Tuesday, December 20, 2011

natural selection and social learning

It's worth spending the 30mins or so with this talk by Mark Pagel, Professor of Evolutionary Biology and Head of the Evolution Laboratory at the University of Reading.

He has a number of hypotheses around the notion of natural selection in genetics as it sits alongside social learning - the peculiarly human trait.

Pagel points to direct comparison between social learning as driving idea evolution - we copy people that we see as being successful in some way, we copy ideas that seem to be good, and adapt and improve upon them - and then natural selection, having driven genetic evolution in a more random fashion.

This is of course, pretty interesting for the advertiser and marketer in understanding how we make decisions, and also adds another angle to the post-idea world notion we discussed just the other week.

Here's an excerpt from Pagels diatribe.

'Do we know the answers to the most important questions in our lives? Should you buy a particular house? What mortgage product should you have? Should you buy a particular car? Who should you marry? What sort of job should you take? What kind of activities should you do? What kind of holidays should you take? We don't know the answers to most of those things. And if we really were the deeply intelligent and imaginative and innovative species that we thought we were, we might know the answers to those things...

And if we ask ourselves how it is we come across the answers, or acquire the answers to many of those questions, most of us realize that we do what everybody else is doing....

...our capacity for social learning, which is responsible for all of our cumulative cultural adaptation, all of the things we see around us in our everyday lives, has actually promoted a species that isn't so good at innovation...maybe we're not as creative and as imaginative and as innovative as we thought we were, but extraordinarily good at copying and following.'

There's no embed code for the video so jump over to edge.org for the full video and transcript.

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