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Culture Is The Next Evolutionary Transition State

Humans are evolving at an unusual rate, and this time, it's not because of genes.

Natural Selection has ruled eternally. Our ancestors have lived, adapted, mated, and died, passing very tiny amounts of genetic mutations between each generation. This mutation has made us who we are today.

But new studies suggest that evolutions are not strict in the lines with genes now. Instead, Human Culture is something that is grabbing many scientist’s eyes. They are suggesting that human culture might be driving evolution at a much faster pace than ever. 

So, what’s new with this Cultural Evolution?

There are learned behaviors passed around in cultures and generations which have been giving the individuals a better survival advantage than any other individual who does not wish to opt-in. These learned behaviors through cultures are called “Cultural Mutations”. They provide survival advantages.

Researchers argue that these cultural mutations may now guide humanity’s shape and be a major driving force.

Zach Wood, a doctoral researcher in the School of Biology and Ecology at the University of Maine said in an article that, “ when a virus attacks a species, it typically becomes immune to that virus through genetic evolution.” Such evolution of a species works slowly in comparison to the Cultural Evolution. This type of evolution is also slow because the more susceptible ones die off and only those who survive, get a chance to pass on their genes.

Such an evolution in the 21st Century would be called off as an Antique arrangement. The World is changing at a more accelerated pace than ever. So, humans in the 21st century don’t necessarily have to go through the antique process exactly. 

Today we can adapt by developing vaccines and other medical interventions. Mind this, the vaccine is not a result of one person’s work, rather of many people building on the “mutations” of the cultural knowledge. It sounds more doable for a modern man to improve the collective immune system than just updating themselves.

Interestingly, sometimes cultural evolution can lead to a genetic evolution if continued for a sustained period. A classic example would be lactose intolerance. Tim Waring, an associate professor of social-ecological systems modeling at the University of Maine said “Drinking cow's milk began as a cultural trait that then drove the [genetic] evolution of a group of humans.” In that case, cultural change preceded genetic change, not the other way around.

What’s the main argument here?

At some point in the history of mankind, culture started to dominate and wrest evolutionary control from our DNA. And well, now some argue that cultural change is allowing us to evolve in ways biological change “alone” could never achieve.

Why does culture influence so much?

Consider this, Culture is a group-oriented activity. People in these groups talk, read, learn and imitate one another. These group behaviors allow people to pass on their newly learned successful Behaviour to others. Their learned behaviors can be passed on faster than genes and can have similar survival benefits. 

Another player in the game called Technology plays a vital role too. Technology today allows an individual to learn and imitate information from a nearly unlimited number of people in a single lifetime. This individual can also spread the learned behavior to many others, for the better. The more there will be people to learn from, the better it will be.

It can be observed that large groups can solve complex problems faster than smaller groups. Intergroups competition also stimulates adaptations that would generally help those groups survive. As more and more ideas will spread, cultures will develop those new traits at an unprecedented speed.

In contrast, a person only inherits genetic information from two parents and racks up relatively few random mutations in their eggs or sperm, which takes about 20 years to be passed on to their small handful of children. That's just a much slower pace of change.

This theory was observed in recent history, according to the evolutionary time scale.

Great thinkers have expressed that, “Culture in the next evolutionary transition state.” 

The fun part, you are riding that roller coaster right now as you read this blog, safely. Kudos!

Throughout the history of life, the key transition states have had huge effects on the speed and direction of evolution. It has also come at a cost of disasters and pain.

What I am excited to see further is,
How can evolutionary biology, interact with culture? 

To take this question a notch higher,
How can technology speed up evolutionary biology’s interaction with culture?