Models of huamn cultural evolution

Egregores, superorganisms, memeplexes

⚠️ Content warning ⚠️

Comparison of groups here by their structural similarities is not to imply moral equivalence or endorsement of said groups. Groups you like and groups who offend you might both have similar dynamics.

I like the notion of egregores, which model human dyanmics as organisms, in a loosely useful sense. Superorganisms are not tightly couple in the way real organisms are, at least AFAICT. But if something is going to survive and proper in the noisy medium of humanity, it needs strategies to replicate, adapt and regulate, just like a real organism. Sometimes this way of thinkgin sounds insight-ey.


Sarah Perry, in Weaponized Sacredness, almost describes this as a control problem, when she discusses Egregores:

A smart [egregore] would keep its component humans in the zone of maximum productivity, not demanding too much from them, nor allowing them to slack off (producing nothing for the glory and amusement of the egregore and anyway perhaps feeling bored and useless).

I like this metaphor, as it inspires us to think about what the feedback systems that are in place are configured to do.


Kevin Simler in Minimum Viable Superorganism, casts the problem of cooperation outside the family unit as built upon status.

Culture wars

See culture wars.


AtaΓΆv, TΓΌrkkaya. 1998. β€œNarcissism of Minor Differences: Nurturing the β€˜Clash of Civilizations’.” In. na.
Baldassarri, Delia, and Guy Grossman. 2013. β€œThe Effect of Group Attachment and Social Position on Prosocial Behavior. Evidence from Lab-in-the-Field Experiments.” Edited by Angel SΓ‘nchez. PLoS ONE 8 (3): e58750.
Bowles, Samuel, Jung-Kyoo Choi, and Astrid Hopfensitz. 2003. β€œThe Co-Evolution of Individual Behaviors and Social Institutions.” Journal of Theoretical Biology 223 (2): 135–47.
Boyd, Robert, and Peter J. Richerson. 1992. β€œPunishment Allows the Evolution of Cooperation (or Anything Else) in Sizable Groups.” Ethology and Sociobiology 13 (3): 171–95.
Ehrlich, Paul R, and Simon A Levin. 2005. β€œThe Evolution of Norms.” PloS Biology 3: –194.
Feinberg, Matthew, Robb Willer, and Michael Schultz. 2014. β€œGossip and ostracism promote cooperation in groups.” Psychological Science 25 (3): 656–64.
Fu, Feng, and Long Wang. 2008. β€œCoevolutionary Dynamics of Opinions and Networks: From Diversity to Uniformity.” Physical Review E 78 (1): 016104.
Gordon, Deborah M. 2014. β€œThe Ecology of Collective Behavior.” PLoS Biol 12 (3): e1001805.
Goswami, Manu. 2020. β€œBenedict Anderson, Imagined Communities (1983).” Public Culture 32 (2 (91)): 441–48.
Henrich, Joseph, and Robert Boyd. 1998. β€œThe Evolution of Conformist Transmission and the Emergence of Between-Group Differences.” Evolution and Human Behavior 19 (4): 215–41.
Horst, Ulrich, Alan Kirman, and Miriam Teschl. 2007. β€œChanging Identity: The Emergence of Social Groups.” Economics Working Paper 0078. Institute for Advanced Study, School of Social Science.
Kawakatsu, Mari, Philip S. Chodrow, Nicole Eikmeier, and Daniel B. Larremore. 2021. β€œEmergence of Hierarchy in Networked Endorsement Dynamics.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 118 (16): e2015188118.
Lena, Jennifer C. 2012. Banding Together: How Communities Create Genres in Popular Music. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.
Maner, Jon K. 2017. β€œDominance and Prestige: A Tale of Two Hierarchies.” Current Directions in Psychological Science 26 (6): 526–31.
Marx, W. David. 2022. Status and Culture: How Our Desire for Higher Social Rank Shapes Identity, Fosters Creativity, and Changes the World. New York, NY: Viking.
Nowak, Martin A. 2006. β€œFive Rules for the Evolution of Cooperation.” Science 314 (5805): 1560–63.
Pavlogiannis, Andreas, Josef Tkadlec, Krishnendu Chatterjee, and Martin A. Nowak. 2018. β€œConstruction of Arbitrarily Strong Amplifiers of Natural Selection Using Evolutionary Graph Theory.” Communications Biology 1 (1): 1–8.
Rao, Vijayendra. 2005. β€œSymbolic Public Goods and the Coordination of Collective Action: A Comparison of Local Development in India and Indonesia.” World Bank Policy Research Working Paper, no. 3685.
Smith, Kenny, and Simon Kirby. 2008. β€œCultural Evolution: Implications for Understanding the Human Language Faculty and Its Evolution.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 363: 3591–3603.
Tajfel, Henri. 1982. β€œSocial Psychology of Intergroup Relations.” Annual Review of Psychology 33: 1–39.

No comments yet. Why not leave one?

GitHub-flavored Markdown & a sane subset of HTML is supported.