The Emergence of Culture


This is a draft of what will likely become a book detailing how our minds form culture based on shared experiences and a Nash-like equilibrium of cultural dynamics.

The Emergence of Culture #

Most of us are very deeply embedded in our cultures. Most of us only have one culture and we are typically blind to how it shapes our thoughts and feelings. Culture is one of the filters through which we see the world. It is one of the deepest ways we make sense of the world rooted in our experiences and intergenerational ways of thinking. Culture shapes how language is understood. Culture shapes what actions are considered acceptible. Culture forms how we relate to every other entity in the universe.

Many definitions of culture do not seem to have the necessary depth to fully address the phenomenon. They look at very specific manifestations of culture and mistake those check lists as culture in and of itself. This leads to many issues and misunderstandings which will be addresssed later in this work. Here are some definitions according the the Oxford English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster:

The arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively (OED).
The customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group (OED).
The customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group. Also: The characteristic features of everyday existence (such as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time (MW).
The integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations (MW).

Lets examine a list of academic definitions since 1949. Notice how they change over time. Some of the definitions agree with the dictionary definitions above, but as we approach definitions from the 90s they move more towards a more comprehensive understanding of the core process. Each of these definitions focuses on a particular aspect of culture.

Culture…consists in those patterns relative to behavior and the products of human action which may be inherited, that is, passed on from generation to generation independently of the biological genes.
— Parson, T. (1949). Essays in Sociological Theory. p 8. Glencoe, IL.
Culture consists of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behavior acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievements of human groups, including their embodiments in artifacts; the essential core of culture consists of traditional (i.e. historically derived and selected) ideas and especially their attached values; culture systems may, on the one hand, be considered as products of action, and on the other as conditioning elements of further action.
— Kroeber, A.L., & Kluckhohn, C. (1952). Culture: A critical review of concepts and definitions. Harvard University Peabody Museum of American Archeology and Ethnology Papers 47.
Culture is the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one category of people from another.
— Hofstede, G. (1984). National cultures and corporate cultures. In L.A. Samovar & R.E. Porter (Eds.), Communication Between Cultures. p 52. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Culture: learned and shared human patterns or models for living; day- to-day living patterns. these patterns and models pervade all aspects of human social interaction. Culture is mankind’s primary adaptive mechanism.
— Damen, L. (1987). Culture Learning: The Fifth Dimension on the Language Classroom. p 367. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Culture is the shared knowledge and schemes created by a set of people for perceiving, interpreting, expressing, and responding to the social realities around them.
— Lederach, J.P. (1995). Preparing for peace: Conflict transformation across cultures. p 9. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.

These definitions seem to move from pure material culture and acheivement to the last definition which appears to be all encompassing, but I feel like it’s missing a particular aspect which we have no word for in English. The closest I can come to defining it is a set of reference frames which reify reality and which are key to survival within the hyperspace created through both the environment and ways of relating to one another.

In some cases, the definition of culture could parallel the meaning that is used in regards to cultures of bacteria, molds, or fungi. It is something that has a distinct life as a collective which engenders specific internal conditions within individual organisms. Those internal conditions are dependent on the continuation and reproduction of the specific culture over time. The culture will evolve and change over time, but there will likely a distinct core of it. In some cases there may be an apparent discontinuity due to extreme circumstances (disease, foreign invasions, colonization, etc.).

An example of this process in daily life would be a Wabanaki child learning basket making. The opportunity of the time together with elders facilitates the transfer of multiple modes of information. The elder may show the youth examples of their work and share culturally relevant stories about the materials they use. Particularly, the stories of how humans came to be by Gluskabe splitting and ash tree in two with an arrow and the story of sweetgrass. After learning the symbology behind the materials, the youth will learn the techniques. Built into the techniques is another layer of cultural knowledge reproduction, the youth are taught the specific patterns for how to weave culturally relevant symbology.

In yet another case, a young child learns the ways their parents and kin relate to other people with specific features. In this case, the mechanism is based on tracking attention and emotional state of people to whom the child is attached in response to other people in the environment. This can lead to a rudimentary embodied racism. Later on in the child’s life, they may be exposed to more complicated cultural motifs and ideas around racism as their ideology around racism is codified. These children then go on to reproduce racist culture. If the closest people in the child’s life are open minded and welcoming, it can lead a rudimentary openess and welcomeness in the child. Even with this rudimentary openess, it takes experience and practice for people to remain comfortable with differences in culture and appearance. These people can at least be decent human beings when their cultures are in conflict.

These example situations show how culture perpetuates itself. It also shows how changes to the internal state of the organism (human) are accomplished which allows a culture to then propagate itself through the generations. It requires a high level of closeness (attachment), attention, and cooperation over long periods of time to successfully propagate. Once it is propagated it forms the basis of how older children efficiently interact with the rest of the memebers of the culture.


Perceptual + Narrative Zones
Each individual (an agent) has their own perceptual zone which differs from other people's perceptual zones. The perceptual zones may overlap, but in many case they don't. The perceptual zone is the combined whole of experience each individual is perceiving and sense-making at any given time.