9 March: Vanessa Ferdinand

On the cultural evolution of public and private replicators

Vanessa Ferdinand (Santa Fe Institute)

Friday 9 March 2018, 12:00–13:30
3.01, 21 Buccleuch Place

When we replicate cultural artifacts, we transform them. But we are also selective when choosing which artifacts to copy in the first place. In this talk, I will discuss the California and Paris schools of cultural evolution as compatible descriptions of evolutionary processes acting on public and private representations, respectively. First, using a unique corpus of digital image evolution, I will show how public and private selection processes co-determine the evolution of image complexity in this system. These results demonstrate that public and private selection processes are both required for a full understanding of the evolution of cultural artifacts. Second, in a novel model of Bayesian cultural evolution, I will explore how the mappings between public and private representations determine the co-evolutionary dynamics of these two classes of replicators (i.e. data and hypotheses). This model provides a richer set of dynamics than those found in existing models of cultural evolution where public representations adapt to fixed private representations. Both of these projects highlight culture as a special evolutionary system that is composed of two classes of replicators (following Sperber, 1996): public structures in the world, such as artifacts and behaviors, and private structures in the mind, such as brain states and grammars.