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    As long ago as 1871, Charles Darwin considered whether the intellectual and moral characters of man have emerged as results of biological selection in manner similar to anatomical and physiological characters (Darwin 1913, pages 195–224). In this way, he was the first to present a hypothesis of the biological basis of culture. In a series of influential and pioneering publications, the American philosopher of science David L. Hull has, together with his coworkers, argued in favour of the view that they call generalized Darwinism. By this is meant that the general principles of Darwinism apply not only to biological evolution but also to evolution of societies and culture (Aldrich et al. 2008; Hull 1988, 2001a; Hull et al. 2001). According to these authors, Darwinian ideas have important implications for social scientists concerning rationality and psyche of human agents. Assumptions concerning human agents must be consistent with our understanding of human evolution. Darwinian evolution involves development, retention and selection of information concerning adaptive solutions to survival problems faced by organisms in their environment. With regard to evolution of societies and culture, Darwinism by itself is insufficient to provide full and complete answers, but it provides a general framework in which additional and context-specific explanations may be placed.

     One of the most remarkable evolutionary theorists of our time, the American Richard C. Lewontin, has suggested that biological evolution of species as well as development of individuals occur as a result of a complicated interaction of genes, individuals and environment, forming what could be termed a triple helix (Lewontin 2000). Individuals themselves are thus active actors both in their own development and in evolution of the species. In other words, activity of the individual itself plays a part in  development of the phenotype. With respect to activity of the individual itself, cultural traits, such as cognition, the faculty for the processing of information, applying knowledge, and changing preferences, and other mental capacities, such as learning, thinking and emotions, are in a central position. Of these, learning can be defined as the act of acquiring new, or modifying and reinforcing, existing knowledge, behaviours, skills, values or preferences. Concerning the significance of environment for development of different mental capacities, richness of the environment is important. This has been shown with experiments on behavioural or environmental enrichment, providing the experimental subjects with environmental stimuli that improve psychological and physiological well-being (Rampon et al. 2000). It is worth noting that both learning (Cavallaro et al. 2002) and environmental enrichment (Rampon et al. 2000) alter gene transcription in the brains of young animals. Pathways of gene functions influenced by these experiences include cell-survival-associated genes and genes involved in synaptic plasticity. Thus, it seems that there is a positive feedback loop between learning and the genes associated with it.

    In conclusion, human biological evolution and evolution of human culture are, so to speak, the result of teamwork between genes, individuals, biotic and abiotic environment, and the culture constructed by man, figuratively speaking a quadruple helix. The aim of the present study was to describe the nature of this biological and cultural evolution and to provide a suggestion for their comparison, in other words to elucidate the nature of this quadruple helix.



    What is biological evolution, and what is cultural




    Biological evolution is a population-level process guided in large part by selection and, in small populations, also by random processes. In the biological world, there are two types of selection targeted at individuals and based on differences in their genes. These types of selection are natural selection, described by Charles Darwin in 1859 (Darwin 1968), and sexual selection, also described by Darwin (1913).

    In the theory of evolution, the concept of ‘fitness’ is central.‘Fitness’ is the relative capacity of the individual to produce fertile offspring, or to have its genes represented in the gene pool of the next generation. In general, fitness is constituted of two components, the survival component and the reproduction component. To be fit, an organism must survive until reproductive age and then reproduce. In addition to this, many animals, notably several birds and all mammals, man included, possess a third component of fitness, which may be called a ‘fostering’ or ‘nursing’ component.

    By this it is meant that these animals, to be fit, must foster their offspring until they reach reproductive age. Culture can be defined as the wholeness of the mental and material achievements of a society or mankind as a whole. The influential American anthropologist Adamson Hoebel describes culture as an integrated system of learned behaviour patterns that are characteristic of members of a society and are not a result of biological inheritance (Hoebel 1972), to which, however, it must be added that, according to the modern view, genes and learning are not independent elements as cultural factors. Cultural evolution provides an explanation for how cultures and societies change over time. Whereas cultural development relies upon processes that tend to increase complexity of a society or culture, cultural evolution also covers processes that can lead to a decrease in complexity of culture, or that can produce variation or proliferation without any seemingly significant changes in the complexity.

     Cultural evolution can be defined as the ‘process by which structural reorganization is affected through time, eventually producing

    a form or structure which is qualitatively different from the ancestral form’ (see e.g. Korotayev 2004).

    In biological evolution, two processes that act on different levels can be distinguished:microevolution andmacroevolution. It seems to me that a parallel can be drawn from cultural evolution to biological microevolution—though less so to biological macroevolution. It also seems that researchers of the topic are rather united regarding the hypothesis that cultural evolution in general mainly obeys the same regularities as biological evolution, although considerable differences exist.



    Cultural Evolution

    We often associate culture with the tools and artifacts early hominids produce. These are in fact an expression of their culture, but more fundamentally represent ideas that were shared between peoples. Cultural Evolution is any learnt behaviour  (knowledge, attitudes, customs and ideas). Cultural evolution is passed from one generation to the next by learning

    Cultural & Biological Evolution:

                   Cultural and biological evolution have influenced each other. Selection for a bipedal lifestyle (biological evolution) freed up the hands making later cultural developments possible. Likewise, the development of early tools (cultural evolution) resulted in an improved diet, which in turn allowed for the selection (biological evolution) of a larger brain. This in turn aided the further development of tools and so on and so forth. Cultural and biological evolution have fuelled each-other resulting in the fairly rapid evolution of Humans with large brains and sophisticated technologies.

    Cultural Periods –Summary: Early human history is traditionally divided into Stone, Bronze and Iron ages, according to the main materials used. The Stone age can be further broken down into the following periods:

    Lower Paleolithic 3 million years ago

    • Earliest Stone tools introduced by Homo habilis
    • Began with Oldowan tool industry, utilizing stone flakes and cores
    • Further development led to the Acheulian tool industry, utilizing the more advanced handaxe (H. erectus)


    Middle Paleolithic 120,000 years ago

    • More advanced tools, made from a greater variety of materials. First widely use by Homo neanderthalensis
    • The middle Paleolithic is characterized by the Mousterian tool industry, whereby flint was often shaped using the Levallois technique, giving extremely sharp edges.

    Upper Paleolithic 35,000 years ago

    • Tools displaying a much more sophisticated design and greater ingenuity. Associated with the earliest anatomically modern ‘Cro-Magnon’ Homo sapiens
    • Tools included throwing sticks, harpoons and much finer blades and spearheads made using ‘punch blade’ technique
    • Culture also included cave paintings and sculptures.

    Mesolithic 12,000 years ago

    • Increased use of smaller finer tools and blades. Often small stone tools / blades (microliths) were incorporated into wooden or bone tools.
    • These tools were exclusively used by Homo sapiens
    • Commodities used to make these tools (stone, bone, antler, hides, etc) would have been traded.

    Neolithic 10,000 years ago

    • Neolithic culture is characterized by the development of agriculture. Wheat, corn, potatoes and rice were amongst the first ever domesticated crops.
    • These crop would provide an excess that could be traded and represent a shift away from the hunter-gather lifestyle and toward a market economy. This in turn would allow for greater population densities and the division of labour.


    Some of the earliest stone tool may look fairly similar, however, if more closely examined it becomes apparent that they clearly increase in complexity. Both the length of the cutting edge as well as the total number of blows needed to produce the tool increases. The number of blows needed to produce a tool represents the ingenuity needed to plan or ‘foresee’ what the stone will become. Further developments in the materials used and the techniques used to work them resulted in even more sophisticated tools and a much greater variety of tools (larger tool kits).

    More complex tools would have placed a greater demand on the brain, selecting for those members with increased intelligence. This in turn would have fuelled the evolutionary shift towards a larger brain. As tools became more and more complex, the ability to communicate ideas and tool making techniques would also have become more and more important. This ability to share ideas is what defines cultural evolution, and intrinsic to our cultural evolution was the development of language and the associated areas of the brain. This may help explain both the relatively rapid expansion of the brain and the rapid cultural developments observed in our most recent ancestors.

    7 Main Evidences Behind Biological Evolution of Man

    The idea of biological evolution probably started with Charles Darwin who defined the term evolution as “descent with modification”. The word ‘descent’ refers to the process of origin of new species from an ancestral stock. Again, the word ‘modification’ introduces an idea of change, which is inherent in evolution. Therefore, both the words jointly mean a species that evolves from its ancestors through changes. This principle is also applicable to man. Man being the highest product in the evolutionary sequence has descended from non-human ancestors. Some more primitive forms may be stated as ancestors of the ancestors.

    In this way we can reach back to the unicellular form, which formally stand as father of all organisms. To prove this fact, evidences are required for the whole path of biological progress. The biological evolution is exactly same to what we mean by organic evolution.

    1. MORPHOLOGICAL EVIDENCES: The structure of animals, both external and internal, provides a source of evidence for evolution. The branch of biology that deals with the form and external structure of animals and plants is called morphology. By comparing organs, musculature and tissues, it can be concluded that man and some other vertebrates have developed from a same stock following evolution. 

    2. ANATOMICAL EVIDENCES: The term anatomy is nearly synonymous with morphology and it deals solely with the internal structure of organisms. A comparative study of anatomy reveals the similarities and dissimilarities between man and the other higher primates.

    3. VESTIGIAL EVIDENCE: The word vestige means “ a small trace”. In any living organism, the vestigial body parts serve no remarkable purpose, they lie as  rudimentary organs or structural residue in living body. 

    4. EMBRYOLOGICAL EVIDENCES: it is a specialized branch of biology, which deals with the formation and development of the embryo.

    5. PALAENTOLOGICAL EVIDENCES: It is the study of fossils remains, which provides very reliable information regarding the fauna of particular periods.

    6. EVIDENCES FROM PHYSIOLOGY AND BIOCHEMISTRY: It is science that studies the artivities of organisms.

    7. EVIDENCES FROM GENETICS: It is an important branch of biology, dealing with the science of heredity and variation


    Comparison of biological and cultural evolution


    Biological evolution is a population-level process guided by selection, and it leads to an increase of the adaptation of the population for the environmental circumstances in which the population lives. Culture can be defined as the wholeness of the mental and material achievements of a society or mankind as a whole. The theory of cultural evolution provides an explanation for how cultures and societies change over time.

    Fig. 1. Transfer of information in biological and cultural evolution. In biological evolution, the transfer is unidirectional and vertical, whereas in cultural evolution it is bidirectional, and vertical, horizontal or oblique – in other words, network-like.

    Biological and cultural evolution have certain similarities but also many dissimilarities. Both are based on variation, heredity and selection, but how these appear and work differ. Biological evolution is unconscious, opportunistic and not goal-directed, while cultural evolution is conscious, at best planned, and can have a goal. In the biological world the sources of variation are mutations and genetic recombination. Heredity is connected with reproduction, and is mediated to subsequent generations via the genetic material. Selection operates in two ways, natural selection and sexual selection.

    Natural selection is a force that selects which variants will survive and get offspring capable for reproduction. Sexual selection means that by selecting their sexual partners organisms in fact select for genes which the offspring receive from the partner. Thus, the two forms of selection operating in the biological world determine how the relative frequencies of different gene forms and gene combinations evolve in a given population, and this process is the very essence of the biological evolution. By this way the mean fitness of the population increases as long as there exists genetic variation in fitness in the population. In other words, the adaptation of the population for the environmental circumstances continuously increases.

    In the regime of human culture the sources of variation are certain acts based on human creativity, such as innovations for instance. In cultural evolution imitation and certain more advanced forms of learning constitute the equivalent of heredity of biological evolution. An important difference between biological and cultural evolution is the fact that in the former the inheritance of acquired characteristics is denied while in the latter it is an integral part of the theory. Moreover, in biological evolution the transfer of genetic information is unidirectional and vertical occurring from the parental generation to the offspring only, and occurs only once in each case. In cultural evolution on its part, the transfer of information is mainly based on immaterial spoken or written concepts, is bidirectional, and can also be horizontal or oblique i.e. network-like. Cultural information can also be stored, and the transfer of it can be repeated at will. These differences between biological and cultural evolution make the latter to be far more rapid than the former.

    In cultural evolution a third form of selection is effective. This form of selection, termed social selection, involves competition on other social resources than the members of the opposite sex. In social selection, an important role is played by the feedback given by the members of the social group in which the individual in question lives. Therefore, in practice, in social selection the act of selection is performed by other individuals than the one whose fitness will be affected by the selection.

    Cultural fitness deals with cultural characteristics such as thoughts and ideas, and is defined as a function of time. The longer a cultural characteristic is preserved in the population, the better its cultural fitness.

    The importance of language as a necessary condition for cultural evolution should be stressed, language being the cultural replicator corresponding to the gene in biological evolution. Human


    creativity and mind reading, the specific human capacity of being aware what other people have in mind, are motors specific for cultural evolution.

    Petter Portin
    Laboratory of Genetics, Department of Biology
    University of Turku, Turku, Finland










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    Darwin C. 1968 The origin of species by means of natural selection or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. A reprint of the sixth edition. Oxford University Press, London.

    Davidson J. E. and Sternberg R. J. 2003 The psychology of problem solving. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

    Hull D. L. 1988 Science as a process: an evolutionary account of the social and conceptual development of science. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, USA.

    Hull D. L. 2001a Science and selection: essays on biological evolution and the philosophy of science. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

    Hull D. L. 2001b The success of science and social norms. Hist. Phil. Life Sci. 23, 341–360.

    Hull D. L., Langman R. and Glenn S. 2001 A general account of selection: biology, immunology and behavior. Behav. Brain Sci. 24, 511–528.

    Petter Portin Laboratory of Genetics, Department of Biology
    University of Turku, Turku, Finland Publication
    A comparison of biological and cultural evolution. J Genet. 2015 Mar

    Rampon C., Jiang C. H., Dong H., Tang Y-P., Lockhart D. J., Schultz P. G. et al. 2000 Effects of environmental enrichment on gene expression in the brain. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 97, 12880–12884.




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