03 September 2007

A cumulative process

In evolution, one thing seems to be clear: genes are passed on from one generation to another. From parents to offspring. This means, genetic evolution is, necessarily, an inter-generational process.

However, if you’ve read my previous post on the discovery, and the subsequent application, of ‘linear perspective’ in art and geometry, you’d have noticed that learning and culture are not only passed on from one generation to the next, but they are also passed on from one person to another within the same generation.

A case in point is peer-to-peer social interaction where preferences and behaviours are adopted and modelled by people, typically, in the same age group. Examples would include use of language and mannerisms, choices in fashion and music, food habits, and lifestyles such as hanging out in coffee shops or blogging.

What I mean to say is, culture rubs off onto people. Not only for those who are in direct social contact, but also for those to whom culture is transmitted through media like books, TV and the Internet. And, in doing so, cultural transmission breaks both the age and the distance barrier.

This means, essentially, the transmission of culture is both inter- as well as intra-generational. From this perspective, cultural evolution is distinct from genetic evolution.

On the one hand, if there is no learning from the preceding generation (say, from parents to offspring), there can be no improvements from the past. On the other hand, when people learn from each other within the same generation (say, peer-to-peer), they cut short the learning process and become quick to adapt to new environments.

I guess, the best results come from a combination of both inter- and intra-generational processes. After all, evolution is a cumulative process.


vineeta said...

we are constantly influenced to a lesser or larger extent by our environment- friends, colleagues, media, the net. This cultural influence- its comes at us from everywhere it seems:)

runawaysun said...

Absolutely so. That's what makes the processes of transfer and transmutation of ideas that much easier and faster.