Levels of Selection: A Place for Cultural Selection.


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Norsk atferdsanalytisk forening

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Skinner discussed the principle of “selection by consequences” as a causal mode at three different levels: (i) phylogeny, (ii) ontogeny, and (iii) culture. After many decades of vigorous resistance, following the identification of mediating genetic mechanisms, the principle is now broadly ac - cepted at the phylogenetic level. A comparable general acceptance of the role of operant selec - tion at the ontogenetic level may depend on a corresponding identification of mediating neural mechanisms. Skinner’s treatment of cultural selection has sparked additional discussions: First, in their open peer commentaries on Skinner’s paper, both Harris and Dawkins criticized him for not stating sufficiently clearly what is selected, and what does the selection. Second, even col - leagues who readily accept the role of selection in operant conditioning as well as in phylogenetic selection, have argued against the need for a third kind of selection, at the cultural level. Third, some processes in DNA replication may serve as interesting analogues for processes involved in the replication of cultural practices. Fourth, some shortcomings of selection by consequences at the lower levels may explain the important function of higher levels. Finally, Darwin and Skinner expressed contrasting views on the shortcomings of selection by consequences, and the need for corrective measures is briefly discussed.




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  • http://hdl.handle.net/10642/4882