The Role of Culture in Human Development
The common understanding among laypeople is that genes are responsible for evolution, for specific biological conditions, and for behaviors. Some individual genes do control physical conditions, such as the gene for eye color. However, it is the genome that directs evolution, not individual genes. The genome is the entirety of an organism’s hereditary information encoded in DNA, and genomes are more than the sum of the genes and inherited traits. Evolution occurs as the genetic pressure in the genome interacts with environmental influences, and this process of change is slow and occurs over long periods of time. It is probable that this explains the extinction of many species as they were faced with rapidly changing environmental factors, such as ice ages. Human beings, with their highly evolved brains, faced their own environmental challenges and adapted to them.
E. O. Wilson in his book “The Social Conquest of Earth” traces the rise of Homo sapiens from its infancy to its most creative achievements. He states that modern human beings are “eusocial,” a biological term meaning that group memberships contain multiple generations and perform altruistic acts as part of their division of labor. The most basic unit is the nuclear family with infants, siblings, parents, and grandparents living in close proximity and sharing the work of the family. (Wilson, 2012, p. 16) Peter Singer describes this cooperation as kin altruism, the genetically based tendency to help one’s relatives. (Singer, 2011, p. 14) Wilson describes human groups as consisting of highly flexible alliances, not just among family members but between families, genders, classes, and tribes. The bonding that occurs in these groups is based on cooperation among the individuals and groups.