Cultural ratcheting results primarily from semantic compression

Joanna J Bryson

Research output: Chapter or section in a book/report/conference proceedingChapter or section


Humans acquire far more of their behaviour from conspecifics via culture than any other species. Our culture is larger because it accumulates, where other species' seem to stay approximately the same size (Tomasello, 1999). This chapter attempts to clarify the problem of cultural accumulation by distinguishing between the site of a culture that can be transmitted from one generation, and the extent of culture transmitted. A culture's size is determined largely by ecological constraints, and certainly homonins (and some other species) show adaptations to facilitate this. But the exponential accumulation hypothesised by (Tomasello, 1999) I claim cannot be accounted for this way, but rather is a consequence of increasing information value in semantic components. This process can be achieved through memetics semantics will be selected for which transmits the most information. Thus cultural evolution achieves compression of information, generating increased extent in culture even when maintaining a fixed size. I support my argument with evidence from simulations explaining the size of culture (Cace and Bryson, 2007), and simulations demonstrating selection for increased extent Kirby (1999).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on the Evolution of Language (EVOLANG 8)
PublisherWorld Scientific
Number of pages8
ISBN (Print)9789814295215
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2010
Event8th International Conference on the Evolution of Language - Utrecht, Netherlands
Duration: 14 Apr 201017 Apr 2010


Conference8th International Conference on the Evolution of Language
Abbreviated titleEVOLANG 8

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