaviours that kin selection acting on genes appears to explain poorly:

Kin selection does not seem to offer a suitable explanation for instances in which soldiers give their lives for their comrades. The conditions necessary for the model are not met, for example, soldiers are rarely genetically related. Given this, how are such acts to be explained?
He then offered a fine explanation - involving selection acting on memes:

A meme that encourages a soldier to throw himself on a grenade to save his comrades will negatively impact its future prospects of being transmitted to others. (This behavior is similar to that of the worker ant who forgoes reproduction in favour of the reproductive potential of the queen.) However, if the soldier’s comrades also carry the meme for grenade smothering, then the soldier’s behavior will indirectly impact the future replicative success of those other copies of the altruistic meme. This mimetic model of kin selection I term kith selection, kith being unrelated but like-minded acquaintances
Recently Mark Pagel's Wired For Culture book offered an explanation of human cooperation in terms of cultural "green beard" effects. In the process, he pointed out that such green beard effects were a kind of kin selection.

For references, see the cultural kin selection bibliography.

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