How We Got Here: The Prime Movers in Cultural Evolution

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Now that President Obama’s State of the Union Address has us thinking about where we stand as a nation, it’s fascinating to ponder how human society has evolved over the millennia. Twenty thousand years ago everyone was living in small, mobile bands – today, everyone is living within a large, bureaucratic, market-oriented state!  How did that happen?  There have historically been two answers.  One (going back to Darwin and Malthus) is that population growth forces cultural innovation and change.  The other (going back to Marx and Morgan) is that technological innovations have allowed cultural change (and population growth) to take place.  Both are simplistic, and there is supporting and refuting evidence for both. Join our guest Dr. Peter Neal Peregrine as he discusses cultural evolution and the importance of understanding it, explores its relationship with population and technology, and reconsiders these two factors as prime movers in the evolutionary process.

peter_peregrine_imageDr. Peregrine is a Professor of Anthropology at Lawrence University.  Most recently he has been working with other scholars at the Santa Fe Institute to integrate archaeological, linguistic, and genetic information to understand how modern humans expanded across the earth in the last forty to fifty thousand years and, more specifically, how the diversity of human languages emerged in the last twenty thousand years. In addition to writing academic books, Dr. Peregrine has recently self-published an e-book aimed at the casual reader entitled, What Happened in Prehistory? exploring five major “revolutions” in human life, from the origin of our genus to the Modern Age.

 

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