PNAS Special Edition: Extension of Biology Through Culture


Yesterday, PNAS published a collection of papers on The Extension of Biology through Culture, resulting from a Sackler Colloquium held at the Beckman Center in November. The papers can be viewed free and a news feature provides an overview of the topic.


Many of the talks can be viewed on our films page and the colloquium’s YouTube channel.


Introductory comments from Andy Whiten, co-organizer of the conference:
Biology is the science of life. How our understanding of the nature and evolution of living systems is being enriched and extended through new discoveries about social learning and culture in human and non-human animals is the subject of the collection of articles we introduce here. Recent decades of research have revealed that social learning and the transmission of cultural traditions are widespread amongst animals, shaping adaptive behavior from foraging to predator avoidance and mating behavior, yet this body of work remains to be well integrated into evolutionary biology at large. Progress in such studies is surveyed here in papers on primates, cetaceans, birds and insects. A second series of papers focuses on our own, distinctively hyper-cultural species, reporting progress in understanding its evolutionary and ontogenetic development. Together the studies described in this collection of papers examine how our deeper understanding of culture in both humans and non-human animals extend the scope of evolutionary biology. They delineate ways in which cultural transmission expands our understanding of evolution, echoing features familiar in organic evolution, but also going beyond them in distinctive ways, with different consequences. Organic and cultural evolution interact in forms of gene-culture coevolution that further extend the scope of evolutionary biology.