The evolution and evolvability of culture

Mind and Language 21 (2):137-165 (2006)
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Joseph Henrich and Richard McElreath begin their survey of theories of cultural evolution with a striking historical example. They contrast the fate of the Bourke and Wills expedition — an attempt to explore some of the arid areas of inland Australia — with the routine survival of the local aboriginals in exactly the same area. That expedition ended in failure and death, despite the fact that it was well equipped, and despite the fact that those on the expedition were tough and experienced. For survival in such areas depended on accumulated local knowledge. The locals had learned how detoxify seeds before making bread from them, and how to catch the local fish. Bourke and Wills and their companions lacked this local knowledge, and died as a result (Henrich and McElreath 2003)



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Kim Sterelny
Australian National University

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