Saturday, September 29, 2007

The rate of cultural evolution, jerky or smooth?   posted by Razib @ 9/29/2007 11:24:00 PM

There has long been a tiresome debate in evolutionary biology (or at least in pop science books about evolutionary biology) whether evolution generally proceeds gradually or in bursts alternating with stasis. But I wonder: what about cultural evolution? With evolutionary biology we can look at fossils and the molecular substrate to determine the nature of change; with culture it is a little different because of its amorphous character. Some aspects are pretty easy to quantify, for example baby names for example drift like genes subject to purely random forces. On the other hand, my perception is that attitudes toward homosexuality have changed very fast over the last 15 years, so that some of the positions staked out by "social conservatives" in 2007 would be out of the mainstream for being too pro-gay in the late 1980s (here are polls). Has anyone out there plotted changes of attitudes from sources like Gallup and noticed whether the changes were gradual or subject to sharp increases or decreased in frequency?