Adaptable individuals and innovative lineages

Kim Sterelny*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    8 Citations (Scopus)


    This paper suggests (i) that while work on animal innovation has made good progress in understanding some of the proximate mechanisms and selective regimes through which innovation emerges, it has somewhat neglected the role of the social environment of innovation; a neglect manifest in the fact that innovation counts are almost always counts of resource-acquisition innovations; the invention of social tools is rarely considered. The same is true of many experimental projects, as these typically impose food acquisition tasks on their experimental subjects. (ii) That neglect is important, because innovations often pose collective action problems; the hominin species were technically innovative because they were also socially adaptable. (iii) In part for this reason, there remains a disconnect between research on hominin innovation and research on animal innovation. (iv) Finally, the paper suggests that there is something of a disconnect between the theoretical work on innovation in hominin evolution (based on theories of cultural evolution) and the experimental tradition on human innovation. That disconnect is largely due to the theoretical work retreating from strong claims about the proximate mechanisms of human cultural accumulation.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number20150196
    JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
    Issue number1690
    Publication statusPublished - 19 Mar 2016


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