Cultural evolution

Cultural evolution isn't a biological phenomenon, but it's an interesting topic that can help you understand how humans are able to alter the environment rapidly and outcompete all the other species.

In biological evolution, genes get transmitted directly from parent to offspring, and they increase in the population as a result of either random forces or positive selection. Either way, the process can take some time. In cultural evolution, advancements (such as bright ideas or better ways of doing things) aren't limited to this vertical pathway of parent to offspring. If I figure out how to make a better spear, for example, I don't pass the information to my children genetically; I just show them how to do it. Then I show everybody else in the tribe how to do it, too.

Because cultural evolution can change behaviors or traits much faster than genetic evolution does, animals whose sole adaptive ability relies on genetic evolution are at a disadvantage. Rapid selection will occur to cause tigers to keep their distance from large groups of people armed with spears, for example, but changes in human hunting ability occur so suddenly that the tigers might still go extinct. Humans are still evolving biologically, but we're evolving culturally as well, which gives us an edge that other species can't match.

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