The Darwinian metaphor of trial and error has exerted a considerable influence both in studies of life and culture. However, the last 30 years of biological research have challenged the neo-Darwinian view of evolution in a variety of respects. Developments in genomics, evolutionary developmental biology, and microbiology increasingly show that biological evolution involves a panoply of processes apart from natural selection. This means that the blind-variation-and-selective-retention model is above all biologically incomplete. As a consequence, it is not surprising that trial and error provides a limited metaphor when applied to culture. In this talk D. Vecchi will try to show that contemporary microbiology offers a rich source of new concepts and metaphors to understand the evolution of culture. Cultural phenomena resemble in interesting ways the dynamics of the microworld. For instance, in the biological microworld processes of lateral gene transfer and evolution by association potentially integrate all life domains. Various methods of resource transmission and incorporation between species, taxa, and domains make resource-flow mediated by mobile elements profuse. This could mean that “cross-lineage borrowing” is as ubiquitous in life as it is in culture. Furthermore, culture and the microworld seem both to be governed by processes of compositional evolution, whereby reusable functional resources are assembled in new combinations in order to produce phenotypic novelty. This pattern of emergence of evolutionary novelty, achieved through the reshuffling and recombining of modular units, provides a powerful and alternative process to blind variation and selective retention. The aim in this talk is to show that microbiology can teach a lot to the student of culture.
Davide Vecchi did his first degree in Philosophy at the University of Bologna, Italy, and a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Science at the LSE in London, UK. He has been a Research Fellow at the KLI. He currently works as a lecturer at the Universidad de Santiago de Chile (USACH). His research interests concern conceptual issues related to evolutionary biology and theory change in the life sciences. He is particularly interested in research in microbiology and virology, especially on the issue of how such research challenges the neo-Darwinian picture of evolution.