Browsing All Posts published on »May, 2012«

What do the Mississippian and Chinese Civilizations Have in Common?

May 24, 2012 by


The central question of social evolution is how we can understand the rise of complex societies with extensive cooperation among millions (and more) of people. In less technical terms, what are the origins of civilizations and empires? I couldn’t help but think about this question during my visit to the Cahokia Mounds. Why was the […]

The Splendor and Mystery of the Mississippian Civilization

May 19, 2012 by

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During the Spring semester I teach a class in Cultural Evolution for about 150 students. We use a ‘clicker’ technology that allows me to poll all students in the class electronically. Every year I ask them, in what state was the most complex, largest-scale pre-Columbian society in North America located? Most students choose New Mexico, […]

The Dark Side of Cultural Evolution

May 17, 2012 by


Cultural evolution is what created the – in many ways – wonderful societies that we live in. It created the potential to free our lives from hunger and early death, and made possible the pursuit of science and art. But cultural evolution also has a dark side, in fact, many ‘dark sides.’ Clearly domestication of […]

Guest Blog by Yasha Hartberg. Rules as Genotype: Let’s not declare the idea dead too quickly

May 14, 2012 by


I was another participant at the Rules as Genotype workshop held at Indiana University recently.  Unlike Peter Turchin, however, I came away with a very different perspective on the usefulness of the metaphor.  I am undoubtedly somewhat biased since some of my own research explores the idea of a sacred text as a kind of […]

Herbert Gintis. Commentary on Dunbar and Baumard

May 12, 2012 by


In his engaging Social Evolution Forum contribution, Networking Past and Present, R.I.M. Dunbar argues that in traditional societies, most people share the same network of friends and relatives because they belong to the same community. In contemporary society, by contrast, our social networks have become fragmented, and we live predominantly with casual acquaintances and strangers. […]

Daniel N. Finkel. Social Cognition in a Digital World (Commentary on Dunbar)

May 11, 2012 by

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In his excellent target article, “Networking Past and Present”, Dunbar argues that though contemporary personal networks are often geographically dispersed and not densely interconnected, the number of personal relationships individuals can maintain has not changed since our origins in tribal communities.  He further suggests that despite the hype surrounding Internet social networking sites (SNS’s), they […]

Paul Hooper. Socioecology of Networks (Commentary on Dunbar)

May 10, 2012 by

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Dunbar’s article provides a quick trip through major historical transitions in the structure of human social networks. He addresses continuity and change in network structure between traditional small-scale human societies, on the one hand, and modern urbanized societies on the other. He argues that while the total size of co-resident populations (i.e. towns, cities) has […]


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