Michael Muthukrishna “Innovations in the Collective Brain”

You are kindly invited to attend the meeting of the cultural evolution seminar on Thursday, March 9. This time, we are glad to have a Skype talk by Dr. Michael Muthukrishna (London School of Economics), titled “The Cultural Brain Hypothesis and Innovation in the Collective Brain”.
Reading seminar

A week before the lecture of Dr. Muthukrishna, we will have a special open reading seminar dedicated to his recent article “Innovation in the Collective Brain” available here. The reading seminar will take place on March 2nd, 16:15, Ülikooli 16-109. We will be glad to see you there!
Abstract of the lecture

Humans aren’t particularly bright. But we are good at copying each other. And often without really understanding why what we’re copying works. We’re like the kids in class who get good grades by getting a copy of last year’s exam and cribbing the rest from the top students in the class. Dr. Muthukrishna introduces the underlying theories behind the evolution of the capacity for culture, the evolution of culture itself, and its implications for norms, innovation, and intelligence. For example, innovation is often assumed to be the work of a talented few, whose products are passed on to the masses. Dr. Muthukrishna argues that innovations are instead an emergent property of our species’ cultural learning abilities, applied within our societies and social networks. Our societies and social networks act as “collective brains”. Dr. Muthukrishna will outline how many human brains, which evolved primarily for the acquisition of culture, together beget a collective brain. Within these collective brains, the three main sources of innovation are serendipity, recombination, and incremental improvement. Dr. Muthukrishna argues that rates of innovation are heavily influenced by (1) sociality, (2) transmission fidelity and (3) cultural variance. He will discuss some of the forces that affect these factors. These factors can also shape each other. Preliminary evidence that transmission efficiency is affected by sociality will be presented —languages with more speakers are more efficient. Collective brains can make each of their constituent “cultural brains” more innovative. This perspective sheds light on traits, such as IQ, that have been implicated in innovation. A collective brain perspective can help us understand otherwise puzzling findings in the IQ literature, including group differences, heritability differences, and the dramatic increase in IQ test scores over time.

Michael Muthukrishna is an Assistant Professor of Economic Psychology at the London School of Economics. His other affiliations include Research Associate of the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, Affiliate of the Yale Applied Cooperation Team, Affiliate of the Developmental Economics Group at STICERD, and Technical Director of The Database of Religious History.

Dr. Muthukrishna’s research focuses on the psychological and evolutionary processes that underlie culture and how culture is transmitted, maintained, and modified. He uses a two-pronged methodological approach in his research, combining mathematical and computational modeling (evolutionary models, social network analysis, etc.), and experimental psychology and experimental economics. Dr. Muthukrishna is interested in better understanding the dynamic relationship between “cultures” and individuals, where cultures emerge from the interactions of individuals over time, who are in turn shaped by the emergent cultures they constitute.

Dr. Muthukrishna is interested in the application of research in cultural evolution to public policy.

Please see http://michael.muthukrishna.com/ for more information.

All interested in the topic are welcome!
Organizers: Artem Shelja, Oleg Sobchuk, Peeter Tinits

Contact: culturalevolutionseminar@gmail.com
The seminar is supported by the (European Union) European Regional Development Fund (University of Tartu’s ASTRA project PER ASPERA).