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Mixed MessagesCultural and Genetic Inheritance in the Constitution of Human Society$
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Robert A. Paul

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780226240725

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226241050.001.0001

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The Cultural Channel

The Cultural Channel

(p.61) Three The Cultural Channel
Mixed Messages

Robert A. Paul

University of Chicago Press

For Richerson and Boyd, cultural information is stored in the brains of individuals. This chapter argues that cultural is composed of symbols, which, like DNA, convey information by imposing significant form on a material substrate. Therefore, culture, as Geertz argued decades ago, is best seen as located in the public arena where it is transmitted by information available to sense perception. Information in brains must become public before it is transmitted, and as such can inform many more different individuals simultaneously than can be accomplished by copulation and the creation of a new zygote. If culture is seen as an extrinsic system of symbols, then it is in this external form, not its inscription in the brains of phenotypic individuals, that reproduces itself as a whole independently of the reproductive success or failure of individuals informed by it -- just as an organism reproduces itself independently of the cells that constitute it. The example of the game of Texas Hold’em is used to illustrate the extrinsic theory of culture, and likened to Durkheim’s notion of collective consciousness; the question of group selection is reconsidered.

Keywords:   culture, symbol systems, extrinsic theory, Geertz, Durkheim, collective consciousness, Texas Hold’em, group selection

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