Evolution And Culture

3 comments March 3rd, 2010at 06:20pm Posted by Eli

Fascinating story in yesterday’s NYT about how culture has shaped human evolution (the prime example was how the domestication of cattle led to the development of lactose tolerance in adults).  What was particularly surprising to me was that the notion of culture driving evolution was until recently in disfavor, on the grounds that the development of civilization has sheltered us from the harshness of nature.

While it’s true  that civilized life protects us from some physical dangers, it has its own completely new set of dangers, opportunities, and pressures: New foods, new social and technological complexities, new living environments.  In effect, every time our culture progresses to a new level, it’s like we’ve migrated to an entirely new habitat.  How could that not cause us to change?

Entry Filed under: Science

3 Comments

  • 1. Spear and Magic  |  March 3rd, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    To consider just one example of a fairly recent technological innovation that would seem to have a pretty significant effect upon fitness: I’ve often wondered about the frequency and severity of myopia in populations after the invention of eyeglasses.

  • 2. Eli  |  March 3rd, 2010 at 7:02 pm

    Hm, good question. The likes of us would have been naturally selected out long before our present age.

  • 3. Cujo359  |  March 3rd, 2010 at 9:02 pm

    Actually, just removing us from danger alters our species, though perhaps not for the better.

    The only thing that makes me skeptical about culture’s effects on human evolution is how little time that’s actually been. We’ve only had real agriculture for about 15,000 years. That’s about 500 generations, which isn’t a lot in evolutionary terms.

    Looks like it may have been enough, though.


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