Complexity and demographic explanations of cumulative culture

A. Querbes, K. Vaesen, W.N. Houkes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)
113 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

Formal models have linked prehistoric and historical instances of technological change (e.g., the Upper Paleolithic transition, cultural loss in Holocene Tasmania, scientific progress since the late nineteenth century) to demographic change. According to these models, cumulation of technological complexity is inhibited by decreasing— while favoured by increasing—population levels. Here we show that these findings are contingent on how complexity is defined: demography plays a much more limited role in sustaining cumulative culture in case formal models deploy Herbert Simon's definition of complexity rather than the particular definitions of complexity hitherto assumed. Given that currently available empirical evidence doesn't afford discriminating proper from improper definitions of complexity, our robustness analyses put into question the force of recent demographic explanations of particular episodes of cultural change
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e102543-1/9
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume9
Issue number7
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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