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Foresight in cultural evolution

Author: Alex Mesoudi
Organisation: University of Cambridge
Publish Date: January 2007
Country: Global
Sector: Social Development
Method: Creative thinking
Theme: Strategic Thinking
Type: Article
Language: English
Tags: Cultural evolution, Human culture, Mental time travel, Niche construction, Planning, Teleology, Teleonomy

Critics of Darwinian cultural evolution frequently assert that whereas biological evolution is blind and undirected, cultural change is directed or guided by people who possess foresight, thereby invalidating any Darwinian analysis of culture. Here I show this argument to be erroneous and unsupported in several respects. First, critics commonly conflate human foresight with supernatural clairvoyance, resulting in the premature rejection of Darwinian cultural evolution on false logical grounds. Second, the presence of foresight is perfectly consistent with Darwinian evolution, and is found in biology, in the form of open, teleonomic processes such as genetically-biased behavioural learning. Finally, empirical evidence from the social sciences suggests that cultural change appears far less guided and directed, and human foresight far less accurate, than is commonly assumed.
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