A cultured evolution?

Can perceptions arising out of cultural needs override evolutionary goals in the long-run? For example, in India, the average marriage-age is in the late 20s now. Here, the (popular) tradition is to frown down upon, and even ostracize, those who would engage in premarital sex. So, after 10,000 years, say, are Indians more likely to have the development of their sexual desires postponed to occur in their late 20s (if they are not exposed to any avenues of sexual expression)? This question arose as a consequence of a short discussion with some friends on an article that appeared in SciAm: about if (heterosexual) men and women could stay “just friends”. To paraphrase the principal question in the context of the SciAm-featured “study”:

  1. Would you agree that the statistical implications of gender-sensitive studies will vary from region to region simply because the reasons on the basis of which such relationships can be established vary from one socio-political context to another?
  2. Assuming you have agreed to the first question: Would you contend that the underlying biological imperatives can, someday, be overridden altogether in favor of holding up cultural paradigms (or vice versa)?

Is such a thing even possible? (To be clear: I’m not looking for hypotheses and conjectures; if you can link me to papers that support your point of view, that’d be great.)

7 comments

  1. That’s another thing, thanks for bringing it up. 🙂 As we develop better tech. to suit our needs, there is established a feedback mechanism: how we live life hence is dependent on the efficiency and conceptual purposes of that technology. This phenomenon is encapsulated as path-dependence in economics. Now, there are two kinds of path-dependence: a strong form and a weak form. Which one do you think it is?

  2. Thank you, sir! 🙂 Yes, from the beginning, it was evident that the much faster social evolution keeps biological changes from, perhaps, even showing. However, I was only concerned if whether one’s Weltanschauung had, or could have, an effect on human physiology. While you are right about the difference in evolution rates between the two aspects, perhaps you have something to say about the possibility of “evolutionary conditioning” through social means and what that means for the “interface” between mind and body?

  3. Yes, new habits practiced over long time can possibly bring changes in biology. But the biological changes will be too slow and small cannot compete with the much faster social evolution. For example in the last 200 years, the biological changes in man may be very very insignificant. But see what great changes have come in our social life, way of thinking, habits and behaviors. So the point I am trying to make is that the particular issue of sexual behavior will also be influenced by social evolution rather than biology.

  4. This is a very interesting question and although I have no evidence to back what I am saying, I have a view of this.

    Evolution is basically biological adaptation that happens in an incremental way and one of the reasons that evolution happens is that mutations that cannot survive die out. Evolution is biological adaptation in response to the environment.

    On the other hand, with civilization, society and technology we have taken control of the environment to a large degree. Technology is adapting the environment to suit the species.

    So most evolution will happen in technology, in my view and it’s happening, more and more tech is focussed on needs that we all feel.

  5. Thank you for your comment, sir! 🙂 I agree with your premise – that social evolution is much faster than biological evolution – but I want to know if behavioral characteristics arising due to social evolution can alter our biology in the long run. Do you think this is possible: If some of our social requirements stay the same over long periods of time, will our biology alter to fulfill those requirements?

  6. Social evolution is much faster than biological evolution. Even 50 years back social life in India was a lot different from today. 100 or 200 years back will be something unimaginable for today’s youngsters. So 10000 years from now is too long a time. In the next 100 years itself social life will change drastically. Behavioral aspects are mainly influenced by social life rather than biology.

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