Evolving Culture

I have been kicking around the question of how culture evolved. Near as I can tell, this is the mechanism, but please let me know if you have another view.

Basically, human beings are general purpose computing machines. I have pointed this out previously. That distinguishes us from other species on the planet, for sure. No other species is even remotely close to us in terms of demonstrated abilities to solve problems.

We refer to this as human consciousness. Our ability to think, reason, debate, justify, rationalize and so forth. I call this the Human Consciousness Program (HCP), which I liken to a piece of software.

Turns out other organisms on this planet are running bits of genetic software too. Take for example the worms that infect the brains of ants. These nasty little buggers manipulate the ants’ thinking patterns, and basically force them to imitate a berry. This in the hope that birds will eat these poor ants, become infected with the worms themselves, and allow the worms to complete the next phase of their life cycle.

While all this is incredibly bizarre, it points out that the ant is simply running a piece of software, which the worm has cleverly learned to hack. (I say cleverly in slight jest, because calling these particular organisms worms is rather charitable: They don’t even have a brain.)

So, assume for the moment that all of the various organisms on this planet (especially the ones that tend to move around and do stuff) are simply running bits and pieces of software of varying levels of complexity and sophistication. Thus, a lobster has (likely) a bit less in terms of software than a dog. Each of these bits of software lets the organism do what it needs to survive and reproduce. Otherwise, of course, that software wouldn’t be there. Because, again, evolution only promotes one thing: Reproduction. Thus, the lobster is very good at doing all of the things a lobster needs to do in order to eat, excrete, rest, defend itself, and find a mate. It has all of the software it needs to do so, and so does the dog.

Now, with humans, the organism took an interesting direction. We have the ability to find food, and adapt our eating patterns to exploit that food, in virtually every single environment on this planet. Thus, the Inuit are a paleolithic hunter/gatherer culture that exists to this day in places like the Alaska North Slope, deep into the Arctic. The Inuit survive almost entirely on things like whale blubber. Likewise, the Khoisan live in places like the Kalahari Desert in Sub-Saharan Africa. These two environments are as different as is possible on this planet while still being above the ocean’s surface, and yet human life has managed to thrive in both of these locations.

How is this possible? No other species has achieved even remotely so great a penetration of this planet. The answer, I believe, is that human consciousness allowed us as an organism to problem solve in each potential location. To figure out through a process of intelligence how to take the organisms that live in that space, exploit them, make them edible, and survive in that place.

This is what we call cuisine: The use of locally-appropriate ingredients to make food that humans can enjoy and thrive on. We have many regional cuisines, and they are each appropriate and adapted to the local conditions of that area (assuming they have not been wildly distorted by modern processed foods).

Thus a form of culture (cuisine) is what we have used to become the dominant species on this planet, at least in terms of dietary choices. Culture is the key: Through the use of culture (and that includes things like modern technology), we have managed to exploit the resources of this world.

Now, follow me here. Assume there is a general purpose organism loose on this world. This organism has the ability to exploit pretty much any environment on the planet. It simply figures out how to live in that area, using locally available resources. In this way, this organism spreads and thrives everywhere. Would this not become the dominant species on the planet?

More later.

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