Coherence, Muller’s Ratchet, and the Maintenance of Culture

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Abrams, Marshall
conference paper description
I investigate the structure of an argument that culture cannot be maintained in a population if each individual acquires a given cultural variant from a single person. I note two puzzling consequences of the argument: It appears to conflict with (a) many models of cultural transmission and (b) real-world cases of cultural transmission. I resolve the first puzzle by showing that one of the models central to the argument is conceptually analogous and mathematically equivalent to one used to investigate the evolution of sexual reproduction. This analogy clarifies what assumptions are crucial to the argument concerning cultural transmission. I resolve the second puzzle by arguing that probabilistic models of epistemological coherence can be reinterpreted as models of mutual support between cultural variants. I develop a model of cultural transmission illustrating this proposal. I suggest that real-world cases that seem to conflict with the original argument may in fact be instances in which mutually supporting cultural variants are learned from different individuals.