1.c.12 – Is culture an integration to the genetic heritage?

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January 4, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

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Is culture an integration to the genetic heritage?

In nature can be observed three types of behaviors:

– innate behaviors, such as the crying of babies or their attachment to maternal breast;
– discovered behaviors, or everything that we learn from direct experience, as the ability to maintain the balance;
– cultural attitudes that are learned by others, both by imitation and through teaching.

A behavior discovered from direct experience can be culturally transmitted to the others. Culture, therefore based on experience of the others, allows to overcome the limitations of personal experience.
The transmission by culture of knowledge useful to survival is a strategy often used by mammals, which spend much time to care for the offspring and teach them what is necessary.
At this point, it is important to note how in cultural heritage there are many affinities with genetic heritage:

  • survival depends on it
  • it is heritable
  • undergoes mutations
  • is subject to natural selection
  • contributes to environmental adaptation through appropriate behavior
  • evolves over time.

The cultural heritage, considering its contribution to survival, can be then reasonably regarded as an integration of the genetic heritage.
It should be remembered, however, that among these heritages there are also some significant differences:

  • Culture is not innate: it needs a period of learning; in case of premature death of parents may also be lost, but the social animals may also learn from other members of the flock, thereby balancing the loss of parents
  •  a new discovery can be transmitted to the whole community and not only to their offspring
  •  an individual can’t change its genetic heritage, but it can change the cultural heritage and may do so several times, resulting in a form of individual development.

These cultural characteristics can give to cultural evolution a speed of adaptation unthinkable for genetic evolution: mutation can spread to the entire flock within a single generation.
Man, thanks to the word and to the brain which can use it, is capable of transmitting experiences and knowledge in a very detailed and effective way. The great number of inhabitants in human communities also allows a man to manage a huge cultural heritage, and this still thanks to the phenomenon of specialization, which in human societies is not in the physical form, but cultural: a warrior ant is physically different from a worker and distinguishes itself easily to naked eye, while there is no way to distinguish a lawyer by a doctor until we don’t see them at work.
We have already established that the successful evolution of man is based on its ability in using every kind of tool that he builds himself, thanks to technology, and on a very large and specialized society; however, these pillars are based on turn on the platform of culture, which is then the basis of primary evolutionary success.

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