Blind and incremental or directed and disruptive? On the nature of novel variation in human cultural evolution


Many scholars have rejected cultural evolutionary theory on the grounds that cultural variation is directed and intentionally created, rather than incremental and blind with respect to function, as is the case for novel genetic variation in genetic evolution. Meanwhile, some cultural evolution researchers insist that cultural variation is blind and undirected, and the only directional force is selection of randomly-generated variants. Here I argue that neither of these positions are tenable. Cultural variation is directed in various ways. While this does not invalidate cultural evolution, more attention should be paid to the different sources of non randomness in culturally evolving systems.

American Philosophical Quarterly 58, 7-20.