Brother Jero can't handle this, so I'll have to have a go.
The previous post has a link to a Royal Society paper, an elegant and I’m sure mathematically rigorous demonstration that the evolution of human culture in the area of colour is affected by cognitive bias: that is, “human colour perception is an effective encoding of the physical structure of our environment [21,22], and […] the systems of colour terms observed across human societies are good solutions to the problem of partitioning the space of colours given the properties of this perceptual system.”
This paper is well worth reading — and as so often chapeau on a huge scale to the Royal Society for making this kind of thing available to all. However I think it might also be a Trojan Horse that carts a big unexamined assumption through the main gates of the analysis of the variation, reiteration, selection model of cultural evolution.
When writing fiction we are advised, if we want to get some unlikely given such as time travel into the story, to announce it as a fact right at the beginning, so that it’s out of the way.
The authors follow this advice:
“Cultural evolution involves two kinds of forces: those that affect who we choose to interact with, and those that affect what is transmitted through the interaction. These two kinds of forces have effects that are formally analogous to the effects of selection and mutation in biological evolution, and both contribute to the outcome of cultural evolution.”
Now it is very likely that these two kinds of forces have effects that are formally analogous to the effects of selection and mutation in biological evolution, and both contribute to the outcome of cultural evolution. That is a very different thing from saying that it is only the effects of who we choose to interact with that are analogous to selection, and that it is all the effects of what is transmitted through the interaction which are analogous to the effects of mutation.
I choose to interact with the authors of the paper. I then select parts of “what is transmitted”, in order to reiterate them (reiteration being analogous to biological reproduction). Thus selection is an effect of who I choose to listen to (but I can’t really call that selection in any Darwinian sense) and, more accurately, of “what is transmitted”. Various factors, my ability to understand, my memory, will affect this selection. The fact that I select for retransmission in this blog bits of “what is transmitted” in order to question and reject them is I think significant, because it demonstrates that what evolves is not what I would choose to evolve, that cultural evolution goes on independent of the intentions of the human agent.
Likewise, what is transmitted, in the sense that it starts off in one neural substrate and ends up in another, is not by any means always analogous to mutation.
“Do you want the light on or off?”
The word off is, I suggest, as near totally unmutated as you can get.
Off can then be selected; I turn the light off. This selection reinforces its utility, and thus it probable further iteration in the metaverse.
What in culture constitutes variation and what selection is complex, and I suggest not yet rigorously defined. And I can see the temptation to simplify it to make a good fit for mathematical models. In fact I think the function of this simplification may be spurious in this excellent paper, and not conducive to a detailed analysis of what in human culture mutates, and what is the process of selection.