Posted on | November 8, 2011 | No Comments
In his famous trilogy in five volumes (!) writer Douglas Adams declared dolphins to be de second most-evolved species on Earth (after, of course, mice). These marine mammals had created an elaborate language based on circus performance and whistling in order to warn man of the upcoming apocalypse.
Well, it appears that Adams wasn’t actually not so far from the truth. Not about mice, of course, but about marine mammals. It seems that proof has been made to the fact that sperm whales have a their own culture, independent of genetic or environmental factors. Each animal apparently has an individual sonic marker, a « name » so to speak. According to the hypotheses of Hal Whitehead, one of the two biologist behind this discovery, culture would allow sperm whales to regulate social behaviour in order to minimize potential damages incurred through the use of their sonar. It would also be of vital importance to these animals, constantly on the move in a changing habitat.
The emergence of culture as an advantage in evolution also casts a light on the role it plays in human society. After all our nomadic ancestors hunting in bands probably had to come up with their own mechanism in order to normalize behaviour in given circumstances. Today in the Western World, immediate threats have mostly vanished from our physical environment. Is culture any less important?
Not at all! It is now the social and technological environment which evolves ceaselessly – so again culture may be the best tool we have to face these changes. The important reaction around the world at the death of Steve Jobs may support this hypothesis. The iPhone, a new channel for cultural content, also was the incarnation of the modern telecommunications revolution and Jobs, its creator, was one of its main gurus. It is not so much the loss of an inventor that shook us rather than the loss of a cultural reference.
But the point is that if culture help us to better understand our environment, it is important to support it, to feed it and to encourage those who participate in it, who enrich it and work in it. Far from being a burden or an unjustified expense, cultural investment may actually contribute to social development. Its content is unpredictable, reacting to ever-changing stimuli in our world. Rather than limit itself to a project-based approach, we should also support structural infrastructures and put forward spaces devoted to the creation, diffusion and appreciation of culture.
From an evolutionary point of view, it’s an obvious advantage!