Evolved Open-Endedness in Cultural Evolution

Whilst artificial evolutionary systems are almost never open-ended, the evolution of biological organisms seems to always be open-ended. Is it possible to have a middle ground, where an evolutionary system exhibits both bounded and unbounded evolution? Here we argue that we only need to look at culture to see this middle ground being played out. Culture is argued to be the second evolutionary system on Earth, working alongside genetic evolution in a co-evolutionary manner (often described as dual inheritance). It is now broadly accepted that most social animals have culture, with that culture evolving over time, but it is clear that human cultural evolution differs substantially from even the most complex animal cultures. It was thought that the division between human and non-human culture was that human cultural evolution alone was cumulative, this view has now been challenged with many aspects of animal cultures also being viewed as cumulative. Our contention is that only humans exhibit open-ended (cumulative) cultural evolution, with all non-human cultures being bounded. The consequence of this view is two-fold: 1) that we have an evolutionary system that is both bounded and unbounded depending on the species and behavioural domains being observed, 2) within our own recent hominin evolutionary history evolved open-endedness has occurred within the domain of cultural evolution. We argue that further analysis of culture across social species, and artificial life modelling of social learning, cultural transmission, and cultural evolution, will benefit not only the artificial life community but also augment the study of cultural evolution across the behavioural sciences.

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Borg JM and Powers ST. (2021). Evolved Open-Endedness in Cultural Evolution. OEE4: The Fourth Workshop on Open-Ended Evolution. http://workshops.alife.org/oee4/papers/borg-oee4-camera-ready.pdf [Read Here]