On the Direction of Cultural Evolution: Lessons from the 19th Century Anglophone Novel

32 Pages Posted: 28 Apr 2015

Date Written: April 26, 2015

Abstract

Matthew Jockers has analyzed a corpus of 19th century American and British novels (Macroanalysis 2013). Using standard techniques from natural language processing (NLP) Jockers created a 600-dimensional design space for a corpus of 3300 novels. There is no temporal information in that space, but when the novels are grouped according to close similarity that grouping generates a diagonal through the space that, upon inspection, is aligned with the direction of time. That implies that the process that created those novels is a directional one. Certain (kinds of) novels are necessarily earlier than others because that is how the causal mechanism (whatever they are) work. This result has implications for our understanding of cultural evolution in general and of the relationship between cultural evolution and biological evolution.

Keywords: cultural evolution, evolution, digital humanities, cultural history, natural language processing, 19th century novel

Suggested Citation

Benzon, William L., On the Direction of Cultural Evolution: Lessons from the 19th Century Anglophone Novel (April 26, 2015). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2599225 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2599225

Register to save articles to
your library

Register

Paper statistics

Downloads
15
Abstract Views
333
PlumX Metrics