A New Kind of Evolution - Quotes

A New Kind of Evolution - Quotes

A New Kind of Evolution - Quotes

Hi, I'm Tim Tyler - and today I will look at the origin of the phrase "A New Kind of Evolution".

I've adopted the phrase "A New Kind of Evolution" as a way of referring to cultural evolution.

Although the origins of the idea are ancient, the embrace of cultural evolution by evolutionary theory may well represent the biggest revolution in evolutionary biology in the last hundred and fifty years. In a radical turn-around which many biologists have yet to digest, cultural evolution installs a traditional foe - namely intelligent design - at the heart of evolutionary theory - and paints the more traditional kind of evolution by random mutations as a primitive, degenerate type of evolutionary change - one that was only used for a brief period in order to get the process going in the first place - during the boot sequence of evolution.

I have another video which introduces the topic if you are interested in more details.

I am not the first person to use the phrase "A New Kind of Evolution" in the context of cultural evolution.

As far as I am aware, the phrase originates with Richard Dawkins. He used it in his 1976 book "The Selfish Gene".

Here is the relevant quote:

Whenever conditions arise in which a new kind of replicator can make copies of itself, the new replicators will tend to take over, and start a new kind of evolution of their own. Once this new evolution begins, it will in no necessary sense be subservient to the old. The old gene-selected evolution, by making brains, provided the `soup' in which the first memes arose. Once self-copying memes had arisen, their own, much faster, kind of evolution took off. We biologists have assimilated the idea of genetic evolution so deeply that we tend to forget that it is only one of many possible kinds of evolution.

 - Richard Dawkins, "The Selfish Gene", p. 193

Here is Richard Dawkins in 2009, using the phrase in a recent video:

[Richard Dawkins footage]

Hans Moravec also used the phrase - in his book, Robot:

Culture lets us rapidly accommodate to environmental changes because it is a medium for a new kind of evolution.

 - Hans Moravec, Robot (p.3)

Other authors have used the phrase as well:

Once language emerged, it brought with it the means for communicating traditions and a new kind of evolution, a cultural evolution. At that point the whole emphasis of human development moved into a different mode.

- David Lightfoot, 1999

A meme is an idea that can lodge in a person's mind, and can be transmitted, in print or by word of mouth, to other minds. In other words, it is a replicator. What is peculiar about humans is that they can hold ideas in their heads, and transmit them to others: they provide an environment in which a new kind of replicator, memes, can evolve. The human mind is another example of a crane. It evolved by natural selection, without need for an intelligent designer. Once evolved, however, it provides a medium in which a new kind of evolution by natural selection can occur, involving a new kind of replicator, the meme.

 - John Maynard Smith, reviews Daniel Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous Idea

One problem with most of these usages - and indeed with the phrase itself - is the suggestion that cultural evolution represents a new, inpependent instance of the evolutionary process. I do not think that is the most helpful way of thinking about the phenomenon. Rather I prefer the perspective that cultural evolution is simply one aspect of the existing evolutionary process on the planet. This is because culture and DNA interact - through processes such as genetic assimilation.

What perhaps I ought to say is that I am talking about a new kind of mechanism of evolutionary change. However, the contraction to "a new kind of evolution" is too appealing for me to resist.

The phrase has also been used in a few other contexts. For example, it has been used to refer to genetic algorithms and synthetic life.

Also, there have been some usages in the context of future changes - such as genetic engineering. For example, here is Russel Blackford:

The idea of a new kind of evolution of the human species, driven by increasingly intimate and internalised technology, is one whose time has come. Every day, the idea seems that little bit less "out there": it is increasingly familiar to the public, better understood, more and more plausible, and it merits examination from many viewpoints.

 - Russel Blackford

It is true that any future changes to humanity will probably be fuelled by cultural evolution. However, I prefer to emphasise that the new kind of evolution I am talking about is not a speculaive future phenomenon, but has been going on for millions of years - and is primarily responsible for our large brain, our spoken language, reading and writing, human flight, telecommunications, computers - and so on - the massive acceleration of evolutionary change that has led to modern humans, and their artefacts.


A New Kind of Evolution - Quotes


  1. Tim Tyler - A New Kind of Evolution;
  2. Richard Dawkins - The Purpose of Purpose;
  3. Russel Blackford - A few teething troubles at JET

Tim Tyler | Contact | http://alife.co.uk/