Tempo and Mode in Cultural Macroevolution

Turchin, P., & Gavrilets, S.
Evolutionary Psychology December 31, 2021 Journal Link


Evolutionary scientists studying social and cultural evolution have proposed a multitude of mechanisms by which cultural change can be effected. In this article we discuss two influential ideas from the theory of biological evolution that can inform this debate: the contrast between the micro- and macro-evolution, and the distinction between the tempo and mode of evolution. We add the empirical depth to these ideas by summarizing recent results from the analyses of data on past societies in Seshat: Global History Databank. Our review of these results suggests that the tempo (rates of change, including their acceleration and deceleration) of cultural macroevolution is characterized by periods of apparent stasis interspersed by rapid change. Furthermore, when we focus on large-scale changes in cultural traits of whole groups, the most important macroevolutionary mode involves inter-polity interactions, including competition and warfare, but also cultural exchange and selective imitation; mechanisms that are key components of cultural multilevel selection (CMLS) theory.
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